For an organization claiming to be the great arbiter of all things rug related, boastings of a “new improved”that rag hali appear to us like a blowhard drunk in an empty bar trying to pick a fight with the unoccupied bar stool next to him. Nothing but hot-air.
Times have indeed changed and unfortunately that rag hali hasn’t; well, at least enough to maintain that arbiter position.
Our recent comments have proven positive the promised “new improved” magazine is far less than claimed.
And now after several months of hyping similar change for its website -- www.hali.com -- while inactivity and lack of attention was the reality-- the last days have, like the magazine, seen a cosmetic face-lift and flurry of activity, including yesterday’s effort “Then and Now – Two Caucasian Rugs at Sotheby’s” which we quote and add comment below.
But first some background: When michael franses and robert pinner started the magazine that claim, being the rug world’s arbiter, had some legs.
Way back then, circa 1975, few prospective readers, rug auction buyers, or rug collectors knew very much, and in comparison that rag hali knew a whole lot more.
But over the intervening 40 years that ratio has changed, no longer is there such a gap between what the magazine staff knows and what its readers know.
In fact there no longer is a gap.
Obviously the plethora of books about carpets, which have published many hundreds of antique weavings, has been perhaps the greatest equalizer.
But, as the old saying goes, “you learn when you spend” goes without doubt as another important one.
Often those lessons are expensive and today’s dwindling pool of collectors for most type of antique oriental rugs have paid well for their tuition.
Now there are many are qualified graduates.
They might not be Phd’s, but they are surely able to tell an OK example from a very good one.
Whereas the rug ‘brains’ now installed in that rag hali’s office can not compare with the early year’s heyday when Ian Bennett was the quarter-back, star end and water-boy.
It was Bennett, not franses or pinner, who produced the majority of the insightful and instructive contents that built that rag hali’s arbiter reputation.
A reputation that, except for at times during alan marcuson’s residence in the editor’s swivel chair, has been all downhill from Bennett’s time.
But that was then and this is now.
So race fans, let’s take knife and fork to what that rag hali has dished out and see if there is any meat below the sizzle.
“Then and Now – Two Caucasian Rugs at Sotheby’s
May 9, 2013
Some fifteen years ago, back in November 1998, we reviewed two lovely Caucasian rugs from the Gary Bortz Collection that had been sold earlier that year (May 1998) at Sotheby’s in London (HALI 101, Auction Price Guide, p.134).
The first was a particularly beautifully coloured, velvety, Karagashli Kuba from the first half of the 19th century that had been exhibited by the London dealer Clive Loveless at the Maastricht Orangerie in March 1989 (HALI 41, p.21).
In 1998 it sold for $63,410, well above SLO’s estimate.
The other was a chunky, funky Kazak, also 19th century, previously published by Patrick and Rie Ampe (Kailash Gallery, Antwerp) in their 1994 book Textile Art.
In London it fetched the equivalent of $37,490, again easily surpassing expectations.
Now, a decade and a half later, both rugs have again come under the auctioneer’s hammer, this time consigned by a Florida collector to Sotheby’s ‘Important English and European Decorative Arts’ sale in New York on April 24, 2013.
The good news is that both rugs were sold – the bad news is that the Karagashli, estimated at just $15-20,000, limped to $16,250, while the Kazak could barely reach the bottom of its $20-30,000 estimate, and that sum included buyer’s premiums.
How times and tastes have changed!”
Left: Karagashli rug, Northeast Caucasus, circa 1875. 7ft. 3in. by 4ft. 4in. (2.21 by 1.32m.) Sotheby’s New York, 24 April 2013, lot 223. Estimate: $15/20,000, Sold for $16,250; Right: Kazak rug, Southwest Caucasus, circa 1875, 6ft. 9in. by 4ft. 7in. (2.06 by 1.40m.). Sotheby’s New York, 24 April 2013, lot 224. Estimate: $20/30,000, Sold for $20,000
RK finds it comical the supposed top of the rug world’s organ can’t do better than a “How times and tastes have changed” explanation.
Let’s do that for them, and our readers.
RK never met Gary Bortz, but during the middle of the 1980’s we sometimes heard his named bandied about by certain west coast rug dealers.
Then, of course, we recognized the name when his “collection”, or parts of it, came up for sale in London.
Though we did not know him, or ever exchange one word with him, we can tell you about his rug career.
Well not in a micro sense, but surely in a macro one.
Bortz, like a number of other ‘name’ rug collectors, was not a real collector in any sense of the word.
These people are nothing but speculators.
They always have well-stuffed wallets and deal, basically or exclusively, with one or two ‘dealers’, who they ‘trust’.
But they do solicit pieces from other dealers, and then invariably only purchase what their ‘trusted’ dealer approves.
They never develop any real understanding of what they are buying, but most listeners never know this when talking with them.
They can talk the talk convincingly enough to dazzle friends and acquaintances to whom they appear ‘far out’, not just some ordinary ‘art’ collector of paintings, bronzes, Tiffany lamps, or any other mainstream interest.
So Gary Bortz burst on the rug scene, bought rugs at auction, and from ‘leading’ dealers like Clive Loveless or Patrick and Rei Ampe.
Then like night follows day consigned them to auction to reap the rewards.
As we remember the sale, some lots did exceptionally well, like the “Karagashli”, others not so.
When it was over we are sure Bortz showed a good return on his speculation.
But condolences are due to the winning bidders, as results for these two ex-Bortz collection pieces well demonstrate.
Now here’s the real nitty-gritty that rag hali is unwilling, or is it just incapable, of explaining.
The reason for this diminished return is not at all that “times and tastes have changed”, as those lighter-than-air experts at that rag hali would want to lead you to believe.
It’s that buyers, those that are left on the scene, are far more educated and experienced than when the Bortz collection hit the block. They are far less gullible and prone to believe auction house and dealer hype.
And, no, it’s not the world-wide economic ‘crisis’ that’s a contributing factor.
There are still enough buyers left on the scene who are not afraid to bid pieces much higher than they previously made.
But they have to be better, older and rarer than merch like the two Bortz rugs.
So the failure for the two Bortz rugs to sell well is solely the result of far more educated and experienced buyers.
Besides being unable to hit the nail on the head, as to why these two rugs did not perform well, that rag hali can’t even attribute them correctly.
What they call a “particularly beautifully coloured, velvety, Karagashli” is surely not a genuine Karagashli.
First, it has a field design that so poorly compares with the iconography “Karagashli” rugs are known to display it raises immediate questions for this provenance.
And those bracket/moustache patterns alternating under and above the major medallions are nothing but a highly derivative feature thrown into a mish-mash “Karagashli” design that smacks of ‘workshop’, not village weaving traditions.
Second, the main ‘umbrella’ border is likewise so poorly rendered it makes this iconic design look far more like many derivative “Karagashli” look-alikes, which this rug definitely is.
Third, even though we of course do not know its technical analysis, or have it handy for reference, we are pretty sure this will show features no genuine early 19th century Karagashli ever had, like probably a slightly ‘depressed’ warp.
Fourth, the color scheme is poor attempt at what Karagashli rugs are able to muster, and calling it “particularly beautifully coloured” is mere patter.
As for it being “first half of the 19th century”, as stated at the beginning of their review, and then “circa 1875” in the caption might not readers ask what’s going on.
Can’t that rag hali even manage to consistently date the rug the same in a such a short article?
All in, we’d be glad to bet it is a later 19th century “Shirvan”-type workshop rug made by a competent weaver, who was able to copy but not create.
We are also positive this rug does not have the very distinctive fatty, plush, thick but not heavy wool all genuine early 19th century Karagashli have.
Wool those inexpert palaverers at that rag hali claim it has.
Had it, we are sure, the price it made would have been at least double.
And the Kazak? Well it, too, is not really good enough to get today’s buyers to wave paddle or their mouse in the air.
Please now, it is a mechanical rug with about as much funk as Prince Charles.
It, like almost all of the dude Bortz’s ‘collection’, is now tres passé.
Those who buy these types of Caucasian rugs already have plenty and aren’t going there again. A supposition well proven by the auction result.
Is there some explanation why that rag hali can’t even get a simple bit of reporting right enough to pass RK’s scrutiny?
We put it down to the fact Daniel Shaffer, the only rug brain left in residence, being too busy putting out fires elsewhere to have time or desire to work overtime vetting what rug-moron ben, aka Jimmy Olsen, evans that rag hali’s forever incapable sophomoric editor does.
And major honcho michael franses never really showed any aptitude in anything other than classical rugs he could look up in a book and read what others, from Pope to Hans Konig, had to say about them.
There’s no Ian Bennett in the house anymore to do franses’ heavy-lifting, and that’s why this web-article ends up being as flat as a day old soufflé.
RK believes our extensive coverage of both the “new improved” website and magazine has proven beyond any doubt that rag hali is still in a downward trajectory into history’s wastebasket.
If we were working there we’d be worried about our job and next pay-check.
After all franses is not exactly mr moneybags, and let’s all remember how cloudband.com went from hype to bankruptcy in a matter of a few days.
And to RK the “new improved” that rag hali seems to us to now be following in cloudband.com’s misplaced footsteps.