The Guennol Stargazer – an iconic work of art from the 3rd millennium BC… and from Turkey

‘With its sleek, abstract form and its eyes tilted slightly towards the heavens, this rare complete idol from Anatolia is set to be a highlight of Classic Week in New York.’ But will it be a highlight for the right reasons? Investigative journalist Özgen Acar gave a slightly less star-struck introduction: ‘The “Kilia Idol,” a 23-centimeter statuette that has been smuggled from Turkey, will be auctioned on April 28 at New York Christies at an estimated price of $3 million.’

It is indeed remarkable for such a statuette to be found in an almost complete state. It is, then, equally remarkable that there is no documentation of its excavation, curation or display in Turkey before it surfaced in the United States in 1966.

There is nothing that guarantees and proves to Christie’s customers that the statuette was legally excavated and exported from Turkey.

The collecting history of the “Guennol” Stargazer or “Property from a New York private collection 12” is threadbare.

The “provenance” in Christie’s catalogue only reveals: ‘Alistair Bradley and Edith Martin, New York, acquired 1966 or prior; thence by descent. [W]ith the Merrin Gallery, New York, acquired from the above, 1993. Acquired by the current owner from the above, 16 August 1993.’

It was displayed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, ‘on loan by the Guennol Collection, 1966-1993’.

Still more remarkably, the catalogue’s first companion piece discusses this type of statuette’s ‘archaeological significance’; its second companion piece notes archaeologists’ recovery of ‘evidence of a workshop for production of Kiliya-type idols at Kulaksızlar’. Yet this idol has no archaeological record whatsoever.

As highlighted by Özgen Acar, are there going to be rescue excavations in Kulaksızlar (which is a neighbourhood in the Akhisar district of Manisa province), to preserve what remains of this landscape?

Christie’s appears to know that this idol is from Turkey, as they advertise that it is from Anatolia. Has Christie’s contacted the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in Turkey to confirm its legal status?

Whether or not Christie’s has contacted the Ministry, Özgen Acar considered the possibility that the Ministry might ‘take action [to] stop’ the auction. Has the Ministry contacted Christie’s and asked the auction house to stop the sale?

If so, has Christie’s shared the Ministry’s concerns with its prospective clients around the world?

After all, if the idol was looted and smuggled out of Turkey, its handling would carry serious reputational, financial and legal risk. Surely, both the auction house and its client collectors are concerned with protecting as well as collecting cultural property, by respecting the law and ethics.

The export of antiquities from the territory of Turkey has been prohibited since it was part of the Ottoman Empire. The state has owned all already-known and yet-to-be-found antiquities since 1906. It has owned all excavated cultural property and prohibited any export of excavated cultural property since 1888 [1884]. And it has licensed excavation and export of antiquities since 1869. Such prohibitions on unlicensed excavation and/or export are still in force today.

It is particularly curious that the statuette’s collecting history goes back to its acquisition by the Martins and its exhibition by the Met in 1966, since the collecting history of the Lydian Hoard or Karun Treasures, which were looted from Manisa province’s neighbour Uşak province, goes back to their acquisition by the Met (via New York-based antiquities dealer John Klejman or John J. Klejman) and their exhibition in 1966.

I look forward to learning more about this statuette’s fascinating history.

An aside on the Guennol Lioness

As an aside, as evidence of the “legendarily” ‘exceptional nature of the objects included in the Guennol Collection’, Christie’s New York cites Sotheby’s New York’s auction of a limestone Mesopotamian sculpture, which has become known as the “Guennol Lioness”, for a record-setting 57,100,000 USD. Yet that, too, only had a collecting history as far back as 1948, when Iraq had a law of state ownership of antiquities as far back as 1936.

The Guennol Stargazer – an iconic work of art from the 3rd millennium BC. Christie’s New York, 28th April 2017.

With its sleek, abstract form and its eyes tilted slightly towards the heavens, this rare complete idol from Anatolia is set to be a highlight of Classic Week in New York
Standing 9 inches high, the Guennol Stargazer is one of the finest and largest preserved Anatolian marble female idols of Kiliya type — and will be offered in the Exceptional Sale  on 28 April at Christie’s in New York (estimate on request).
The Guennol Stargazer is from the Chalcolithic period, between 3000 and 2200 BC, and is considered to be one of the most impressive of its type known to exist. It is further distinguished by its exhibition history, having been on loan at The Metropolitan Museum of Art at various periods from 1966 to 2007.
‘Stargazer’ is the colloquial title derived from the slightly tilted-back angle at which the large head rests on the thin neck, thus creating the whimsical impression of the figure staring up at the heavens.

There are only about 15 nearly complete idols that survive, although fragmentary examples, particularly heads, abound. Most of the complete examples have been broken across the neck, as with the present figure, suggesting that the sculptures were ritually ‘killed’ at the time of burial.
The last marble example of Kiliya type to have appeared at auction was The Schuster Stargazer, which sold at Christie’s New York on 5 June 2005 for $1,808,000.
‘The Guennol Stargazer is an iconic work of art and one universally recognised as the finest Kiliya idol in existence,’ states G. Max Bernheimer, International Head of Antiquities at Christie’s. The sleek and abstract form of this extremely rare work was a source of inspiration for 20th-century masters such as Brancusi, Modigliani and Henry Moore.
The Guennol Stargazer was a part of the Guennol collection, which was formed by prominent art collectors Alastair Bradley Martin and his wife, Edith. ‘Guennol’ is the Welsh word for ‘Martin’, and the choice of Welsh is an allusion to the place where the couple spent their honeymoon. The Stargazer was acquired by the current owner, a New York private collector, from the Merrin Gallery in August 1993.
The exceptional nature of the objects included in the Guennol Collection is legendary — in December 2007 the Guennol Lioness, a Mesopotamian limestone sculpture, fetched $57.1 million, setting a record price at auction for an ancient work of art.

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3 Responses to “The Guennol Stargazer – an iconic work of art from the 3rd millennium BC… and from Turkey”

  1. Reblogged this on HARN Weblog and commented:
    Oh, oh dear

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