(ed. The $33,000,000 sale of the Clark/Corcoran Art Gallery's "Sickle leaf" carpet set a benchmark record for valuing an oriental rug that perhaps will never be equaled or beat, even in inflation adjusted currency. The underbidder, Edward C. Johnson II, was represented by oriental rug dealer peter pap,who executed Johnson's losing bids. At that time, rumors had it Johnson was suffering from Alzheimer's disease and was, to coin the phrase, not in his right mind. Regardless his bid made the price and the Doha Museum Authorities shelled out the 33 million. Was the purchase worth it? History will decide. Below is RK's analysis, one that remains pertinent today.)
If anyone in RugDumb questions how the western worlds major museums view the oriental carpet let RK put to rest belief the directors and curators of said museums important departments revere and respect a tradition that has inspired numerous great artists and their work for centuries.
Thinking this is not the truth is nothing but wishful thinking to the max; proof of which now includes Washington D.C.s Corcoran Art Gallerys decision to sell, aka deaccession in museum world parlance, a group of carpets donated by its most esteemed benefactor William A Clark, former Senator from Montana.
Clarke bequeathed the group on his death in 1925, among which is the famous sickle-leaf carpet the star lot in the forthcoming sotheby New York sale.
The Corcorcans decision to sell the rug, according to Philip Brookman chief curator and head of research at the Corcoran, will keep alive Sen. Clarks generous legacy by enabling us to grow our core collections and make dynamic acquisition choices.
This might sound good to the stiffs on the Corcorans board of directors but to anyone else not inebriated with the apparent kool-aid Brookman, the museums director and the board have drunk it reeks of idiocy and stupidity almost beyond comprehension.
The 24 other lesser carpets in the group, which will be sold at the sotheby sale, might raise a couple of million dollars and added to the 5-7 million the sickle-leaf will probably bring make a total of max 10 million.
Now then race fans what kind of dynamic acquisitions in the painting or sculpture fields will that allow a museum like the Corcoran to make?
Should you be in doubt let RK inform you hardly any, as these fields are hot as supernova and 10 million is nothing but chump-change.
But the message selling the carpets shouts is even more loud and clear: There is little to no respect for antique historic carpets and weavings in the museum world.
And quite honestly RK doubts there ever will be thanks to the twits, thieves and morons, like dennis dodds michael franses, etc, who are the acknowledged, and highly challenged in RKs opinion, leaders of rugDUMB.
So Clarks prized the sickle-leaf carpet will leave America destined we are sure for the Persian Gulf region, where it will hopefully be more appreciated.
The Corcoran decision is foolish, and just like the Myers Textile Museum debacle and destruction at the hands of another fool, big mouth bruce baganz, sends a poignant message and reminder that for the past four or five decades oriental rug studies have completely failed to do anything but hasten the demise of appreciation for woven arts in the western world.
By the way, RK will not be surprised to see the sickle-leaf carpet sell for more than 10 million, and in fact we will be willing to bet at long odds it might even reach 15 million.
Remember 10 or 15 million dollars is chump-change in the art world and such a carpet is in most peoples eyes great art.
Is it in RKs?
Dont start us down that road. All we will say is its a pretty carpet that we find without soul and, worse, incredibly highly predictable.
It lacks mystery, and while we recently told someone it was a fragment we now realize our error in making such a statement.
That said it has always appeared to us to be a fragment. Its design probably taken from a cartoon for a much larger weaving, where its perfectly obvious symmetry might have been balanced and played off by a surrounding floral panoply that would have enabled the design to achieve greater punch, power and, yes, some mystery.
Remember, race fans, pretty in the art world is easily created mystery far, far harder to achieve.
And on that note we will leave the sickle-leaf carpet to those with big wallets who never fail to show they have no clue as to what carpet and textile mystery appreciating and making is, and was, all about.
That rag halis article on the sickle leaf carpet begins by quoting A.U. Popes essay in An Introduction to Persian Art that was published in 1930.
Here one of the worlds greatest connoisseurs of Persian art refers to the best carpets of the high Safavid age as expressing the essential spirit of the countrys art and representing the supremest efforts of which the craft was capable.
Had we the chance RK would definitely have a bone to pick with Pope concerning this statement.
But we were born to late for that, so we will pick it with those at that rag hali instead.
Why, might readers ask?
Simply put, quoting Pope on what the supremest achievement of the high Safavid age of Persian woven art might be like quoting Hitler on how to run a country.
Pope, like franses, thompson, Denny and a host of other living and now passed on rug experts, connoisseurs and poseurs, completely disregards weaving made outside the confines of royal, or wanna be, ateliers and workshops.
The art of peasants as elitists like pope and the rest we named and could name would call these people, ie those who lived in villages, encampments and khan circles, is completely ignored.
Lets all remember during the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries, when the masterpieces of supreme Persian art Pope refers were woven, Turkmen groups in Persia were weaving equally supreme carpets and trappings.
The only difference is those Turkmen weavings were far rarer than the multitudes of classical Persian carpets that were produced, and their less than royal birth relegated them far from the eyes and, yes, commercial instincts of traders, merchants and their clientel.
There is no doubt this is the case, and one does not need c14 dating to prove some very few of the surviving early Turkmen weavings are equal in age to oldest Safavid ones.
RK has been championing this reality for decades now, and finally there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
However, those twits at that rag hali and the franseses, thompsons, Dennys et.al. will, we promise you, be the last of the Mohicans to acknowledge it.
Popes statement is old school, not because it is from 1930, but because he was prejudiced just as franses, thompson, Denny et.al remain today.
And while the surface brilliance of a vase carpet like the Corcoran sickle-leaf cant help but impress, does it say anything?
Is the geometry evocative or just pushy?
Does it move the mind to explore the cognitive subtleties and underlying mathematic mystery a great Turkmen weaving does?
Or does it just attempt to?
Sorry RK has to say it doesnt do any of the above, and while we are equally sure the majority of ruggies and, yes, Turkmen rug collectors have never seen in person, let alone lived with, a 500 year or older Turkmen weaving, RK has.
RK is not dissing Pope, or our contemporary classical carpet-honcho groupies.
No, we are just informing them, and you, there is another side to the equation a side you will never read in that rag hali or any of the books those contemporaries of ours have, or will, author.
OK, enough of this, lets take a few shots at that rag halis sickle-leaf publicity, errrrhh, article.
First off, they call it 16th century in the caption to the picture on page 47, while just about everybody agrees it is 17th century.
Why did they do this and provide no supporting argument? Dont ask us, go ask them.
what we see in the Clark (sickle-leaf) carpet is mastery of a host of contributing elements that form a harmonious whole: colour balance, design control, material perfection, and exquisite proportions.
Is this the case? Or is it just hype?
To our eyes there is a grossness to the drawing, some elements too small and others too big. This creates exactly the opposite of a harmonious whole.
Rather, the sickle-leaf overpowers the viewer with its manageable overall small size, something the 28 feet and more large main carpets can never achieve unless the viewers is looking down from a second floor. And then, the details are lost.
This, its small viewer friendly size, is the Clark/Corcoran sickle leaf carpets greatest attribute, and the one the ultimate buyer will pay through the nose to acquire.
Period, end of discussion.
It is also one that goes ignored in the article.
From all the pictures we have seen there is little abrash, an almost monochromatic use of colors -- reds and blues all of the same hue.
Whereas masterly use of abrash is one of the most important factors that take a carpet to the highest visual level.
This, the sickle-leaf lacks, though it does try to make up by cramming a whole basket full of floral elements in close juxtaposition.
Race fans, this aint the same thing.
The thrill of the design that rag hali announces lies in its muscular energy and natural vitality
This is nothing but more hype and worthless blah blah.
In fact the sickle leaf carpet is quite feminine, and there is far from anything natural about the universe of diverse floral forms that have been, granted, artfully thrown together.
It is in the best of the vase carpets they go on to say that the colour sense particular to Persian art finds its most deft expression.
Really? What about all the other types of earlier Safavid carpets with their far more complex designs and color palettes.
Frankly this article reads like a sellers argument to prove his carpet is the best.
Why does that rag halis article come off like this?
Heres the answer, race fans: although michael franses, who is that rag hali final arbiter of what gets said, has no skin in the game directly, he sure does indirectly.
Fanning the fires of desire in the small group of possible bidders is his agenda, and what could be a better way to do that than to praise the sickle-leaf carpet to the max.
We have already published the commentary from The Eastern Carpet in the Western World exhibition catalog, a publication franses in theory helped to write, and while it surely doesnt dismiss the Corcorans sickle-leaf carpet it definitely doesnt praise it to the heights that rag hali does.
For all RK knows, and suspects, we would not be surprised if franses will be a bidder representing the museum authority in Doha who employs him, for someone else under cover, or directly for himself, or through an agent, or through membership in a cartel that will purchase it and then divide the spoils of its resale.
The article claims The placement of the colors, whether lying next to each other or at different places throughout the whole, helps to draw the eye through the design, introducing rhythm, establishing balance and creating emphasis.
If anything these optical manifestations are due totally to the grossly oversized and exaggerated sickle-leaves, and not the rather monotonous uses of basically red, blue and white colors or any other elements of the design.
To prove this notice the subservient image the central cypress trees are relegated to, one can hardly make them out.
This is far from great art, where every element is distinct and clearly defined.
That rag halis analysis smacks of an amateurish attempt to prove itself intellectual, which is far from the case and only imagined by an author who vainly tries to impress those he knows do not know the difference between reality and his fantastical assertions.
Compare this with what the far more truthful, and should we say, expert writers who wrote The Eastern Carpet in the Western World commentary of the Clark/Corcoran sickle-leaf carpet.
That rag halis first:
In the field, the overlaying of three planes of scrolling floral design requires each to have a set and defined function; each spiraling vine is allowed to flow, contort, and intersect but also to fully resolve and terminate in a sickle-leaf or plump palmette.
Now the 1983 Eastern Carpet in the Western World catalog:
This exquisite rug has the same technical characteristics as the vase rugs and its field and border designs are closely related to the earliest examples of that class. But the swelling blossoms of the vase rugs are here reduced and the energy of the design has been transferred into the pairs of sickle-leaf leavesThe present design lacks the severe internal logic of the vase designand is a sophisticated hybridizationthe main stems bearing the sickle-leaves and large blossoms meander inconsequentially, intersecting with a variety of trees and shrubs depicted on a much smaller scale, as if the garden landscape were glimpsed through a tangle of briars.
Whose version do you think is more correct?
We also disagree with this positively dumb statement that rag hali makes:
Extraordinary skill is required the create the complexity and density of this composition within the relative small size of this carpet and within the limitations of the so-called Vase carpet weaving technique.
First off, the smaller the carpet the easier it is to plot the swirling tendrils; and, second, the fact the Vase carpet weaving technique produces a smaller more compact knot-end allows a far finer mosaic of design to be delineated.
The fact franses has spent, and now spends, the majority of his time talking at people who know nothing about carpets, and believe he does, has allowed him to think he can say anything and get away with it.
And this is definitely the case as we have pointed out before on RugKazbah.com.
This is the reason the article in question makes these rug 101.
Saving the best for last franses, who is sure to be the author of this hyperbolic eulogy for the Clark/Corcoran sickle leaf carpets death as a part of an American museum and its afterlife somewhere else, states the following as his final words:
Whether collectors of today appreciate the finest carpets as art, to the extent they were revered in the courts of 16th century Iran, will be seen in New York on 5 June 2013.
Written with true smug, holier than thou pomposity franses and that rag hali attempt to both prod and, yes, cow any possible buyer who is stupid enough to waste time reading something as pedestrian and disingenuous as this article. One the seller, sotheby New York, might wish they could put in their catalog.
In closing were we a buyer, and we surely could never compete even for a tenth of the opening bid, we would be insulted a pip-squeek like michael franses would attempt to slap us with such a meaningless challenge.
The reason franses is so foolish to offer such a ploy undoubtedly rests in his lack of any education beyond grade school.
Education surely doesnt teach anyone how to act properly, but the lack of it often most assuredly doesn't.
And you're right if you notice RK dislikes franses and all he stands for.
But this does not change the fact what we write about him, and his opinions concerning the Clark/Corcoran sickle leaf carpet, are true.
Facts also demonstrate he was only able to succeed in a business where knowledge is a detriment to making money; a business where lies pass for truth; a business where an aging demographic and no new blood is choking any possibilities for advancement; a business where no one has the nerve or honesty to call franses or any of the other pseudo-luminaries out for their mistakes and trangressions; etc, etc.
The Clark/Corcoran Gallery of Art "sickle-leaf" carpet just sold for......33 million 765 thousand dollars -- this price includes the buyer's premium.
Congratulations to the new owner.
Now then, what would a great Safavid masterpiece carpet sell for?
Rumor has it the Islamic Museum in Doha, Qatar purchased the sickle-leaf carpet.
But no rumormongering about who peter pap was representing.
One thing is for sure -- he was not representing himself.
After our sleuthing around the sotheby sale of the 33.7 million dollar carpet we realize we have to retract our statement mr. peter pap was working in cahoots with the agent of the buyer of the sickle-leaf carpet.
We dont actually know why pap was bidding, or for whom, but we do not now believe he was a shill.
So RK apologizes for any misinterpretation we advanced or for any harm it might have done.
But considering peter paps career in rugDUMB, something RK knows quite well since meeting pap after a sale in the parking lot of Bob Skinners auction house in Bolton, Mass circa 1976, we doubt what we mistakenly wrote could do any damage to someone who is a poster-boy for all thats dumb in rugDUMB.
We will not go into cataloguing or discussing paps trangressions.
They surely are not as egregious as a dennis doods or a cathy cootner, only for the fact pap is such a lesser player what he does has little effect outside those who are touched by him.
Whereas a cootner and a dodds perpetrated actions that have affected everyone, be they dealer or collector of oriental rugs.
Its amazing pap really believes he is a rug expert, when whatever drips from his pursed lips proves hes a turko-clown.
We had to chuckle today when we saw pap posted a Tekke torba with this description:
"This nine gul tekke torba is individuated by small bifurcated diamonds decorating the outer sides and abstracted trees at the elem."
Individuated? bifurcated diamonds? abstracted trees?
It appears mr pap is suffering from big-word-itis.
Nothing's more pompous than an ignorant trying to prove he isn't by using 5 dollar words to make two cent comments.
We are sure those who count themselves as his clients believe pap is knowledgeable.
RK has news for them: Not only is he is not, we also advise caveat emptor.
Nuff said about peter aka pp pap.
So the dust has fallen and the sickle-leaf rug is presumably on its way to its new home or already ensconced therein. But the hype continues, in fact it grows, and grows.
Somehow after selling for such an immense sum, gosh as much as a painting (but still not in the league of a great painting like a Van Gogh or a Leonardo), long dead and gone senator Clarke's carpet's 'importance', and reputation, continues to increase.
Forget the fact it is really not that great, not only according to us but also to the authors of the highly respected "Eastern Carpet in the Western World" catalog.
RK quoted it sometime ago but let us repeat what they said here, once again:
"This exquisite rug has the same technical characteristics as the vase rugs and its field and border designs are closely related to the earliest examples of that class. But the swelling blossoms of the vase rugs are here reduced and the energy of the design has been transferred into the pairs of sickle-leaf leavesThe present design lacks the severe internal logic of the vase designand is a sophisticated hybridizationthe main stems bearing the sickle-leaves and large blossoms meander inconsequentially, intersecting with a variety of trees and shrubs depicted on a much smaller scale, as if the garden landscape were glimpsed through a tangle of briars.
Well, they did say it is "exquisite", even if it were " a landscape glimpsed through a tangle of briars".
So you decide, but don't fall into the briar patch.
Likewise, don't be swayed by the hype and exaggeration both sotheby, who had some skin in the game as the seller collecting at the least a very healthy buyer's premium--if not more, and that rag hali, who had no skin in the game but acts like they did.
Perhaps the best and most interesting event of the sale was, at 16 million, mary jo otsea, acting as auctioneer, flummoxed and called out 16,ooo. Then, realizing her error blurted out a dopey "Sorry, I'm not used to all this".
Right she was, otsea is not used to anything other than place holding a chair that says carpet 'expert'.
Well, not to say all her predecessors RK has known: first Kurt Igler, then John Edelman, then michael grogan, then william ruprecht knew a whole hill of beans more than she.
So now a carpet has been catapulted to the nose-bleeding heights of thirty million dollars and most of rugDumb continues to rub its eyes and try to figure out what this means to them -- you know, the bottom line 'what's my stuff worth' -- what's next?
Just a word of reality here, and RK's not trying to burst anyone's bubble.
Remember the bidding seemingly would have stopped at around ten million had peter pap's money-man, right the guy who put the 29 million dollar paddle in pap's sweaty palms, not gotten himself into a nationalistic tizzy trying to prove his patriotism by bidding to keep the sickle-leaf in America.
Frankly, RK sees this as bogus as we do having a rug schlepper, know-little, like peter pap, as a trusted advisor.
Lastly, one thing RK is willing to bet a handful of sand against a stack of benjamins. Had you, me or even p.p. pap wheeled the sickle-leaf carpet into money man's living room and asked him to purchased it for a million you can be sure he would have said "thanks but no thanks".
Auction fever can be a heady brew, especially when a feeling of jingoistic fervor is a major ingredient in the mix.
To quote Richard/Jagger "it's the singer not the song".
Before we leave these issues it was in fact the Islamic Museum in Doha that was the successful bidder and now the new owner of the Clark Sickle-Leaf carpet.
The underbidder represented by peter pap was Edward Ned Johnson III the founder of Fidelity Investments, someone who we guarantee would never have paid even a tenth of his underbid(29,000,000usd) if he had been offered the chance to acquire it outside Sothebys auction room.