Tuesday, December 11, 2012



The long awaited opening of the Kubler - Thompson Gallery of Indo-Pacific Art took place in mid November within the Yale University Art Gallery.  The collection is the promised gift to the university from Yale alumnus Thomas Jaffe of New York.   Mr. Jaffe is a well-known and highly respected collector of Oceanic (or Indo-Pacific) art, with a strong focus on objects from the western Pacific, including the Austronesian cultures of Indonesia, the Philippines, and Formosa (Taiwan).  The gallery takes it name from two of Mr. Jaffe's mentors; Yale professors and art historians, Robert Thompson and the late George Kubler.

His collection, arguably one of the most important assembled from this region, consists primarily of sculptural masterpieces of all sizes from the islands of Borneo, Sulawesi, Sumatra, Flores, and the Moluccas.  Additionally there are rare objects from the Jorai of the Central Highlands of Vietnam, the Paiwan of Formosa Island, the Ifugao of Luzon Island, and the Naga tribes along the border of India and Burma.  

Included in the Indo-Pacific gallery are over four hundred of the finest Indonesia textiles from the Jeff Holmgren and Anita Spertus collection and Indonesian gold jewelry from the Hunter Thompson collection. 

Mr. Jaffe endowed funds for a permanent curatorial position.  Recruited from the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, curator Ruth Barnes will organize rotating installations, direct research, publications, and special exhibitions with loans from other institutions and private collections.

I had the privilege of attending the opening on November 13th.  There are too many fantastic pieces to mention, but a few of my favorites include: a superb collection of ancestral shrine vault doors from the Toraja highlands (Sulawesi), a large Paiwan (Formosa) wood panel, a Jorai (Vietnam) wood sculpture carved wearing a long mask, two Dayak (Borneo) wood baby carriers, a group of Dayak (Borneo) shields, and a pair of Ata Oro Island ancestral figures.  Of great interest are the archaic Dayak (Borneo) sculptures in the collection, several of which were on display.  One of the most important and rarest wood sculptures from Borneo is a bizarre oddity with an elongated thin head, eyes set high, and a ritual cavity on the back of the torso, believed to come from an area near the Sarawak/Kalimantan border area.

This collection is a must see for connoisseurs of non-Western art, especially those interested in the art of the Austronesians, a seafaring culture more than 5000 years old that spread out of Southern China, via Formosa, the Philippines, and Indonesia, with later branches reaching as far east as Easter Island and Hawaii and as far west as Madagascar.

For additional information, please go to the Yale University Art Gallery website: http://artgallery.yale.edu/

Article in Los Angeles Times

Vandals cut ancient petroglyphs, precious to Paiutes, off cliffs at Volcanic Tableland
By Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times (11/19/12)

"Ancient hunters and gatherers etched vivid petroglyphs on the cliffs in the Eastern Sierra that withstood winds, flash floods and earthquakes for more than 3,500 years.  Thieves needed only a few hours to cut them down and haul them away..."

For the direct link to article, please go to:

Thursday, July 5, 2012


Plaited Arts from the Borneo Rainforest
Editor: Bernard Sellato.

"One of the richest basketry traditions in the world, the plaited objects produced in Borneo are created from plant materials gathered in the rainforest and worked by hand using techniques passed from generation to generation.  Unrivaled in their combination of beauty, form, and function, they provide a unique window on the way of life of Borneo's inhabitants."

Available from University of Hawai'i Press.

*A review will be forthcoming...


Islamist group Ansar Dine destroying historic sites in Mali

By Chris Barton.  Los Angeles Times, July 3, 2012.

For the direct link, please go to:

Easter Island Has Stone Heads, But Little Else.  What Happened? (updated)
By Thomas H. Maugh II.  Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2012.

For the direct link, please go to:

Cave Art, Older Than Thought, Could Be From Neanderthals
By Thomas H. Maugh II.  Los Angeles Times, June 15, 2012.

For the direct link, please go to:

Haunted By Ancient Artworks
Some of the pictographs in Horseshoe Canyon are more than 6000 years old. They resonate across time.
By David Kelly.  Los Angeles Times, June 10, 2012.

For the direct link, please go to:

Sunday, June 3, 2012


New York: May 9th to 13th, 2012.

For nearly a week in early May, auction houses, tribal art dealers and galleries came together to produce a series of semi-coordinated tribal art events.  After the closing of the Caskey Lees show in 2010, a rushed attempt at filling the void barely got off the ground.  Not unexpected, considering the organizers had less than two months to pull in exhibitors, spaces, and promotion.  The concept was to find temporary spaces or share existing gallery space with tribal art dealers from out of town, preferably in close proximity, along the lines of the successful BRUNEAF show in Brussels and the Parcours in Paris.  It was important to time these dealer exhibitions around the existing Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Bonhams tribal art auctions.

In 2011 another group, AOA Tribal Art New York produced a similar event.  With more time for promotion, it was reported that this attempt went fairly well.  This year the AOA group working with a new organization, Madison Ancient & Tribal Art (MATA) produced an updated version, with two major hubs, one at the Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion, the other at the Arader Gallery, both near 79th and Madison.  Two smaller hubs, also hosting out of town dealers, were located the Bohemian National Hall and the Art for Eternity Gallery.  In addition, other local galleries specializing in tribal art (for example: the Calvin-Morris Gallery’s “Shields of New Guinea”) were hosting special exhibitions as well as the usual scheduled tribal art auctions.

The primary locations near Madison, brought in several European dealers, most notably Gallery Visser, Galerie Flak, Conru African & Oceanic Art, and Adrian Schlag Tribal Art Classics.  American dealers included Peter Boyd African Art, Joe Loux, Bruce Frank Primitive Art, Huber Primitive Art, James Stephenson African Art, Michael Rhodes African Art, Gail Martin Gallery, Earl Duncan, and Jeffery Myers Primitive & Fine Art.  Also participating were local galleries, such as Pace Primitive, Alaska on Madison, Nasser & Co, Arte Primitivo, and Tambaran Gallery.

My favorite location was the MATA group at the Arader Gallery.  With four stories of open, wood paneled rooms, excellent lighting and good air circulation, it was a comfortable place to visit.  There was a great mix of material, with high end African, Oceanic, Indonesian, and Pre-Columbian objects well represented and displayed.

What most impressed me was the pacing and timing of the openings and auctions.  It was easy to preview the offerings at the three auction houses prior to the main openings on Wednesday.  The Art for Eternity Gallery opened on Wednesday afternoon, the MATA group had their opening in the late afternoon, and the AOA group, a short walk around the corner, later that evening.  Sotheby’s held their auction on Thursday with the official opening at the nearby Bohemian National Hall location, soon afterwards.  Christie’s auction took place on Friday, with Bonhams holding theirs on Saturday.  A couple of private parties were planned for Friday evening.

There was significant “buzz” leading up to events in NYC, bringing in important collectors and dealers from Europe and other parts of the US.  The openings at the AOA and MATA locations were packed, at times leaving little room to easily view the fine display of objects.  The auction housed did well with sky-high prices paid for several very special objects offered at Sotheby’s and Christie’s.  I heard that several of the dealers were able to make significant sales, although most reported more modest gains. 

Unfortunately, not all of the material offered at the various locations was of the quality you would hope to see and there were a few dealers offering very marginal material, to put it politely.  Well, at least there was something for everyone.

In my opinion, after a few off seasons, this latest incarnation of the New York “Tribal Week” bodes well for the return of New York as again one of the primary international centers for the sale of tribal art.  I applaud those who organized this year’s events and look forward to returning (and possibly exhibiting) in 2013.


Monsoons Had Key Role In Harappa, Study Says
Researchers show how the weather pattern gave birth to, then decimated the ancient civilization.
By Thomas H. Maugh II.  Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2012.

For direct link, please go to: http://www.latimes.com/news/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-indus-harappan-20120528,0,1127932.story

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Italy On Other Side Of Art Tiff
Disputed 'Christ Carrying the Cross' is seized by U.S. while it is on loan from a Milan museum.
By Mike Boehm, LA Times, April 25, 2012.

For the direct link to the article, please go to:  http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-italian-painting-20120424,0,4187454.story

There is not much to say, other than "those who live in glass houses, shouldn't throw stones."


The Loot Stops Here
Continuing the story of the Khmer stone sculpture removed from auction.
By Tess Davis, LA Times, April 25, 2012.

For the direct link to the editorial, please go to:  http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-adv-davis-khmer-loot-sothebys-20120425,0,2456835.story

My comments:

To be clear, I am not condoning the looting of cultural objects.  But, I do want to make a few points, often missed in the debate over cultural patrimony.

Many of these source countries are currently subject to government complicity in the antiquity trade, corruption, wars, insurrections, natural disasters, and lack of funds, thus preventing the preservation of existing objects and the safe return of other objects that may have removed illegally. 

There are too many examples of cultural objects being destroyed or damaged in source countries, because of the above conditions, most notably the destruction of ancient Buddhist art in Afghanistan during the Taliban era and the looting of the museum in Bagdad during the US invasion.

Without a market for antiquities, many if not most of these objects would be left to ruin or deliberate destruction and rarely if ever seen and appreciated.  It is common that most major works of art are eventually donated or sold to public institutions, allowing for further appreciation and study by a wide audience.  On that note, will more people see and enjoy an object safely displayed in a major international museum versus a local museum in a source country?  Will that local museum have the ability to safely conserve and protect that object?

Who actually owns this cultural property?  Why do the current residents of a region, many who are not the actual descendents of the creators of this art, have that privilege?  Why does any one country have dominion over works of art?   Doesn’t it make more sense to treat all cultural property as belonging to humanity as a whole?  Is it not human culture that is the provenance of art?

I believe that works of art should be appreciated by the widest audience possible.  Unless there is clear evidence of theft, I propose that instead of permanently returning cultural property that they are loaned back to sources countries, on a temporary basis, in exchange for the loan of other objects in their collections.


A New Glimpse Into Ancient Human History
DNA from excavated skeletons sheds some light on the spread of agricultural in Europe.
By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times, April 26, 2012.

For the direct link to the article, please go to:  http://www.latimes.com/news/science/la-sci-dna-europe-agriculture-20120427,0,6220304.story


Plumed Serpent Dazzles US Still
The wandering deity Quetzalcoatl gets its due in a sprawling exhibit from ancient Mexico at LACMA
By Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times, April 27, 2012

For a direct link to the article, please go to:  http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-plumed-serpent-review-20120427,0,5970690.story


"Warrior of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale"
The most expensive Taiwanese made film tells the tale of legendary aboriginal chief Mouna Rudo, who led a bloody rebellion against Japanese colonizers in the 1930.  The story is based on the Wushe Incident, the largest, and last, uprising against the Japanese by island's aboriginal inhabitants.

The Los Angeles Times ran a story, by Scarlet Cheng, on the film in the April, 30 Calendar section.  

Friday, April 6, 2012


Antique Ivory Sales Banned in California, Consignments Seized

By David Hewitt.  Maine Antique Digest, February-March 2012

For a direct link to the article, please go to: 


Gold Jewelry of the Indonesian Archipelago
Features more than 700 unpublished masterpieces from the tribal, ethnic, and courtly gold body adornments traditions of Indonesia's outer island - Sumatra, Sulawesi, the Lesser Sundas and Southeast Maluku.  The pieces date from the 4th to the 20th century, and many are completely unknown, extremely rare, and of high quality.
By Anne Richter and Bruce W. Carpenter with Achim Sibeth and David A Henkel.

For orders:
Pre-order at Amazon.com.  For trade and wholesale orders, please contact the National Book Network: custserv@nbnbooks.com.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


Children of the Plumed Serpent: The Legacy of Quetzalcoatl in Ancient Mexico
April 1 to July 1, 2012
Resnick Pavilion
Los Angeles County Museum of Art

"Children of the Plumed Serpent is the first large-scale exploration of ancient kingdoms of southern Mexico and their patron deity, Quetzalcoatl, the human incarnation of the Plumed Serpent.  Through codices, gold, ceramics, and textiles this exhibition traces the extensive trade networks that facilitated the spread of the International Style and pictographic writing system.  These communities successfully resisted both Aztec and later Spanish subjugation, thriving in an era of international entrepreneurship.  Featuring more than two hundred objects..."

Catalog available through LACMA's Store: www.lacmashop.org or call: (323) 857-6146


Human Ancestors Used Fire Earlier, Study Says
Charred bones in a South African cave suggest that Homo erectus was utilizing fire a million years ago, and may even have been cooking, researchers say...
By Amina Khan.  Los Angeles Times, April 3, 2012                                                                     
For the direct link, please go to: http://www.latimes.com/news/science/la-sci-fire-20120403,0,5516323.story


Art Makes A Statement For Business Too
The artwork that organizations choose for their buildings, or for their grounds, is as important as the art that people select for their homes...
By Jean Efron.  New York Times, Sunday, April 1, 2012

For the direct link, please go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/jobs/art-as-an-extension-of-the-corporate-image.html?scp=1&sq=Jean%20Efron&st=cse

Officials Are Set To Seize Antiquity
Federal agents in New York on Wednesday moved to seize a thousand-year-old Cambodian statue from Sotheby’s, alleging in a civil complaint that Sotheby’s had put the 10th-century figure of a mythological warrior up for auction despite knowing that it had been stolen from a temple...
By Ralph Blumenthal.  New York Times, Thursday, April 4th, 2012

For the direct link, please go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/05/arts/design/ancient-cambodian-statue-is-seized-from-sothebys.html?_r=1&emc=eta1

Friday, February 24, 2012


Over the weekend of February 10th, 11th, & 12th, the tribal art faithful assembled at the West Coast’s sacred hall: the Festival Pavilion, Fort Mason in the city of San Francisco.  The San Francisco Tribal & Textile Arts show, in its 26th year, is without a doubt the best tribal art venue in America and arguably, the world. There are two other high-end shows in Europe, but the emphasis in on African art. The SF show has much more depth, with top sellers from the US, Europe, and Australia offering a much wider range of materials and cultures: wood and stone sculptures, ceramics, masks, textiles, beadwork, jewelry from Africa, Oceania, Asia, and the Americas.

After a few slow years, this time attendance was up, as well as enthusiasm.  Not once, for the first time since 2009, did I hear potential buyers complain about the economy or put off purchases based on money woes.  Serious sales were made and at least one well-known Indonesia tribal art dealer had the best show, sales wise, ever!  Most of the dealers I talked to reported better sales this year, although as usual some sellers left disappointed.

In my area, Tribal Asia and the Western Pacific, including Indonesia, there were many rare and important objects on display.  There were two archaic Tau-Tau figures, several ancient Kayanic Dayak (Kayan, Bahau, Modang) wood sculptures, a crowned Nias Island figure, ancestral figures (Aitos) from Timor Island, a pair of Batak Pagars, a beautiful Kenyah Dayak dance mask, an old human figure style Toraja shrine door, painted Dayak shields, lots of weapons, Javanese batiks, and Iban ritual textiles.  Known sales of Indonesia tribal art included a rare Dayak cave guardian (one of four of this quality, type and condition known on the market), an amazing Dayak chief’s stool in the form of a dragon (Aso) with a super patina, a ladle from Timor Island with early provenance, one of the Tau-Tau figures, and a beautiful and unusual beaded vest/skirt set from Borneo Island.

As an added bonus to the festivities, Bay Area legend Tom Murray celebrated his 60th birthday party on Saturday evening at the Fort Mason Gate House.  Well over 300 of Tom’s closest friends joined him for food, drink, and live music.

As usual, the super team put together by show organizers Bill Caskey and Liz Lees created the perfect venue for viewing great works of art: a large historic hall overlooking the beautiful San Francisco Bay.  Besides the regular well-received opening night Gala, there was a colorful display of contemporary Moroccan rag rugs in the lobby.  

Monday, January 16, 2012


A Scripps College exhibition's art-dealer partnership conflicts with ethics guidelines
By Mike Boehm.  Los Angeles Times: Saturday, January 14, 2012

For the direct link to the article on line, please go:

After reading this article, please see the comments below:
I have been a dealer of Ethnographic Art from Asia for more than 35 years.  On numerous occasions, I have generously loaned objects, expertise, and precious time to museums without any compensation and often with little recognition.  It is not uncommon for museum staff to rely on art dealers for information and material for exhibitions.  Why shouldn't they?  Dealers often know more about the material than the curators and certainly have important additional contacts when it comes to acquiring objects.  It is a ridiculous and prejudicial argument that dealers are not qualified or ethical enough to server as curators for museum exhibitions.

I take offense when others regularly characterize dealers as motivated purely by profit.  In fact, virtually every art dealer I know has as much passion for the arts as any collector, curator, or critic.  When buying art, a professional dealer's primary concerns are the authenticity, aesthetics, quality, and condition of the piece, not the value.  

Of course, dealers have a financial stake in the art market and in the success of related exhibitions, but so does everyone else involved. Dealers make money when they sell a work of art.  Collectors make money with their art investments, either by reselling pieces or by taking a tax deduction when they donate pieces to museums.  Museums make money, in part, by charging to view their collections.  Curators and museum staff receive regular paychecks and perks, and unless Christopher Knight is writing for the LA Times out of the goodness of his heart, he has been paid (some would say overpaid) to critique the art world.  

Dealers have to play all roles: acting as critic when evaluating quality and aesthetics; academic when researching to properly identify and classify objects; and collector when making choices that fuel the passion.  You can add in conservator, photographer, display and lighting specialist, as well as packing, shipping, and storage agent.

It might come as a surprise that most dealers are not getting rich in this business.  It is possible to make a good living, like any other profession, but only after putting in years of hard work with the hope you gain enough experience, knowledge, and reliable contacts to find those few great pieces.  Dealers regularly have to sort through piles of lesser quality pieces, as well as fakes and reproductions, spending considerable amounts of time and money out of pocket, before ever seeing any profit. 

One last note:  I was the guest curator for the 1990 exhibition of Indonesian tribal art at the San Diego Museum of Man.  The museum staff was pleased with my involvement, the exhibition was well received by the viewing public, and the art world did not implode.  


A Scholarly and Environmental Reappraisal
By Simon Romero.  New York Times: Sunday, January 15, 2012

For direct link to article on line, please go to: