Tuesday, December 2, 2008


I recently participated in the 18th annual Los Angeles Asian & Tribal Art Show. It is produced by the Caskey Lees organization and held in mid November at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. There were approximately 60 dealers present, offering classic Asian material from Japan, China, Korea, and India, as well of tribal, textile, and pre-Columbian art.

Tribal Art dealers present were LA Tribal members: John Strusinski, Ron Normandeau, Joshua Dimondstein, Philip Garaway, Fily Keita, Jerry Solomon, myself of course, as well as Michael Hamson, Georgia Chrischilles, Aarin Richard, Tom Murray, Zena Kurzick, Craig De Lora, Peter Boyd, and M B Abram. Carpets and textiles were well-represented by John Ruddy, Casey Waller, Ron Hort, Noel Glenn, and Jeff Appleby. My apologies to any others I may have missed.

Once again, UCLA’s Fowler Museum was the beneficiary of the opening night proceeds. They also had a silent auction to raise funds for their Textile support group.

As usual, the show produced mixed results. First, the bad news:

Most of the dealers I spoke with were reasonably nervous about the poor economic news and how it might affect sales at the show. Frankly, regardless of how well the economy is doing, dealers tend to mope about this subject and rarely find any reasons to be optimistic about big sales at any of these shows! It’s just part of the pre-show drama.

However, the slow economy was clearly a factor and sales were down for the majority of dealers, including myself. Most of the buyers did seem hesitant to make any serious purchases under this economic cloud. There isn’t much we can do about this right now, except hang in there until things get back on track.

Also, it has been my view for some time, that the high end market for tribal art in LA is anemic, so it can be difficult to just blame the economy on poor sales. Most of my important sales are made outside of the LA area. I am still not sure why this is the case. LA is one of the wealthiest communities in the world. Most of these people collect art, yet very few seriously collect tribal art or appear to have any interest in doing so. The older collectors in LA are not very active and few younger collectors have stepped up. There are plenty of reliable resources for high quality tribal art in the LA area, but the local collectors rarely take advantage of this situation.

I was disappointed (again) with the Fowler Museum’s participation. This is premier tribal arts institution in Los Angeles and I would expect a more enthusiastic relationship with our local tribal art show. I have been to openings at the Fowler and many hundreds of people attend, yet I rarely see any of those people at our event. Sure, some of the staff comes through and perhaps a few others that may have heard about the show via the Fowler, but virtually no one I talked to on opening night had any connection to that museum. I don’t understand why the Fowler would not take advantage of this relationship and beat the drum to get their troops to the opening. They get a big chunk of the money that comes in that night and it gives their people a rare opportunity to view and purchase authentic tribal artifacts, that likely will be donated or loaned to that museum!

The last point is the venue, which I have mentioned before. The Santa Monica Civic is a tired old building and was not designed to hold quality art shows. I am surprised that the City of Santa Monica has no plans to tear that building down and replace it with a modern and more interesting architectural structure that would draw larger crowds. They have literally improved or re-built every single other building in the nearby Civic Center complex, but for some reason have ignored this out-dated blight right next door. There doesn’t seem to be any viable alternative for now, but it is my hope that the City will eventually address this issue.

The good news:

The current PR firm (AGK Media Group) and Art & Living Magazine (which was one of the co-sponsors of the show) made a huge effort to bring in new people to the opening and over the weekend. I believe we had 400 to 500 people on opening night, the largest attendance I can recall. There were considerably more people on Saturday, as well. I had so many new people, as well as the regulars, come into my booth that I couldn’t take a break all Friday evening and most of the day on Saturday. And more importantly, most of the sales I did make were to new buyers.

As a positive side note, the opening was catered for the first time by a local restaurant, Mercedes Grill, which just happens to be my one of my regular hangs. Great food and drinks were provided, but unfortunately they had not anticipated the larger crowd so there wasn’t much to go around after the first hour or so.

I like the overall mix and look of this show and it really seems to be hitting its stride. There is a nice variety (and price ranges) of material for sale and I am always happy to see more tribal art at this venue. The displays and material are not on the level of the San Francisco Tribal show, but it seems to be improving each year. The show has potential and I look forward to doing it again next year, especially if the economy is in better shape and the PR people can continue to bring in new faces.

Lastly, I want to put in a good word for the show producers and their team who work tirelessly to organize these events. Not everyone appreciates the amount of hard work and months of prep it takes to make this all happen. It is a thankless job trying to please everyone and get all of the details worked out before opening.


For the latest news on the dispute over the Oceanic art collection at the De Young Museum, please go to this link on the San Francisco Chronicle website:



The Los Angeles Times has written a review of the Indonesian textile collection currently on display at LACMA.

For a link to this review, please go to:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I was recently asked to answer some questions about Indonesian tribal art for another blog: Everything Indonesia.

The link for this interview is below:


"Five Centuries of Indonesian Textiles: Selections from the Mary Hunt Kahlenberg Collection"
September 18, 2008 through September 13, 2009
Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The collection will rotate in mid March, 2009.

For details, please go to http://www.lacma.org/art/ExhibTextiles.aspx

A full review will be posted soon.


Several friends in the San Francisco area have asked me to post comments concerning the Jolika Collection of New Guinea tribal art at the De Young Museum. The donors, John and Marcia Friede, pledged at least part of the collection as financial collateral against a lawsuit over an inheritance dispute with other family members. Recently, a court in Florida has determined in favor of these family members and agreed that the collection could be seized to satisfy that judgment.

Naturally, residents of the Bay Area are upset over the possibility that this important and comprehensive collection could be broken up and sold off to pay this debt. It has caused enough of an uproar that the city attorney of San Francisco has begun a pre-emptive legal process to keep the entire collection at the De Young. Even the New Guinea Ambassador, Evan J. Paki, circulated a letter that supports keeping this collection intact and at the museum. In part, the letter states:

“Through the entire Jolika Collection at the de Young, my nation has a rich storehouse of New Guinea cultural knowledge and history here in the United States. The New Guinea art pieces and treasured cultural objects are an integral part of our storied cultural history; and the Jolika Collection represents a valuable contribution in this respect. While the people of New Guinea no longer possess the masterpieces in the Jolika Collection, we have come to appreciate the entire Jolika Collection as an extension of our nation’s cultural treasures…”

I am not sure if the other family members have requested that the De Young Museum turn over any of this collection to satisfy the court ruling. If they have, I have not heard of it. I would like to hear from anyone that knows if this is the case.

What has not been mentioned, but I find puzzling is why the Friede’s would offer this collection as collateral in a lawsuit after (or before) donating it to the De Young Museum? If the Friede’s were so concerned about keeping this collection intact, as they continue to indicate, they should not have put the collection at risk.

The few stories in the papers (SF Chronicle and the NY Times) that I have read so far are giving the impression that the other family members in the lawsuit are the bad guys in this saga. I do not claim to understand the complexity of this case, but the Florida court has ruled in their favor and agrees with their position. It would be unfair to “demonize” the other family members just because the fallout of this case may affect the collection at the De Young.

More on this subject, as events unfold…

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sunday, September 28, 2008


The San Francisco Chronicle ran two stories on the Jolika Collection of Oceanic Art that is housed at the De Young Museum. The outcome of a family lawsuit may determine if this collection stays at the De Young or is sold off to cover legal obligations. The two links below on the SF Chronicle website have the latest information as of Sept. 23rd.



Tuesday, September 16, 2008


For more than 30 years I have been in the tribal art business, of which the primary activity is purchasing objects from a variety of sources and then re-selling them to collectors, institutions, or other retailers. It would seem that the guidelines for buying and selling tribal art (or any kind of art) would be obvious, but it has been my experience this is not always the case. This is especially true with new collectors, who may be unaware of the subtle details. I have also experienced some issues with “seasoned” buyers who occasionally fail to properly follow through on a purchase.

Because these issues come up on a regular basis, I want to make an attempt to clarify what I believe is the proper business relationship between buyers and sellers. These guidelines do not apply to every transaction and not every seller or buyer will agree with my view, but I believe it is important to make these points anyway. This set of guidelines is not inclusive and others may have suggestions or corrections, which I welcome.

Terminology note: because professional dealers buy as much as they sell and collectors often sell items from their collections, to keep this simple: anyone offering pieces for sale will be identified as a “seller” and anyone making a purchase will be identified as a “buyer”.

Buyers should be aware that professional sellers are regularly asked for information about items they have for sale. This is part of the job and most sellers are comfortable answering these questions, within reason. These days, most professional sellers have websites, so naturally inquiries via email are routine. Unfortunately, it is clear that many of these inquiries are not from people seriously interested in buying a piece, but more of a fishing expedition for prices, perhaps as a comparison of value to pieces in their own collections, or to obtain free information. It really takes up a lot of valuable time and energy for sellers to differentiate between the serious and the merely curious. The bottom line is that buyers should understand that there needs to be some limitations on these inquires and be sensitive to the amount of time one might expect a seller to provide additional images and information.

All items are subject to availability, so the buyer needs to make it clear if they want a particular item and are willing to abide by the terms of the seller. A buyer can ask for an item to be put on “hold”, but should not expect the seller to do this for more than a few days, unless very specific arrangements have been made. The buyer needs to communicate their intentions as soon as possible, otherwise, the seller has the right to offer it elsewhere or sell the item to the first buyer that has made a commitment.

Prices may change so buyers should not expect them to remain the same if they ask about an item at a later time. Prices are like the stock market, one day it might be up and another day it might be down. Sellers have the right to change their prices based on evolving market conditions or their personal financial needs. Obviously, it would be unfair for a seller to raise the price of an item in mid-negotiation, but at any other time, it is acceptable.

With all of the above in mind, buyers should pay attention to these basic guidelines:

If the buyer has any questions or concerns they should ask these before making their final decision. Again, keeping in mind the amount of time used to do so.

When asking about an item or requesting a price, it is always polite to follow up regardless of the decision. The seller takes time to answer these questions and of course wants to know if a potential buyer is really interested in making the purchase. There could be others asking about that same item and it is extremely helpful to know which inquiries are serious.

It is usually acceptable for buyers to negotiate on a purchase. Most sellers are willing to work terms with a buyer, so it never hurts to ask. For example, a buyer might ask the seller for a reasonable discount on the price, or possibly to cover shipping costs or the sales tax (if it applies). The buyer might ask for a payment plan. One or two of these requests might be acceptable, but it would be unfair to ask a seller for a discount and then ask for time to make payments. It should also be clear that not all sellers are willing to give terms and even ones that normally do so might not with special or unusually rare items.

The buyer should be clear about the payment method they would like to use (check, money order, wire transfer, credit card, cash, etc) and when they will pay. The type of payment method and timing of the payment usually has a bearing on the amount a seller may be willing to discount. Unless arrangements are made in advance, the seller usually expects the payment immediately.

This last point is important as most professional sellers are continually setting up other purchases and often make these deals based on their expectation of cash flow. If a buyer agrees to make a purchase and sets a time to make that payment, the seller fully expects that payment to come at or before that time, so they have those funds available to run their business. If a buyer runs into some unexpected trouble making that payment, they are obligated to communicate with the seller as soon as possible to make other arrangements.

The buyer is expected to make the full payment, including shipping costs (if necessary), before taking possession of the item. Exceptions may be made for buyers well-known to the seller, but only if the seller is willing to do so. Getting items on approval without payment is the exception, not the norm, so it should not be expected.

Assuming an item has been shipped; once it arrives the buyer should acknowledge receipt immediately, noting any condition issues. It would be helpful if the buyer would let the seller know as soon as possible if they are keeping the piece or returning it. Most sellers give time to the buyer to make their final decision (usually no more than a week), but the sooner the seller knows if the sale is final, the better.

If a buyer does decide to return an item, they should do so in a timely manner and make sure the item is returned in the same condition it arrived. The buyer cannot expect the seller to give a full refund if the item is returned damaged.

Most sellers will give a full refund for returned items, less the cost of shipping, if done so in the agreed upon time period. After that time period has elapsed the seller may opt to offer credit or exchange. Buyers should be fully aware of a seller’s return policy before making their purchase, so there is no misunderstanding at a later date. It has been my experience that most sellers are cooperative when it comes to returns, but they do have to protect themselves from simple “buyer’s remorse” or items that have been unfairly discredited by other less knowledgeable or unscrupulous sellers.

Professional sellers are always appreciative when buyers make their lives a bit easier. Some enthusiasm and passion for the art, good communication, a quick decision, and on time payments are all we really ask for. If the buyer makes the transaction easy for the seller it is virtually a guarantee the seller will go out of their way to make things easier for the buyer, especially on future sales.

That said, sellers are also obligated to know their material and provide accurate information. They should be fair in their assessment of each piece and offer buyers an honest evaluation of relative quality, rarity, condition, and value. They should provide clear title and provide verifiable provenance when possible. They should clearly state any condition problems and note major restorations or repairs. They should provide a written guarantee of authenticity. They should state a clear return policy. The seller should be responsible for packing items properly and ship immediately upon receipt of funds. And finally, they should allow for a reasonable time period for the buyer to make a final decision on any purchase, especially with sales made by photographs or via the internet.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


The Los Angeles Times ran a three part story (Sept, 11,12, 13) on Roxanna Brown, the former director of the Bangkok University Museum and Thai ceramics expert, who died in Federal custody this year. She was arrested as part of the ongoing tax fraud and smuggling investigation involving two local LA dealers and several Southland museums. Fascinating story. All three parts can be found at the link below (although the third part is not clearly indicated on the LA Times website).


Tuesday, July 15, 2008


The Los Angeles County Museum of Art acquired a significant private collection of rare Pacific Island art. The acquisition, announced on July 8th, 2008, comprises of 48 rare works purchased from the Masco Corp. Foundation of Detroit.

For the full story, please go to this link on the Los Angeles Times website:

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Art: Back Out in the World.
Los Angeles Times, June 15, 2008


"Hidden Treasures From the National Museum Museum, Kabul" currently at the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. On tour to the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco in October, and then the Museum of Fine Arts of Houston and the Met in New York before returning to Kabul by Sept. 2009.


A very interesting article in the Wall Street Journal on collecting Folk Art:

Collecting: Loving the Ugly Mermaid
Wall Street Journal, June14/15, 2008, page W3 or online at:


Friday, May 30, 2008



The NY show’s venue has changed back to the original armory at Lexington and 26th and held one week earlier. From the exhibitors' viewpoint this was a long overdue and necessary move. Our set-up and show schedule at the previous venue was awkward and tight, to say the least. We were forced to get everything ready in less than one day leading to either a rushed opening on Friday night or early bird entry on Saturday morning as well a ridiculous four days run that ended on Tuesday.

At the new venue the show organizers had enough time to properly prepare the booths (walls, paper, lighting, displays, and shipments) allowing two days for set-up and vetting. Behind the scenes, logistics were smooth and relatively stress-free. Also, I like the neighborhood better than the uptown armory: more restaurants, bars, and businesses.

Seller anticipation was mixed. Prior to 9/11, NY was the hottest tribal art venue in the US, overshadowing the SF and LA shows. Sales were brisk and attendance was consistently high, with considerable representation from dealers and collectors from Europe and other areas of the US. After 9/11 the show waned and frankly, never recovered its previous glory.

Attempts at getting sponsorship and serious new collectors to our opening nights failed miserably. None of these sponsors brought out “their” people. Another big disappointment: even the regular collectors barely made the time to come by. Eventually, this led to dropping the opening night for a 10 am Saturday early entry. The only advantage was it allowed for a few more hours of set-up on Friday.

The last two years at the previous venue, the organizers and PR firm were able to get stunning reviews in the NY Times, which we all hoped would bring in those valuable “new” collectors we are all looking for. Unfortunately, our awkward show schedule could not get this review out before the weekend and instead came out on Monday, when things were winding down. The first year of the review did appear to bring out some new faces on Monday and Tuesday, but no serious buyers. It was difficult to tell if the second review had much impact.

This year, opening night was on Wednesday with regular hours running from Thursday through Sunday. I assume the extra week day was added so the NY Times reviewer would have ample time to review and publish before the weekend. A tepid review by a different (and clearly unenthusiastic) reporter did make the Friday addition however; it did not appear to help bring in new buyers this year.

Much to our relief, this year’s opening night was relatively a big success. Attendance was way up with many of the big collectors making an appearance. There was actually an excitement in the air and it looked as if the show was making a serious comeback! From what I heard, most sales were made on that night or by the next day.

I felt attendance for the remaining regular dates was adequate, but in my opinion there was a real lack of enthusiasm for buying at this point. I saw regular clients and chatted with many people new to me, but had virtually no sales after the first day or two. Again, most of the exhibitors I talked to reported the same story.

Many will blame the economic slowdown or discouraging political news. Others would like to blame the show organizers for failing to get the word out. I disagree with that assessment. First of all, I think the organizers and their PR people do a very good job of promoting the show. The word is out, but for reasons out of their control, only so many people bother to attend and even less buy. I suppose the economy might affect the buying habits of some mid to low level collectors, but in reality most of the regular collectors I know tend to live above the whims of temporary economic changes, so I don’t think this was big factor.

Sotheby’s and Bonham’s/Butterfields were holding their tribal auctions that week, which should have attracted more serious buyers to town and in theory brought them over to the tribal art show. However, it also has the potential to dilute sales in a now overly saturated marketplace, so perhaps that had some negative effect. Hard to gauge this one. It should be noted that sales at the Sotheby’s auction were very good with a record price paid for an African piece.

Perhaps the tribal art community is just not making a good enough case publically to encourage new collectors to pay attention. Perhaps, as sellers, we are just not bringing the right material and offering them at prices that would entice new (and old) collectors? If so, I don’t know how to solve this last problem as any seller will tell you that prices at the supply end are consistently up and the availability of good material is down.

It is my view that one significant part of the problem is many buyers do not really pay attention to the dynamics that support these tribal art shows. Do buyers really understand that sellers pay considerable sums of money, plus the costs of inventory, with some risk of loss and damage, as well as their time to exhibit at these shows?

Yes, we are all networking with other dealers, museum curators, academics, and of course collectors, that may or may not bear fruit over time. There is much to learn at these shows and acquiring important information cannot be underestimated or easily valued. For each locality this is THE tribal art event, a “Tribal Art Woodstock” if you will, that brings us together as a community. Without a sense of community, we are potentially nothing more than rogue sellers, na├»ve collectors, or ivory tower academics that will lose the benefits of standards, openness, and cooperation.

But, the bottom line and economic stimulus that insures these shows will continue is sales. If buyers are not buying, sellers cannot afford to pay these high fees to exhibit. Without regular high quality sellers, the shows will fall to the wayside (take the struggling University of Philadelphia show and failed attempts in Seattle and Chicago as a good examples). Without these shows, the community loses a valuable educational and promotional asset.

Obviously, I would encourage buyers to pay more attention to the needs of sellers at these shows. We are here to sell, so if at all possible, buy. Take advantage of the opportunity presented to view and purchase great, authentic (and vetted) tribal art. We all want to see these shows survive and thrive, so any cooperation on the part of buyers will be rewarded and appreciated. Lastly, we all need to continue working on better ways to promote tribal art to a wider audience.

For another viewpoint and review of the NY Tribal and Textile Art Show I would encourage you to visit the Tribalmania website at: http://www.tribalmania.com/. Michael Auliso does a more comprehensive review with lots of good images. I am not sure if his review of the NY show is up at the time of my posting, but I am sure it will be soon.


"Pacifika: Young Perspectives on Pacific Island Art"
Pacific Asia Museum, Pasadena, California
Now through August 24th, 2008.

"...an exhibition devoted to early Pacific Island society and reaction of modern Pacific Islanders."


This link was sent to me by a colleague:

Antiquities, the World is Your Homeland
by Edward Rothstein



NY Times link to article about looted artifacts:

A series of news links about the arrest and death in US custody of Roxanna Brown, director of the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum at Bangkok University, Thailand. Roxanna Brown was mentioned in the recent articles and affidavits related to the importation of Thai ceramics and alleged tax fraud by Los Angeles based art dealers and museums.





I was sent this statement from a colleague who found it on the Southeast Asian Archeology News Blog:

The death of Dr. Roxanna Brown in prison in Seattle is a huge loss not just to her family but to everyone involved in the field of Southeast Asian ceramics. Her thorough and original research and the work that she has done in recent years as the founding curator of the Southeast Asian ceramic museum have made an enormous contribution to the appreciation and understanding of Vietnamese, Cambodian and Thai artifacts. No one else in any country has done as much.

By rights she ought to have been contemplating a retirement full of honours, respect and gratitude. Instead, through the carelessness of government officials in her own country, she has been forced to endure a lonely, humiliating and undoubtedly painful death.

I have studied the investigation that has been going on in Los Angeles in detail and I have read the affidavits and search warrants that were filed by the US Inland Revenue agents who have been conducting this five-year investigation. It is my considered opinion that they have been on a very long, expensive and futile fishing expedition, pursuing a few slightly shady tax dodges while doing immense damage to the museum community as a whole.

Now that damage has reached Thailand. It is one of the tragic ironies of this scenario that the US Inland Revenue Service, while trying, quite hypocritically, to portray itself as the defender of Thai culture, has taken away the life and destroyed the career of one of the best friends this culture ever had.

Let’s hope that Dr. Brown’s death will not have been completely in vain, and that this ill-advised witch hunt will be called off.

Friday, May 2, 2008


April 6 through August 10, 2008.
UCLA Fowler Museum, Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Times review of exhibition:
Calendar Section: April 20, 2008.


Two articles of interest in the Los Angeles Times:

New Zealand's Maori Rediscover Themselves in Tattoos.
Front Section: April 20, 2008

Oldest Oil Paintings Found in Asia.
Science File: April 26, 2008.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


For a much more extensive review (with images) of the recent San Francisco Tribal Art Show, please go to the Tribalmania website.

The direct link for the review is: http://www.tribalmania.com/SHOWSANFRAN-08.htm

Sunday, March 2, 2008


"The IRS audits a tiny fraction of donors who claim write-offs. The cost is untold millions in tax revenues."

LA Times, Sunday, March 2, 2008 (Front Page)
By Jason Felch and Doug Smith , Times Staff Writers

Direct Link: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-irs2mar02,0,3015698.story

Friday, February 29, 2008


I was one of approximately 100 dealers exhibiting at the recent Tribal Art show in San Francisco, California, over the weekend of February 7th – 10th , 2008. The show is held at the Fort Mason Center, in the Marina District, with a panoramic view of the Bay, Alcatraz, and Marin County. We were lucky to avoid the rain storms of the previous weekend, during the Asian Show, with each day more stunning than the last.

This is THE Tribal Art show to do and nearly all of the best American dealers are in attendance. The show has also drawn a large (and growing) wave of major European dealers. One significant addition: the show organizers were able to convince a small collective of European dealers to abandon their previously successful downtown gallery show (Crossroads) to exhibit at the Fort Mason venue. There has always been a long waiting list to get in, but recent demand to exhibit has caused some problems. To make room for others, some exhibitors have been moved out of their prime spaces or dropped from the show.

The Opening Night Gala on Thursday evening benefits the departments of Textiles and the Art of Africa, Oceania, and Americas in the de Young Museum. As usual it was packed with all of the local tribal art illuminati, backers of the de Young Museum, and an impressive contingent of important collectors from outside the Bay Area. There was plenty of great food, an open bar, and lots of socializing, but it was unclear if there was much across the board business.

The crowds returned on Friday and Saturday and it is my understanding most of the major sales went down at this time. Certainly, most of my sales occurred on these two days. Despite some gloomy economic forecasts, it didn’t appear to keep most collectors at this show from making significant purchases! However, by Sunday it seemed that the air had been sucked out of the room and the buying enthusiasm was over. Some buyers returned to pick up their purchases and there were, of course, a few stragglers making their way through the aisles, looking for deals, but not much else. As usual, sales were mixed, with some exhibitors reporting record sales and others just getting by.

At the entrance to the show was an engaging special exhibition: “Outer Garments-Inner Warmth, Power, Protection, Prestige.” Organized by Lee and Vichai Chinalai, there a dazzling array of jackets, shawls, and other wearable art in a variety of materials from a wide range of cultures.

From my Tribal “Southeast Asian and Western Pacific Island” perspective, there were some major pieces on exhibit in the main hall. The rarest and most impressive objects were two archaic Dayak ironwood cave guardian figures with strong muscular postures and anvil like heads. There were several wild Borneo masks (Hudoq); a very rare mini Dayak figure wearing a Hudoq style mask that resembled an American Indian Kachina; a pair of Dayak ironwood sacrificial posts; a couple of wonderful Dayak shields; a monumental Sumba Island stone; a variety of Dayak outdoor sculptures (Hampatong) including one with unusual tattoo motifs on the thighs; two sets of elaborate and complex Dayak roof finials in the form of dragon heads; and a beautiful Dayak chief’s door with intertwined snake motifs. Clearly in this region, Dayak art from Borneo Island is the 8000 lb Orangutan!

Perhaps the biggest sale of the show was Mindja Yam Cult Figure from the Sepik area of Papua New Guinea. It’s a beautiful example and came with impressive provenance: the Masco Collection. Oceanic art, especially New Guinea pieces, were selling well, still able to draw attention in the Bay Area because of the strong presence of the Friede Collection at the de Young Museum. As usual, textiles were well represented, especially carpets, ikats, and embroideries. There was a nice selection of Pre-Columbian pieces and other arts of the Americas (although most of the dealers in this area hold out for the big Marin County Indian Show two weeks later). Oh yeah, and a bunch of things from Africa…yawn!

This show just continues to build momentum and every year dealers and collectors alike look forward to this event. Without question it has become the most important Tribal Art show in the US and arguably the world. Sure, there are major Tribal shows in Paris and Brussels, but the emphasis is on African art without the variety of material and dealers at the San Francisco venue.

The credit for this success can be shared equally with the hard work of the show organizers’ well-oiled team and their loyal exhibitors who have steadfastly held on while this show floundered in the past, eventually picked up steam, then evolved into the major event it is today. Clearly, some house-cleaning was needed and it was helpful to bring in additional big name dealers from other parts of the world, but it is important to remember that the original exhibitors were the ones that hung on when it was not THE SHOW to do.

Thursday, February 28, 2008



The information in the government affidavits may or may not be true. It is not uncommon that much of the government’s case is based on distortions or exaggerations of the facts.

At this time none of the people mentioned in the affidavits have been charged with any crime. The affidavits were used by government agents to obtain search warrants to gather evidence for possible future indictments.

The newspaper articles (either in print or online) clearly distorted at least some of the information provided in the government affidavits. To get a better idea of what is involved in this case, it is best to read the affidavits (links were provided from the online news articles).

Example of newspaper distortion of “facts”: It was widely reported that one of the participants (the Gallery Owner: GO) was offering illegally obtained Thai artifacts to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). "GO" claims that LACMA was a stickler for provenance and proper paperwork, but the museum was aware of a “loophole” that would allow him to donate these items. In the affidavits it was made clear that LACMA museum officials were not “in” on this loophole, but that "GO" was able to provide false documents that would satisfy museum standards. That “small” distortion by the media of the information provided in the affidavits would make it appear LACMA was complicit in the donation of illegal artifacts when this was not the case.

Another distortion stated by the media is that museum officials at some of the targeted institutions assisted in providing high values on donated artifacts. This is not true, as museum officials are not involved in any way with the stated value of donations. That information is provided by the donor or an appraiser and given to the IRS for tax purposes. Obviously, museum officials hope that a donor will receive a high appraised value for the item as it is more likely it will be donated, but the ultimate value is not relevant to the reasons a museum wishes to obtain a donated art object.

It is alleged that some of the participants provided false tax appraisals to the undercover agent (UA) and valued items higher than was paid. There may be problems with these appraisals, such as falsified signatures and dates of purchase, however, it is not illegal to evaluate items at a higher value than what was paid (the IRS does require that items be held for one year otherwise the value is set by cost). Assuming that the items in question were held for more than one year, valuations are based on the fair market value at the time of the appraisal and it is possible that the items were in fact worth what was stated in the appraisal.

As an aside, it is also possible that some or all of these artifacts are not, in fact, authentic, but reproductions of Thai antiquities. The government alleges that an expert of their choosing claims they are authentic, but it is not clear if this expert actually examined the artifacts in person. It should be noted that the vast majority of “antiquities” and “artifacts” publicly offered in source countries, such as Thailand, are reproductions, so it is very likely at least some of the items are not authentic.

Assuming they are authentic, these items are not significant cultural artifacts, but rather common and inexpensive. The Thai government did not instigate this investigation. The Thai government is also aware that several museums in the US and Europe have these artifacts in their collections, but have made no effort to re-claim them. If these artifacts were eventually confiscated and returned to Thailand, they would most likely be stored and forgotten about. It is also possible many of them would find their way out the back door and resurface in antique shops in Bangkok.

It is possible the participants will face charges relating to the importation and sale of illegally obtained antiquities, although that is difficult to gauge at this time. What is more likely are charges relating to possible tax fraud. If the allegations are true, it would seem a more solid case.

Why the big fuss? Why did the Feds send 30-40 agents, arriving early in the morning, with cameras rolling, to acquire the evidence that could have easily been obtained by 2 or 3 agents in suits making an appointment with the museum? Why the big expense for a relatively minor offense? If the allegations are true, then the government has a right to act, but clearly they wanted to make a larger point.

What they were able to do was to scare the hell out of every museum official, appraiser, art collector, and art dealer involved, even remotely, in the antiquities trade. You can bet that within 24 hours, every museum in the US was re-evaluating its acquisitions and donations policies. In addition, any appraiser, collector, or dealer assisting in over-evaluating objects for donation is rethinking their involvement.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


A New LACMA Gallery Shows African Art as More Than Influence.
A Review of the new African Art Gallery at LACMA.
By Anne-Marie O'Conner, Times Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 29th, 2008


"Probe of Stolen Art Goes National"
Chicago Sites Raided in Federal Investigation of Cerritos Art Dealer.
By Jason Felch and Mike Boehm, Times Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Saturday, January 26, 2008


Federal agents, including the IRS and ICE staged coordinated early morning raids on LACMA, the Pacific Asia Museum, the Bowers Museum and the Mingei International Museum. The focus of the raids was to gather evidence showing museum officials knowingly accepted donations of illegally obtained artifacts, in particular items from the Ban Chiang culture of Thailand. The museums alledgely encouraged over-evaluations of the donated items for tax purposes. Two local art dealers are accused of "masterminding" the sale and donations of these illegal artifacts through an undercover agent posing as an art collector.

All of the southern California press covered this story and it was on all of the local news stations on Thursday, the 24th and Friday, the 25th. I am including the links for two articles from the LA Times, but additional stories can be found on Orange County Register and San Diego Union websites. The affivdafits are fascinating (the links are found with the articles). It may be necessary to sign up to read the LA Times articales, but it easy to do.

"Raids Suggest a Deeper Network of Looted Art"
Even after scandals Southland museums pursued suspect artifacts, warrants say.
By Jason Felch, Times Staff Writer
Friday, January 25th, 2008

"Museum Didn't Need This Publicity"
Santa Ana's Bowers has long sought the attention in the art world. But not from a federal raid.
By Mike Boehm, Times Staff Writer
Saturday, January 26th, 2008


Below are links to art related articles on the LA Times website:

"Ancient Civilizations...Broken Pieces"
Iraq's heritage is under assault by looters in search of unprotected sites.
By Alexandra Zavis, Times Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"Make Art Loans, Not War"
Ownership issues asided, Greece, Italy and other can afford to share the wealth.
Editorial by Lee Rosenbaum (artsjournal.com/culturegrrl)
Monday, January 21, 2008


When is a tribal mask more than just a tribal mask? Find out at the new Los Angeles County Museum of Art exhibition on African masks. The exhibition surveys work by more than 30 boundary-breaking artists from the late 19th and early 20th centurys.

5905 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, California

Sunday, January 27th to November 2, 2008
(closed Wednesday)


Thursday, January 10, 2008



Over 100 International Dealers Exhibiting Exceptional Artifacts, Objects, & Art Displayed For Sale in a Museum-Like Setting.

Special Exhibition: "Outer Garments-Inner Warmth, Power, Protection, Prestige".
Curated by Vichai and Lee Chinalai

Preview Gala: February 7th, 6-10pm.
Regular Show Dates: February 8th, 9th, & 10th, 2008

Fort Mason Festival Pavilion, San Francisco, California, USA.

For further information, please go to: http://www.caskeylees.com/


“An art collection is like life; when the heart stops beating, it’s over.”
- from film “Avenue Montaigne”


"INSCRIBING MEANING: Writing and Graphic Systems in African Art"
Fowler Museum at UCLA
Ends: February 17, 2008

"THE WORD IN L.A.: Panel Discussion with Artists Robbie Conal, Alexandra Grant and Lezley Saar:
Fowler Museum at UCLA
February 3, 2008 (2pm-4pm)

"AUSTRALIA CONTEMPORARY: Aboriginal Art + Modern Architecture"

Spectacular paintings by over 40 of today's important Aboriginal artists and rising stars, curated by Wolfgang Schlink of Trbial eARTh Gallery, Los Angeles.

Stunning residential architecture by two of Australia's modernists, Max Pritchard and Stutchbury & Pape Architects, curated by SPF:a Principal, Judit Meda Fekete.

MODAA Gallery @ SPF:a (Studio Pali Fekete Architects)
8609 Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
January 18th (opening), 2008.
info@modaagallery.com or (310) 588-0902