Home > JC'S Corner >Back in the saddle...
Author:jc
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Wed, Nov 28th, 2018 09:18:22 AM
Topic: Back in the saddle...

As our faithful readership knows RK has not posted any comments for a number of months. The reasons for the hiatus are many and we shan’t bother to enumerate them.

We’ll just begin again as if there had been no time-out.

Please note we will continue not publishing any pre-auction reviews or commentaries and opinions of rugs while they are still on the market. There also will be no regular schedule of missives, as we are not going to add anything at near the pace we once maintained. So do not expect more than sporadic additions on our part. Of course we still welcome contributions from our readers, but please be aware we will not allow or tolerate any slanderous, defamatory bullshit – be it aimed at RK or anyone else. Speak truth and back it up, or it will immediately removed by our webmaster and the perpetrator banned from further participation. ‘Nuff said on that point.

There have been a number of auctions and events since we began out time-out and we are surely not going to mention all of them. In fact, we decided to begin with comments not about them but about that rag hali’s(TRh) review of the latest April 2018 ‘collector meeting’ held in southern California.

Below is TRh’s article with our comments in bold type face.

TRh 196 Summer 2018

COLLECTORS MEETING Rug Collectors’ Weekend, Santa Ynez Valley Marriott, California 20–22 April
Reviewed by Ben Evans

The Grote-Hasenbalg/ Cassirer carpet; gidon cohen accumulation that was a ‘featured’ example at the meet

We should mention calling this a collector’s meeting might be somewhat misleading as many of the leading particpants are not really collectors but rather investors, whose interests are far more in monetary profit and self-adoration than anything resembling personal collecting gratification.

Over the years there have been several different oriental rug events or meetings in the US that have attracted an international audience and, indeed, attention far beyond their immediate constituency. Perhaps the most significant aspect of these get-to-gethers has been the chance for collectors to meet and exchange ideas and interests, which is a rather formal way of saying showing some of their stuff off to others. This is something that has been sorely missed since the demise of the once-universallypopular American Conference on Oriental Rugs (ACOR).

If truth be knownst TRh was not only instrumental in its demise, it was the leading cause. To make a long story short TRh co-opted all the ACOR organizaers and folded them into the icoc organization, which in fact was and still is nothing but an extention of TRh. Always had been and always will be. Just look at what an icoc has become today – nothing more than a two-bit travel agency for rugDUMB, sucking as many dollars as it can from each pseudo-icoc event. Need any more proof? And for any of you who doubt RK’s explanation for ACOR’s demise rest assured from the get-go franses and those at TRh viewed it as direct competition that need to be stopped. Doubtless, this old adage applies: This town(rugDUMB) ain’t big enough for both of us and eventually acor was gone.

The range and depth of the collections established in North America over the past twenty to thirty years constitute one of the rug market’s most remarkable achievements, and one of the greatest strengths of the antique rug world; therefore not seeing this material beyond the pages of HALI is something to regret.

Only a rug-ignorant douchebag like ben evans could pen such a stupid, myopic, analysis. Fact is American collectors have always been at the vanguard and a major presence in carpet collecting. And post late 1960’s arguably the leading contingent. Clearly, this is just evan shooting off his limited knowledge and ignorance as he has done so many thimes in the past.

However, that this has been noted and addressed is something to celebrate. Praise is due to Brian and Stephanie Morehouse, with considerable assistance from Bethany Mendenhall, for their efforts in establishing The Rug Collectors Weekend in Santa Ynez in California, as a natural heir to ACOR. Of course, one could say that ACOR offered many elements that were not part of the Santa Ynez gathering: notably exhibitions, museum displays and academic lectures. However, this new venture is a not-for-profit set-up, and the winning part of its formula lies in collectors showing pieces in an informal manner.

Gee, from what evans writes one would think no group of collectors ever did this before. What claptrap. And the fact it is ‘non-profit’ is a rather meaningless point to try and prove it’s a community effort. Mr morehouse is a well-knwn rug business wanna-be promoter, forget his genuinely questionable reputation as a supposed expert.

There are opportunities to handle the pieces, ask owners about what you have in your hands, and to see a broad variety of curated pieces—in other words, to see and share.

This is more nonsense as perhaps the least reliable source of information is asking its owner, who has built-in prejudices and vested interest to laud a purchase. RK well realizes this is not always the fact but it is far more than what anyone could call reliable. Plus, we need mention, the newest paradigm many of the collectors who attended this event, and others as well, are now playing. It’s called ‘consensus’ opinion. Take a weaving and show it to as many people as you can to get what is call a ‘consensus opinion’. This might work if one queries actual experts. However, since experts are few and far between in rugDUMB, and particularly at these morehouse events, one is often only left with worthless opinions from inexpert responders – consensus of their opinions or not. To say it is a totally specious and highly flawed method to determine quality and importance is beyond question. And those who believe it is not are proving it when their collecting choices are carefully examined.

This is perhaps best summed up by one collector who told me it was through talking to a number of the collectors present, most notably Jim Burns, that he had learnt what a good rug is and what rug connoisseurship looked like; he had gained the confidence to refine his own aesthetic preferences and pursue his own area of research and interest.

Whether or not this person actually exists and said this to evans is debateable, forget about any credence to the idea jim, aka generous jim, burns is anything but a magpie rug luminary whose opinions have often times proven questionable if not down-right wrong and useless. BTW burns has been at the center of this and the other one or two morehouse ‘meetings’. Better might be to call it the jim burns club of wanna-be honcho collectors. For anyone’s information, RK knows burns since the middle 1970’s and frankly we have nothing good to say about him or his collecting efforts except to praise his mostly 19th and few 18th century Persian city rugs. His Kurdish and Caucasian rug collections do not nearly live up to the hype that still surrounds them decades after their publication. Both of his books have throw away texts (one of which –the Kurdish – burns did not even write according to its author’s, Michael Wendorf’s, claims). The other says little if anything inventive about Caucasian rugs. Its text is as dated as a horse and buggy.

And it is highlighting and focusing on that aspect of collecting that makes this event so successful.

Once again since any consensus gained by questioning the participants at such a meeting is more often than not far from credible, mr evans needs at least to mention this and not gloss over it as it it doesn’t exist.

The format this year differed a little, but the event still started with a visit to Jim Burn’s home, followed the next day with showand-tell sessions split into broad subject areas. Although some time was available for observations and questions, the afternoon was given over to discussing and handling the rugs brought by each participant, with tables arranged throughout a large room. Without there being any overt commercial element to the event— it is simply a matter of people showing pieces from their collections—the measure of its value is what you take away from it.

This is about the most truthful statement evans’s article makes. If you are knoweldgeable you can sort through the less than credible patter but if not than you are liable to be mislead. Surely there is no guarantee anyone will learn much at such an event when an owner’s ideas, not an independent experts, are so highly touted and expected.

In this instance, however, there is another significant measure (sic) the meeting’s success: in 2017 there were forty-three participants. This year there were eighty-three, with a waiting list for any future events. All of this rather forces me to answer my own question: what did I take away from Santa Ynez? First, a realisation that design progression is so much easier to understand when seeing the pieces in the flesh; this emerged in Brian Morehouse’s presentation, which developed points made in his chapter in the recent HPL book Stars of the Caucasus, about the relationship between the historic carpet and textile designs of the Transcaucasian region.

To call the topic of moorehouse’s ‘talk’ old hat or yesterday’s news is a given. Perhaps someday we will critique what he has published. Suffice it to say we will be glad to wager there is not one new, inventive or revolutionary idea. Afterall morehouse has never been at the cutting edge of carpet collecting, and regardless he now thinks with his wife’s inheritance behind him he will is even more doubtful. Again, we will bet he’ll never progress past any of his few mediocre previous efforts. Yes, it’s true, RK has no respect for morehouse or burns. We know them both for too long and too well to have any other opinion.

Should morehouse, TRh or anyone else wants to trace where and how iconography on the earliest (and best) Azerbaijan embroideries developed we might point them to this fragment, which is in our estimation the archetype and earlier than any other embroidery or any pile carpet of the type.

Detail, “Caucasian” long stitch embroidery, RK Collection, 16th century or earlier

The fact it and another early example from RK’s collection were not included in that book demonstrates the lack of objectivity rugDUMB’s efforts at research often contain.

Second, it was brought home to me that rug collecting is never static, or is only as static as its participants, as was explained by Michael Rothberg, Alan Rothblatt and Kurt Munkacsi. This trio of leading Turkmen carpet collectors considered the use of the Memling gül in Turkmen tribal weavings, explaining that they had begun by splitting them into groups based on structure, materials and design to try to determine tribal groupings. But over time they had come to think that all of the Memling-gül weavings might well have been made by the same tribe.

Either evan has mis-translates what they said (yeesshhh and they all are speaking English so how could that possibly happen), or this trio of supposed Turkmen connoisseurs are about as dumbass and dopey as they come to possibly believe all memling gol Turkmen weavings should be attributed to the same ‘tribe’. Unsaid is what tribe that might be?

It was obvious that talking about rugs with their owners while having the textiles in your hands is the best way to learn about pieces, as colour and texture are the unique signature of each rug.

Yes, sure it is, but this presupposes the owner knows something, which in most cases RK seriously doubts.

Lastly, and inexplicably, I note that Jim Burns’s compelling session on Talish rugs is the only time that I have seen or heard this idiosyncratic group of textiles discussed in terms of historical context and age progression.

Well, mr evans, if you found it so compelling why did you not mention even one such idea? This is typical for TRh where invariably hype is presented as fact.

It seems inevitable that there will be comparisons made to both ARTS and ACOR, but the essential point is that the organisers have a formula that works for an event of a certain size, and should not be changed too much.

Let RK translate the real meaning of evans words. “Keep it small, morehouse, so as to not conflict with any of TRh’s activities. And rest assured if and when it does become competition you will see morehouse and others becoming far closer to TRh than they are now or ever would have been. History has a way of repeating itself, especially when all the factors are repeated. Remember Marlon Brandos “Godfather” admonition: “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer”.

That said, next year’s event is likely to include two rooms set aside for dealers to display items, and a few thematic exhibitions; but the intent will stay the same, and so it should.

As Acor is defunct and now the AARTS motel room hustle show has lost what little lustre It ever had and appears to be winding down, the morehouse 'collector’s meeting’ is here just in time to fill the void. Too bad from our perspective the present day icoc are a poor copy of what an icoc should and could have been. But that’s an old issue for RK, as we were not shy making perfectly clear our ideas what was wrong and how it could and should have been addressed and changed. And, if anyone wonders why nothing happened go ask TRh.

Before turning out the lights out we cannot miss mentioning the ridiculous assertions evans and TRh made about “The Grote-Hasenbalg/ Cassirier carpet, northeast Anatolia, ca. 1700…(which was)… A key exhibit in Brian Morehouse's session on design links between rugs and Azerbaijan embroideries”.

This is nothing but a later workshop, circa 1800 copy of an earlier, and decidedly better, and far more beautiful, original which formerly was in the John and Susie Douglass collection, and is published on the cover of in their (ludicrous) two-volume book. Douglass’s ideas were way off the chart, but his rug of this type was eons past gidon cohen’s, as the side-by-side comparison below shows.

Sould anyone disagree we will be glad to discuss why the Douglass rug (left) is far superior to cohen’s, which BTW was sold at rippon-boswell some years ago for about 95,600usd. Cohen thought he got a bargain because it was illustrated in the seminal 1922 Grote-Hasenbalg publication, came from a famous collection -- the Paul Cassirer – and the few others of the general type, including the one from the Peter Lehmann-Bärenklau Collection, have sold for considerably more. BTW cohen is one of the aforementioned collectors who uses the by consensus methodology, the fallacy of which is well apparent in his purchase of the Cassirer, a rather ugly and decidedly later copy of both the Douglass example and the Lehmann-Bärenklau.

Cohen does not know very much, his wallet being the far more active ingredient in his acquisitions than rug knowledge. Obviously RK thinks little of this rug or for that matter collectors like cohen whose belief querying people like jim burns can overcome their tres limited rug knowledge or connoisseurship.

And just for the record had the Cassirer rug been circa 1700, instead circa 1800, it would have sold for considerably more than the ‘cheap’ price cohen still believes he paid. Ignorance is bliss.

Nuff said, tune in for a coming installment which will briefly discuss some lots in the recently completed fall 2018 Skinner, Christie and sotheby sales plus other relevent topics of interest.

Author: john lewis
email: john_lewis@mac.com
Wed, Nov 28th, 2018 09:18:22 AM

RK Replies:

Thanks, John, and nice to hear from you.

Good to have you back.

All the best

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