Asia Week, New York, March 2015, over heard trash talk!

I was just in NYC earlier this week, to preview the Ellsworth Collection sale at Christie’s and see Asia Week. On view in different galleries, mostly on the Upper East Side, are a range of dealers, from Europe as well as New York and America, covering the full gamut of Asian art, from ancient to contemporary, and from Japan, Korea to Indian and Southeast Asian, and of course Chinese.  I focus on the few dealers who handle ancient art.  One of them was exhibiting at Friedman Vallois, on East 67th Street and Madison Avenue, from Milan, Dalton Somare. I am not familiar with them, but was very impressed with what they had on view, see below.

Gandharan Head of a Buddha

  Prominently featured and very well displayed was this immense colossal head of a Buddha, Gandharan, from India, 2nd to 3rd Century A.D.  Carved of grey schist, it is 68 cm tall, about 27 inches.  A fragment from a larger sculpture, possibly a composite sculpture, it is a very imposing head.  And beautiful.

side view of the Gandharan Buddha head

While generally classical in style, as Gandharan art is, it has a very Indian cast of features. Highly stylized the eyes are strongly projecting, and the lips sensuously curved, the eyebrows arched and the nose straight.  The surfaces are polished to a soft sheen, which I have seen on some Gandharan schist sculptures but not that often. It is a really beautiful and impressive head.  They had a few other very good and unusual pieces as well, but this stood out. 

I went from this exhibition to another further up Madison Avenue, to a small gallery who also handles Gandharan art, but of a much more modest scale.  There were a few people there engaged in conversation, a visitor and a man who I took to be the dealer.  The visitor was saying that one had to be so careful of fakes and the dealer responded that when you see a piece so large and exceptional, you have to be suspicious. He could only be talking about the head I just saw.  The coincidence was pretty amazing, but I wasn’t particularly surprised, this head was a stand out, and would attract interest and talk.  However, the opinion of the dealer is one of the things that is wrong with the market, and illustrates how it operates.

This type of casual talk is poisonous to the market. It feeds off the insecurity and ignorance of the buyers, but ultimately, damages faith in the market. From what I could see Dalton Somare are serious dealers who take what they do seriously. The pieces were very select and fine and were very well displayed.  I am sure they do their due diligence and get expert opinions from scholars and perhaps even scientific examinations. I would want both types of opinions and reports on something as extraordinary as this head is.  To tell a buyer that the piece is a fake is unfair, but typical of how dealers undercut each other.  And who is to say differently?  Unless you already know a great deal and are confident of your eye and opinion, it is easy to be swayed but such negative opinions.  And it is corrosive.  I believe it is driven by jealousy.  The dealer so opining had minor pieces in comparison, very nice, pretty, but relatively insignificant in comparison.  No wonder he felt he need to put down this other dealer.

My word of advise to my reader is when you hear a dealer tell you something you just saw is a fake that you think is noteworthy, be suspicious, not of the piece but of the dealer.  They probably have an agenda, and it isn’t pursuit of the truth.