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Wait for the Great
Thu, Dec 17th, 2009 05:41:54 AM
Topic: L'UNA
Wait for the Great

Comparison, like fire, can be helpful tool as well as unhelpful one in discussing antique weavings.

With that in mind, comparing the results of the 5 sales RK mentioned in the beginning of this post --Christies (New York) skinners, gorgan, rippon-bozwell, sotheby(New York) – there are both answers and questions for RK and our readers to ponder.

Dollar-wise, but don’t quote us on this, it appears Sotheby managed to move the most amount of money out of buyers pockets and into theirs and their consignors.

But in the bid-ness of antique oriental rugs, it ain’t all about the cash, well at least not in RK’s world.

As we also wrote, there was not one champion non-urban rug in the almost 1000 that crossed the auction blocks during these five sales.

Yes, that’s a fact, not one “A” piece in any of the category RK has interest – Turkmen, Turkish Village or Caucasian.

It should be clear to our seasoned readers RK’s standards are high and, while we recognize few “collectors” can afford “A” pieces, they could buy one if they didn’t squander their funds on several, or many, lesser ones.

It’s the old gourmet versus gourmand dichotomy – the former wants a little taste of something great and the latter wants a plate full of something to fill the belly.

RK also recognizes most people collect out of, or on account of some type of mild, socially accepted neurosis. How many of these rugs that were sold were not destined for the floors of the proud new owners? RK would have to guess 20-30 percent at best, if that.

So the number of lots that were not bought as “furniture” is pathetically small, making these auctions, in the end, not suppliers of 'art' or ethnographic material but mere domestic floor-covering.

No wonder RK doesn’t have much to say – knowing what we know, who could possibly think differently?

Also, we must remind you, that’s why 99.% of these weaving were made – for commerce not indigenous purpose, even those that are now touted as “collector” rugs.

Like the 'print' versus the 'painting' analogy RK can raise, these goods might look to the uninitiated as “art”, or “ethnography” but in reality they are not.

OK, enough of RK’s rug collecting philosophy but let’s reinforce our main point here – better to own one great rug, and pay too much for it, than to own 10 mediocre rugs that too much was paid for as well.

One last point before the pics and our take on the last of the sales –sotheby.

Had a genuinely great “A” Turkmen, Turkish Village or Caucasian rug shown itself at these sales you can be sure it would have made a record price – $50,000, $100,000 or more – as there’s a lot of cash laying around at the sidelines waiting to be spent.

Don’t believe us? Watch and see the fireworks when one does pop up.

From the about 45 rugs that might qualify as “collector” in the sotheby sale, we picked what we consider the best.

Again remember our words about comparison, for the following pieces we illustrate and comment about are superior to the rest, but highly inferior to the best of their types.

The first, lot 1 a soumak bag, made $12,000 including hammer and premium:

Now 12 grand for about 3 square feet of weaving ain’t cheap, even if the weaving is 125-150 years old.

RK has never seen the archetype of this design “type” and that is why we don’t have one in our collection.

Perhaps there never was one, but we are of the opinion there was and we’ve been on a 25 plus year lookout for it.

Were this the one, and trust us it wasn’t, the border would be far more animated and alive (go see plate 10 in our Weaving Art Museum exhibition --Soumak and Kelim Weaving of the Caucasus which can be found in the Previous Exhibitions Archive) and compare its rendition of this border with the flaccid, flat two-dimensionality lot 1 exhibits.

The central medallion and field of lot 1 are better than its main border but they too fail to create any magic; they are well-drawn but miss creating that third dimension all archetype soumak bag exude.

It’s a nice accomplished weaving well worth the price, if one is satisfied with less than genius.

What would the archetype have brought had it appeared in sotheby? Well no one knows but RK would have been willing to go considerably higher to get it.

We are not going to spill our buying secrets here, so all you wanna-be RK bashers, please don’t start squawking because we are not going to go farther in explaining why this was not l’una (the one).

The next piece RK chose for comment is lot 2, a white panel mafrash:

Since RK did not attend the preview, and sotheby’s former secretary turned department head did not list structural characteristics, we cannot be sure if this is Tekke or Yomud but we can be sure this is a middle period example.

Once again RK doesn’t have one of these, nor have we ever had one that is an archetype. We have owned several but again not l’una.

We will guess, from its "look", this one is Yomud, symmetric knotted, and not Tekke, which would be asymmetric open right.

But, again, there’s no guessing this one is nothing but a pretty piece that lacks genius anything – design, materials, proportions.

There's an interesting take on the standard main border, with its reciprocal “stars” formed between the de rigueur ‘pincer’ pseudo-kotchak elements.

It sold for $11,250 (hammer plus premium), which is again a lot of money for 2.5 sq feet of wool.

However, had it been a best of type, that amount would have been well, actually very well, eclipsed.

These white panel mafrash, whether Tekke, Yomud or any other group, are derived from the far more exotic and articulated panels on tent-bands.

RK’s research and instincts tell us there was, and might still be extant, the l’una mafrash in pile that will rival any tent-band, even an all pile one.

We are also pretty sure it is not going to be Tekke, tho it might be asymmetric open right, and will venture a guess it will be an Eagle-group piece from one of the already defined – or undefined – types.

When it shows up RK hopes we are on the scene and, should there be competition, that competition had better be prepared to see a record price when the hamer falls.

Again, all you RK bashers, don’t bore us with your whining about why we are not going to define what’s wrong with this one – nothing is wrong with it, it was well worth 11,250usd, but again it ain’t l’una.

The thrid and last piece we chose to discuss is lot 9, euphemistically called “Transylanvian”:

Honestly, our brief comparison blurb is most applicable here as there was no Turkish Village rug to discuss, so we had to chose this mediocre late genre reproduction revival mess.

Forget about the ghastly old repairs and horrible rendition of a “classic” Ottoman inspired ‘prayer rug’, this rug has nothing going for it. No great color, no great and inspired design, no great weaving prowess, no great condition – frankly it ain’t got nothin’going for it.

Naturally the price, $16,250, reflected its lack of genius, or anything else, including the foolish over-dating to 1700.

RK would date it a hundred years later, to circa 1800.

What would a genuine circa late 16th/early 17th century one have made?

Well, again, no one knows but RK does know we would not have been a competitor for it, as we prefer Turkish Village pieces rather than watered-down later renditions of earlier Ottoman court weavings.

All that considered, we’d guess about $150,000, even in the condition this late genre period reproduction/revival was in.

So, readers who are buyers, mark ye well RK’s advice -- save your pennies, learn your studies, and wait for the great.

And, remember those words of Hartley Clark RK quoted in our post More on Under-dating:

“In the course of time I developed my taste and acquired knowledge… (and decided)….to aim only for the superfine. They alone are a joy forever and worth collecting. I determined to quit once and for all the ruck of mediocre and even good carpets not to touch them even at bargain prices, but to concentrate on acquiring slowly but surely the finest obtainable examples of the types constituting the group in which I was going to specialize…The true joy of any collection, apart from its intrinsic worth as such, does and should lie in the fact each specimen in it(self) is a trophy, the result of a careful stalk, as of a stag, secured by the final coup de grace with a minimum expenditure of ammunition. The rich man who acquires a collection, whether as a whole or by separate pieces, merely by the signing of a check is like unto a man who would have a herd of deer corralled for him to destroy with a machine gun. Such methods are too easy, and defeat their own object by destroying the value of the prize to its possessor. In collecting, broadly speaking, one’s chief weapons must be taste and knowledge rather than money, though a modicum of the latter is practically essential.”

Last words to the wise -- make Clark’s motto your motto and you will never lose your money, or your face.

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