22 January 2015

A sneak preview romp through Metro Curates in New York City

Source: Metro Curates

by Marc Masurovsky

This unusual annual art fair attracts dealers from across the United States and occasionally from Europe and the Far East who exhibit all sorts of items tagged as folk art, tramp art, “primitive” art, odd art, mixed in with archaeological gems, indigenous artifacts, and contemporary art.

In fact, the trend these days appears to be to mix indigenous artifacts with modern art—the contrast is there to stimulate interest, something that does not work all the time.

At the sneak preview yesterday, June 21, 2015, at 125 W. 18th Street, in the Chelsea area of Manhattan, thick crowd of gawkers, art world aficionados, those who want to be seen and see, mingled, pressed elbows, snuck into trendy booths and generally enjoyed the wide availability of alcohol. Wine on the house!

Four galleries stood out as purveyors of antiquities and indigenous pieces, one from Birmingham, Michigan, one from Chicago, Illinois, and two from New York City.

One displayed a fairly special Navajo mask or headdress produced in the early years of the 20th century. A casual mention of the sensitive nature of displaying such items for sale sent one of the gallery reps searching for answers.

Those selling Hopi artifacts were quick to say that some of their items had been purchased from a Hopi-certified “market” and obtained regular shipments of artifacts, a galling comment knowing how hypersensitive the Hopi nation is about the sale of items removed from its lands without the consent of its representatives. Finally, one gallery stood out with its array of unique pieces from Olmec culture, ranging in age from 2000 to 5000 years ago.
Olmec mask, ca. 1500 B.C.

When a gallery aide was asked about the origins of the pieces, he answered rather assuredly that he had no idea how these pieces entered the United States and had no idea as to the archaeological sites from which they had been extracted. Gorgeous they were, more worrisome was the absence of provenance and a lingering “the less we know, the better everyone is” attitude. Well, one of the items, an Olmec mask, is going for $225,000. The average price for small Olmec statuettes ranged from 15,000 to 40,000 US dollars.

The market continues to be unabashed when it comes to the sale of antiquities and Native American artifacts. And, even more distressing, there are no official means by which to ensure that licitly-obtained objects are the only ones being offered to the unwitting, uncurious, uncaring buyer.