Thursday, May 20, 2010

Soo Tze Oriental Gallery: A small contribution from Tasmania?

Another gallery, dealing in a mixture of contemporary, recent historic, and ancient art and antiquities, has come to my attention as needing mention here; another member of the Southern Hemisphere (and more specifically, Australian) trading "scene." Soo Tze Oriental Galleries is currently based out of Hobart, Tasmania (since 2005), but previously operated out of a Melbourne shop since 1983, with an online presence since June, 2003. To quote from their online homepage, it "is now Australia's premier private gallery dealing in a broad range of Buddhist and related art and ethnographic materials from Tibet, Mongolia, Nepal, China, and Bhutan, in addition to works from the rest of Asia." Furthermore, they highlight the "broad time span" and "high quality" of their products, and the self-stated fact that "items from our inventory [are] now found in many of the best private collections, galleries and museums around the world."

All signs point to this dealer operating a very small enterprise, or at the very least running a very controlled on-line store, as only six categories of artifacts/contemporary art are listed, each with very few items on display at any one time. These categories are "sculptures," "paintings," "objets d'art" (i.e. "small functional and decorative from 1000BCE to the 19th century"), "rugs & textiles," and "Tsakali and miniature thangkas." Leaving aside those objects that are being sold as contemporary art, ethnographica, or recent pieces (very few of which have displayed provenance regardless....provenance DOES matter, even for recent acquisitions), I will now turn to those few pieces recognizable as suspect antiquities.

What first made me determined to report about this gallery is this vessel, said to come from the site of Ban Prasat, northeast Thailand. Nearly identical examples are also on display at the Phimai museum. As is all too common, no provenance information, collecting history, or even price, is given for this artifact on sale. Without holding it in my hands, determining its authenticity just from photographs is difficult, but the form, color, and shape all match... Other artifacts, like this "Liao Dynasty copper funerary mask," this "repousse copper Linga cover," c. 17th century Nepal (albeit with provenance stated as from a 1994 Christie's auction), or this fragment of "Yuan Dynasty silk," are all equally suspicious to me. Although China has long been known for a thriving fake antiquities industry, most dealers naturally try to do their best, and stake their reputations, on the fact that they only offer genuine artifacts to the best of their knowledge. The fact that no prices are given, to me, points to even more suspicious dealings...artifacts, albeit in small quantities, bought and sold for a select group of favourite customers perhaps?

The burden of proof is now on Soo Tze Oriental Gallery to either provide evidence that due diligence has been conducted on these objects (and, ideally, make this information available as part of the listing for each artifact offered), or admit that they haven't, and remove from sale anything demonstrated to be a forgery or a recently surfaced artifact. If they can't and won't comply with these basic ethical standards to foster a licit and non-destructive trade, preferring to continue with business-as-usual, then they will be further exposed as such.

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