Here’s the cole/hali review of the deYoung Turkmen ‘masterpieces’ exhibition with our comments added in bold type:
“Tom Cole reports:
In mid-December, without much fanfare or promotion (including signs guiding the uninitiated into the gallery), an exhibition of Turkmen weavings opened at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.”
One of the few points RK agrees with: The lack of adequate publicity, forget about the usual hype that accompanies most museum exhibitions, done for this exhibition.
We have heard several explanations but until positive we will refrain from joining the opining.
“A composite display composed of weavings from the three major contributors to the holdings of the FAMSF Turkmen collection, it includes diverse examples from the Caroline and H. McCoy Jones, Wolfgang and Gisela Wiedersperg, and George and Marie Hecksher Collections.
Weavings from all the tribes are represented, but there is a noticeable paucity of Tekke material, perhaps due to the fact George Hecksher never bought much of it, and the Wiedersperg examples are already known and have been published, as has some of the McCoy Jones material.”
A statement like this proves what a rug neophyte cole remains; his suppositions concerning the lack of Tekke weaving are nonsense.
Firstly, and actually, almost all of the examples in the show have already been exhibited and published, so that’s a poor explanation.
So is the idea George Hecksher never “bought much” Tekke weaving.
RK is privy to several of cole’s close encounters with Hecksher and must say he’s missed the boat believing the paucity of “Tekke material” was the result of a deliberate act on Hecksher’s part.
Let us be the first to inform cole how dumb his intimations are, for if Hecksher had been offered championship Tekke material, he would have bought it.
Fact is Hecksher, who is not a professional Turkmen rug trader but rather a motivated collector with a very, very finely tuned and trained eye, would buy great, early, Tekke weavings if he could.
But fact remains, and even a long time rug-poser like cole should know, Tekke weaving of that age and quality is among the rarest and hardest to bag prize in Turkmen rug collecting.
So the paucity of Tekke weavings is quite understandable in a show like this one that intends, and well succeeds, in presenting only early, masterpiece, quality examples, irrespective of group or type.
“Still, it left me wanting more. The small kapunuk and a small ensi hardly satisfied my desire to see more weavings from this tribe.”
There are also two wonderful three-gül torbas in the same alcove as the Tekke material, but it is unclear whether they are both from that tribe or some Yomut sub-group.”
One of the torbas on view at the deYoung, donated by the Hecksher collection
First off these two torba are not “three-gul torbas” but rather torbas where two rows have half-gols and only the center row has three complete ones.
Undoubtedly, cole’s error here demonstrates a much weaker knowledge of Turkmen rugs than he’d ever admit.
In addition to that fact, these two torba are both champions – whether they may or may not actually have been made by Tekke people.
By the way, RK knows both of these torba and while we do not likely believe either is Tekke, that label would probably at this point be as good as any to hang on them.
There is no doubt, however, both are venerable old examples, one in our opinion even more so.
”There is an apparent reticence on the part of the de Young’s curatorial staff to assign firm attributions or even educated guesses to many of the weavings, in particular those of the Ersari.”
Mentioning “curatorial expertise” only highlights how sorely lacking the deYoung’s Textile department is in oriental rug expertise, which is unfortunate because this is strongest area of the department’s holdings. And while it’s not imperative the curator be an expert, someone on staff or in a solid consulting position should be.
Present curator, Diane Mott, has but a rudimentary understanding of historic Turkmen rugs, or those of any other type as far as RK is concerned.
And cole’s pointing out some of these deficiencies, vis-a-vis the Turkmen show, only reminds RK this textile curator and her department are nowhere near capable of handling what the deYoung has already amassed, let alone what the Museum will hopefully do, and acquire, in the future.
And, yes, RK also noticed some obvious, but small, errors when we visited the exhibition but, really now, for cole to cite them in the face of this splendorous display of Turkmen rugs is foolish and incredibly petty.
“The formula “Unidentified Turkmen Tribe” is seen too often on the labels, although it is usually clear to the educated eye that the weavings in question are Ersari.”
Actually, and so far, RK has been somewhat kind to cole but the above statement is so stupid and dopey it deserves being so described.
Reality remains, and no matter how seriously studied the identification of a historic Turkmen rug or trapping is nothing but guesswork.
Nomenclature and provenance abound in Turkmen rug studies, however, there are hardly any hard-facts extant to substantiate the who/what and where for the earliest, and even many later examples.
Of course, we agree with cole there’s little curatorial expertise here but why bother saying it, Mott and her department make no attempt to prove otherwise.
That is why we avoided mention until now, in our third post to this topic.
But instead of whining about Mott and her Department, and considering how far the newly minted Ersari - Middle Amu Darya (MAD) ‘question’ has become a topic in rugdom, cole should have at least breeched its mention here.
“Even the ‘Ersari’ asmalyk exhibited in Philadelphia at the 1996 ICOC carries the ‘unidentified’ attribution, which is rather odd given how familiar the it is to the Turkmen carpet cognoscenti. But the SFBARS president, Peter Poullada, a local collector who knows these holdings better than anyone, told me that certain structural anomalies account for the lack of a more precise attribution, and that identification of the Middle Amu Darya provenance is sufficient.”
Perhaps unbeknownst to cole, mr peter poullada was, as we have heard from very reliable sources, quite involved with the selection and mounting of this exhibition.
It’s easy to see why Mott sought out help but RK would have preferred she chose someone with far more experience and knowledge than poullada.
After all, there are a number of alternatives in the Bay Area that would have been just as willing, and far more able, than he.
Likewise, it’s pretty sure the combination of Mott and poullada was the reason for many of cole’s complaints.
“The well-known McCoy Jones ‘Ersari’ main carpet was shown in all its glory, although it must be said that it has had extensive repairs, not all of which compliment the aesthetic.”
Again, RK finds cole’s mentioning these repairs snide, backhanded and better left unsaid. Their mention doing nothing but denigrate a wonderful carpet and the collector who treasured it.
“The inclusion of a token example of a Beshir style prayer rug, a type that is thought to have been commercially woven by Uzbeks in the Bukhara region appeared out of place amid these tribal rugs.”
Here’s cole’s Turkmen rug ignorance showing itself again. We’d suggest he, and countless others, face the fact many so-called and highly regarded ‘collectible’ Turkmen rugs were the production of settled weavers, whose weaving efforts can be called equally “commercial”.
“The Chodor pieces presented, while few in number, are truly world class in every respect. Previously exhibited in Philadelphia in 1996, an ensi and a large trapping are both outstanding examples of textile art. The Thompson/Hecksher Chodor asmalyk, with its white ground and atypical field design, is a masterpiece. And the ‘ertmen göl’ main carpet is more than respectable, with a glowing presence in spite of the dim lighting. Curiously, Chodor weavings provide the introduction to the Turkmen aesthetic in the entrance to the Textile gallery, while at the same time it is explained in adjacent placard that the Chodor employ an aesthetic that is totally different to that practised by bulk of the other tribes.”
It is impossible to read this review and not realize what a Turkmen rug-willie the author is. Instead of penning a continuous moan about the exhibition’s lack of expertise, how about showing some of his own?
Truth is cole and his editors at hali where, let’s all remember, this review appeared don’t have the rug savvy to do so and even if they wanted to they couldn’t.
“The classic material of the Arabachi is in evidence, including the wonderful Memling-gül mafrash and the Wiedersperg ensi, a tour de force of Turkmen textile art, executed with amazing details that impart a three-dimensional presence.”
So far we have abstained from commenting on much of what is written about the exhibitions objects but to call Weidersperg’s Arabatchi engsi a “tour de force” of textile art is, in our estimation, silly hype and worthless hyperbole.
It is a good example of an exceedingly rare type but surely not a best of type, or even a second best.
Comparing it to one of that is might have been a constructive exercise for cole to undertake and his audience to learn from but, alas, only hype instead.
“Inexplicably, there is little emphasis placed on the Salor weavings shown, and the choice of a late Salor main carpet to highlight this portion of the exhibit is curious, given the fact there is a much older and more spectacular example in the museum’s collection.”
While we agree the Salor main was not a best of type, it was quite a good one and cole’s dissing it can, once more, only be attributed to his vast and apparent Turkmen rug ignorance.
Sure cole proves he knows the words and terminology of Turkmen rug collecting, and those at hali the ‘history’ of some of the more public acquisitions from the three donors. But cole, and those at hali too, consistently falls flat on their face when trying to do anything but mouth or recite them.
“But the juxtaposition of Salor and Saryk weavings was fortuitous, allowing a well-considered comparison of the aesthetic in two turreted gül chuvals. The Salor example breathes in a luxuriously spacious composition, while the adjacent Saryk version seems cramped and (only by comparison) decidedly second class: on its own, it is a lovely weaving.”
RK has been on record about Salor turreted-gol chuvals for more than a decade and throughout that time we have expressed the idea this design is a late addition to the Salor repertoire.
Our guess is it originated with some archaic Tekke group and, at some later point in Turkmen history, was adopted by the Salor or those who had Salor weavers slaving for them.
This issue, the transference of certain proprietary Turkmen group designs from group-to-group, is a highly important and interesting one – one that is clearly way above the head of a tom cole or his hali editors.
“There are also two Salor ‘kejebe’ trappings adjacent to one another, both pre-1842, but one far superior to the other in terms of space and design. The educational value of juxtaposing weavings of similar design types is a nice touch, a rare opportunity to compare and contrast.
The other Saryk weavings are lovely, including the ‘Skinner’ Memling-gül torba, and a previously unpublished and unknown chuval which, while made with cotton (suggesting a period no earlier than the ‘second phase’ of Saryk weaving), is fabulous, with detailing in the border that I have not seen before.”
To put it bluntly, we tire of reading cole’s sophomoric understanding of Turkmen rugs and, were it not for the fact no one else provides any peer(ha) –review, we would never waste our time.
That said, cole’s affirmation the presence of cotton in a Saryk weaving positively excludes it from being what is now generally known as ‘first period’ Saryk is more nonsense and should not be believed -- that is unless you are as naïve as cole, and others who, maintain this notion.
Real rules in Turkmen rug collecting are few and far between and this one is nothing but another piece of fool’s-gold, as after only a minute’s thought we remembered a published one that proves otherwise.
“The Yomut material is somewhat mixed, with an ‘Eagle-göl Group III rug (I am still not sure how or why this ‘attribution’ is used), and a lacklustre dyrnak göl main carpet. But the C-gül carpet (previously unpublished, from the Hecksher Collection) is absolutely fabulous. Extremely colourful and not very large (for a main carpet), it has extraordinary presence and movement, even though one can barely see it in the exceedingly dim lighting. Curiously, the description of the rug includes a reference to a C-14 test result (1642-1687) putting it into a period when (with the advent of the Industrial Revolution circa 1650), such results are not normally considered reliable. Even Jürg Rageth has renounced his previous advocacy of the value of such testing of tribal rugs from this period. It is such a great example of the design type that it requires no additional confirmation of that fact; it stands out from the others and it is unfortunate it is not hung on a wall where it could have received a bit more light to accentuate its blazing colours as well as the use of space and colour to create movement. This rug is pure art.”
Ho hum is about as much as we’d rate cole’s ramblings here.
And as far as rageth goes? Even more a Turkmen rug-moron than cole and citing anything he might say is equally as suspect.
H-e-l-l-o, Earth to cole: The carpet is referred to as a multi-gol, not “C-gol” carpet.
But, once more, a small but significant facet of Turkmen weaving goes all but lost when there’s a bull in the rug china shop like cole, or his handlers at hali.
“The display also includes five Turkmen robes from the Marilyn and Marshall Wolf Collection (three Tekke chyrpys, a Chodor coat and an Arabachi example). The white chyrpy is especially nice, rather overshadowing the lesser yellow and ‘black’ examples. The Chodor and Arabachi coats are both wonderful examples of their types, but an opportunity has been missed, as the label descriptions did not focus on the decidedly different aesthetics in the embroidery of these two tribes, when compared to that of the Tekke. Nor was there a Yomut ‘paranji’: I am guessing the Wolfs do not own one.”
Here, too, we must agree with cole concerning the inclusion of these robes.
However, that’s as far as we go and concerning his presumptions about the Wolf collection, we have no clue.
“It is unclear what the focus and theme of the exhibition is. The attempt to provide an overview of Turkmen culture by the addition of chyrpys and coats borrowed from a New York private collection is welcome, but incomplete. One must also wonder about the contractual obligations of the museum to the only living major donor of Turkman rugs to the FAMSF: perhaps this is why other superb rugs known to be in the Hecksher Gift are not exhibited.”
RK wonders why hali published this last paragraph with cole’s highly suspect and uninformed ideas.
However, on the other side, we are sure there must be some reason. Nothing that appears in hali is an accident – it is all part of their agenda, financial, authoritarian or otherwise
“All in all, this is a very satisfying experience, especially as museum and commercial exhibitions of Turkmen rugs have all but disappeared from the US landscape. Given that Turkmen weavings are among the very few tribal weaving groups that can command the word ‘classical’, one would have hoped the museum would have funded an official ‘opening’, and even a catalogue, as I understand was originally planned, thereby firmly placing the art in a proper historical perspective as classical art. Certainly the opportunity to present the historical legacy of the material culture of the Turkmen is timely, given the strategic importance that present day Turkmenistan with large reserves of oil and gas, and the relatively recent demise of its omnipresent leader, Turkmenbashi. In these troubled times we must be thankful that they are there at all to be viewed and appreciated by those who take the time to seek them out.”