A personal take on the gloss on the art and antiques markets
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When it specialised in classical antiquities, the museum at the Moorilla Vineyard in Hobart briefly had a sign up stating it had the same high regard for provenance as the J Paul Getty Museum in California.
Shortly afterwards the JPG disclosed that it was negotiating the return to their country of origins of antiquities that had been taken out of those countries without export permits.
In terms of respect for heritage the JPG obviously was not without blemish as lengthy court cases subsequently suggested.
The sign on the website for Moorilla, now the Museum of Old and New Art, has since disappeared as the Getty, although acting quickly in terms of heritage acquisition, undoubtedly now both subscribes to and acts upon the highest curatorial standards..
Directors and curators have an intense aversion to naming the dealers they have bought from when announcing an acquisitiion. Even Freedom of Information requests fail to ring the provenance out of them, although this information is deadly important in terms of heritage and the history of taste. This applies even to recent Australian art.
The dealers do not want to be named, the bureaucrats answer.
My experience, however, has been that not a single dealer I know objects to this publicity.
One dealer, in Brisbane, claimed to be utterly astonished that an Australian gallery had declined to name him as a source.
Private collectors may not wish to be named but only dealers with secrets to hide are likely to be unhappy. Most are happierto be credited with sourcing an object or painting.
But this might deflate the egos in the bureaucracy. A Minister of the Arts might be announcing it on the seven o'clock TV news.
Dealers lose a lot more credit for their finds even if the finds can be traced to a two-penny purchase in a suburban auction. A piece of gold is a piece of gold wherever it is acquired whether this is at the Bank or wrapped in an old cardboard box at an auction.
Could it be snobbery that cuts the dealer out? When talking of dealing, car dealing and dope dealing tops the list. Art dealer sare also dealers.
Art dealers may have a better reputation than car or dop although some now tend to prefer to be ackowledge as "gallerists" or even "curators."
Public gallery curators and museum directors should name them instead of taking the credit for discovering a work entirely by themselves.
If they do not name, and the deal turns nasty, at least they will not abe held to account for the shame that then could flow when the s------hits the fan.
It would also save hard working freelance journalists working at standard word rates, paying out much of the income in inflated fees for photo-copying and admin that institutions heap upon the originators of FOI requests.
Hopefully, this will prove not to have been the case.
If not let us at least hope that Australian art museums (the National Gallery of Australia and the Art Gallery of NSW) involved did not buy items that, ethically, should be returned.
It would be neat to learn even the country of the addressee and where the bank transfer is cashed.
In the heady days of the early 1970s Switzerland when modern paintings were being sold Downunder for record sums, Switzerland was the smallest exporter of art to Australia in terms of numbers of works (a dozen or so) but the biggest in terms of value (I seem to remember around $10 million one year.)
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