Anatolian Kelim Saf; published Image Idol Symbol: Ancient Anatolian Kelim, plate 6; RK Collection
After looking over the Ignazio Vok II sale we cannot help but think our first impressions were right on.
This second tranche is definitely weaker than the first, and since the market place for collectible oriental rugs and flatweaves is not exactly on an upward trajectory this combination bodes poorly for another highly successful outcome.
We are not saying it will be a failure, but we sincerely doubt, and are willing to bet, no more than circa 60% overall will sell, many of the high flying estimated lots will not find buyers unless the reserve prices are lowered considerably, and the lesser lots will have trouble finding buyers at any price.
While we do solemnly realize the vast majority of collectors have little confidence in their own judgment with good reason mind you buying name provenance does have a strong attraction for them.
So does buying in a public forum where there always appears to be competition and the warm cuddly support of an under-bidder -- someone seemingly willing to pay almost as much as the eventual winner -- really provide assurance of quality and value?.
RK has to say "no" because both these ploys are just that -- ploys ones that are not necessarily true. There are many legal, unethical and illegal ways salesroom competition can be artificially created, and more often than not an underbidders desire to own evaporates immediately after losing out.
In pretty much every name collection that has come to the market-place the famous collector -- like Vok - might appear to have vetted each purchase, supposedly guaranteeing an assumed added value of quality and importance for buyers.
However in his case, and just about every other one we can remember, there is a whole lot of collection fluff, ie lesser examples, for every really major piece.
Look Ignazio Vok has about 300 in his collection and just as a quick guess well venture only 15% max, ie 45, of them are very good to excellent and less than 10 (only suzani forget his kelim except for two Persian Senna examples) can be seriously considered major examples of their type.
The rest? Well, lets just say he would have been better off not buying them, spending money to wash, conserve, mount and publish them.
Yes, the collectible 19th century rug market has come along way since the 80s when Ignazio Vok burst on the scene. But after seeing his publications in the early 1990s it was immediately clear to RK all of Voks Anatolian and other kelim, baring those two Persian workshop Senna pieces, were second and third rate.
As for his Suzani? Except for about 10 great ones, the rest as a group are decidedly better than his kelim, but that is not saying very much.
Ignazio Voks problem, one many collectors share, was two fold.
First he was not an expert by any means, so he had to rely on the taste and judgment of others. And all of his experts were salesmen trying to make a buck, so they steered him into buying, buying and more buying.
The second, far more subtle and covert, is the psychological inner desire of all collectors to buy.
This pushes them to buy and when they do it makes them feel good, like they are accomplishing something important.
Too bad most of the time they are just throwing money away. Better to have a small precise and concise collection of superior examples than a large comprehensive one of varying quality.
The original collector behind what is now the deYoung Museums Anatolian Kelim collection suffered the same problem, the only difference being he managed to score 4 masterpiece archetypes and about 50 others that are way, way better than anything Vok bought.
Plus the best of Vok doesnt compare well with most of the bottom half of the deYoung stash.
So how will this sale play out on race day?
Lets take a gander at 11 of the 87 lots RK has selected for various reasons, ones that will become clear in our comments.
We will start in the order they appear in the catalog.
Lot 93; dated in the catalog 18th century, estimated 12,000 euro
This kelim saf, like a number of other of its kind including ours (pictured at the beginning of this review), are all derived from the groups archetype, now and for almost a century in the Berlin Islamic Museum.
Archetype kelim saf; collection Museum fur Islamische Kunst; Berlin, Germany
In our Anatolian Opus Part IV, the upper link below, RK wrote about and compared the Berlin saf with ours.
The second link to Part V examines the group as a whole, and in particular illustrates and explains the deficiencies of later examples like the Ignazio Vok saf.
We are not going to retrace our comments here, but we will point out the vertical bars on the left and right of the three mirhab prevent kelim of this type from capturing the palpable ethereal quality the Berlin Museum example exudes, one to a lesser extent still remains observable in ours.
They weigh the design down, and worse create a finite universe versus the infinite one the weaver of ours and the Berlin Museum was able to create, and knew the importance to create.
There are other flaws lot 93 exhibits the monotonous coloration and likewise over-kill use of the borders feathering (thin vertical lines extending into the field).
All these, however, pale besides the majority of the catalogues entry.
This cult kilim thus belongs to the multiple prayer type (saf in Turkish). However, it is unlikely that it was ever used for this purpose. Hirsch writes that he saw kilims of this kind hanging on the walls in the village of Divle near Karapinar
Considering udo hirschs observations were made around 25 years ago and Lot 93, while not in our opinion 18th century but rather early 19th, was woven 150 plus years ago it is fantasy to believe Ignazio Voks saf was only a domestic wall hanging.
We do not know if it, ours or the Berlin Museum example, was used as a prayer saf but detlef maltzah, the author of the catalog, or udo hirsch historic kelim pundit dont know either. Their conjecture is absurd, not the least its lack of any proof besides an observation made a century and a half too late.
Twelve thousand euro plus commission is surely not a fortune or out of line for such a kelim, but it is one for an example that is relatively common, not as interesting or aesthetic as maltzahns glowing entry tries to establish and more importantly has no vibrant collector market to absorb it.
We doubt it will sell at the estimate or make more than say 6,000 euro.
In the first Ignazio Vok sale there were four large medallion suzani, lot 88 arguably being the earliest and best, but in our opinion not datable to the 18th century as per the catalog entry.
We saw it many years ago when it sold at rippon (to Vok) and would date it early 19th century.
And the 103,700 euro it sold for is, in our estimation, comparatively far too much but who is to argue with suzani buyers desire to spend huge sums?
Lot 21, a quirky large medallion suzani also over-dated in the Vok I catalog to 1800 or earlier, while by any yardstick it is at best second quarter 19th century, made 73,200 euro a huge price for a rather ugly embroidery.
Because the two others, lot 60 which made 24,400 euro and lot 81 which made 68,320 euro, have no large medallion it is rather foolish to include them in this category.
Granted they do have some visual similarities and generalities of technique but these are not enough by any means to warrant inclusion.
Again, so much for the logic of suzani collectors and experts.
In this sale, Ignazio Vok II, there are also four, all having a large medallion.
The catalog dates lot 102 1800 or earlier, but again wed suggest a second quarter 19th century might be more likely considering the rather two dimensional drawing, and the extremely fine embroidery stitching the catalog entry mentions.
RK is well aware the earliest examples of any type of Near Eastern weaving rarely if ever are more finely woven than was necessary to articulate their iconography.
And since this suzani has no designs requiring such fine embroidery we can only deduce this is another sign this suzani is not earlier than the second quarter 19th century.
But we are sure the suzani addicts will not demure from kiting its estimate higher and higher. Our conclusion: It will sell and sell for more than estimate.
This charming first half 19th century prayer kelim is a beauty, albeit late but with pedigree.
Each of the white main borders on either side of the field contain two and a half motifs that are incorrectly defined in the catalog entry: The bold house-like designs seen in the wide white-ground border are known as "kmbet" in Anatolia. Reminiscent of a yurt, their shape may be a distant memory of the nomadic origins of a tribe that became settled a long time ago.
RK has consistently assailed Herr maltzahns paltry rug knowledge and doubtful to completely erroneous assertions, this is yet another.
First off here is the correct definition of kmbet: Kmbet is a word inherited from the Seljuk Turks. It means "tomb" in Turkish. The word was used to define the monumental graves of famous and/or Important persons of the past.
In our Anatolian Opus we theorized and then proved the iconography of all Anatolian Kelim can be traced back to a tiny group of eleven extant archetype examples .
One of these, shown below, displays the ancient and archetypal source of these kmbet, a pair of which can be seen to the left and the right of the three flaming rhombs placed under the scrolling blue zigzag internal border.
Plate 4 Image Idol Symbol: Ancient Anatolian Kelim; vol.2; 1989
In our published analysis of this kelims iconography we referred to the kmbet as trbe, the more well known term to describe these pointed top cylindrical mausoleum, which can be found all over Anatolia.
It was our discovery of these woven representations of trbe and their association to death and burial ritual on this archetype Anatolian kelim that led RK to coin the phrase Cult Kelim, one that the catalog mentions several times, but like much of what maltzahn authors he just doesnt get it.
The catalog references a similar piece in the collection of the Vakiflar that in reality is so much better it hardly deserves mention. And in the same thought is it any wonder the catalog does not mention ours, as well?
Estimated at 3,000 euro lot 108, though too small for the decorator contingent of the Anatolian kelim crowd that appeared at the last Vok auction and carried away a number of 19th century kelim destined to be placed on the floor for decorative purposes, this one should/could generate some actual collector interest.
Its a likeable weaving and should sell over estimate with a hemmer price of around 4,000 euro.
The same fate, selling, will not happen in this lifetime or the next for lot119, an ugly kelim that has nothing going for it except a totally atypical, aberrant curlique border.
Regardless of Herr maltzahn benedictory attempt to hang the cult kelim label on it, we are sure it will not sell even for 25% of the surrealistic 20,000 euro estimate.
This extremely rare kilim composed of two panels is captivating in appearance. It exudes an air of mystery and magic that makes it a true "cult kilim".
Yeah right, detlef, a true cult kelim? Go buy it yourself, you shamanizing charlatan.
Only a completely challenged circus barker auctioneer like detlef maltzahn could then with a straight face add We do not know the sacred message contained in this kilim, but we do sense its numinous aura.
Sacred message and numinous aura, sounds like shades of disgraced ex-deYoung Museum curator cathy cootner and her goddess-cheerleading Anatolophile garry muse.
Worthless goddess-centric patter like this went down the drain more than two decades ago, and maltzahns flushing it back in this catalog is pathetically laughable.
Over-priced, over-dated and over-described lot 119 typifies stupidity in rugDUMB to the max.
It has no chance of selling to anyone but Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles (get it blind men).
Ex-Ebberhart Hermann gallery, where Ignazio Vok opened his wallet wide to acquire it, this Sileh has some merit.
But not, in our opinion, 10,000 euro plus 22% commission.
What the catalog states concerning the motif packed appearance: The weaver has used them to exhibit the full wealth of her design repertoire. is nonsense.
This is not an example of weaving prowess but rather a misplaced use of everything but the kitchen sink of carpet iconography that is far more readily recognized by cognoscenti as horror vacui, a weaving style found in some 1825 1875 weavings, particularly those from certain areas of the trans-Caucasus.
We are not familiar with any other Near Eastern weavings made in this stuffed-out style from earlier periods, just one of the arguments against the catalogues erroneous circa 1800 dating.
The champion Sileh of this type is published on the slip-jacket cover of the Joseph McMullan Collection book.
Onward and upward
This excellent suzani is the pick of the litter in Vok II, and the 48,000 euro estimate will definitely be shattered thanks to the small but well financed group of frenzied suzani buyers who will flock to Weisbaden to wave their paddle at it.
If any of these embroideries are earlier than the 19th century this one has a righteous chance, but again we sincerely doubt it thanks to the healthy number of known large medallion examples and their almost uniform use of materials and dyes.
Yes, there is are marked overall differences but the repetition of border patterns and the use of the same minor design details in our estimation indicate even one like this one is not 50 100 years older.
No doubt whether they were produced in an urban center or far outside in more provincial settings the possibility they were produced in a cottage industry of village workshops seems extremely likely.
Do not misinterpret RK, we can appreciate a weaving like this but since we are interested in cultural history, historical continuity and content, not the more contemporary artful aesthetics suzani like this one offers, we just dont think their price structure has merit compared to other earlier, far more historic weavings that remain unappreciated.
Granted these are harder to understand and much more difficult to find but when faced with the choice of surface beauty versus historical content and genuine mystery RK will always take the latter. And believe it or not we know the future will prove this choice prescient.
While the 9,000 euro estimate is surely in line with what an Anatolian Kelim of this vintage should sell for, RK has little faith it will find a buyer.
Analyzing the results of the Ignazio Vok I sale its apparent the only kelim sold were ones that could function as decorative items.
In other words ones in good condition, an aspect lot 143 does not possess.
Its not a bad example, but there are a number of others that are earlier and better.
Here is the archetype of this group.
Plate 5 Image Idol Symbol: Ancient Anatolian Kelim, vol.2, 1989; RK Collection
Reading the Vok II catalog description replete with stale as Egyptian tomb air rehashed pseudo-goddess mumbo-jumbo presented without one iota of documentation raises questions about the teppiche-sanity of its author, detlef maltzahn.
Thats not the only reason this kelim will not sell at anywhere near its estimate.
The same reality will befall lot 144, this time solely because of its ridiculously high 30,000 euro plus commission estimate.
The 17th 18th century dating is equally as foolish.
It will not sell regardless of maltzahns fawning blah-blah catalog entry.
Sprinkled with comments like No other surviving kilim shows elibelinde designs drawn in a similarly monumental and authentic style(this) motif can be traced back to ancient history it represents a Neolithic goddess figure..
The source of this and many of the other references Herr maltzahn regurgitates is udo hirsch, who was disappeared from the rug scene thanks to his over enthusiastic, to put in mildly and gently, proclivity to take the goddess-football and run it beyond the bounds of intelligence.
For Herr maltzahn and hirschs much belated edification: The elibendie motif is not found in any archetype Anatolian kelim or any pile weaving.
Research tracing its appearance in Anatolian weavings certainly proves it is a much later design, probably no earlier than the 18th century.
It is, however, based on a very loose interpretation of genuine prehistoric female/goddess stone and clay idol, some stone ones date back to the upper Paleolithic period, circa 30,000BC.
"All Anatolian weavers define this motif as the illustration of a woman" hirsch writes but here again maltzahn and hirsch try to put information gleaned from contemporary weavers in the mouths of generations of weaver long gone from this earth. This is failed ethnographic ventriloquism.
By the way, the very reason All Anatolian weavers define this motifas a woman proves the elebinde motif is not a very old motif.
RK knows quite a bit about the fieldwork Belkis Balpinar carried out for the Goddess from Anatolia publication, remember RK was the original publisher and organizer of that project.
And her work was the basis for udo hirschs comments. Too bad he has not only misinterpreted her words but maltzahn has taken that one step further and mis-characterized them even further.
This is not the only catalog entry to exhibit a miscarriage of historic inferences.
Once again here is an Anatolian Kelim that is in damaged condition, cannot be used on the floor and therefore has no decorative value. Coupled with the high estimate, over-dating and fantasy description it will not sell.
Oh, we forgot to mention the catalog states it has been c14 dated by jurg rageth: AD 1642 - 1682 (41.3 %) and AD 1747 - 1806 (41.1 %), resulting in an age of 230 years +/- 30 years. This analysis confirms the assumption of a 17th 18th century date for this kilim
No, maltzahn you dummy, this dating attempt does not confirm anything of the sort because the two dates carry only a 82.4% probability and anything less than a 95% probability is basically worthless in c14 science.
But even if it did produce a 95% probability the actual stylistic criteria, and not the fantasy ones maltzahn mouths, belie this kelim is any earlier than the late 18th century.
Some might consider this suzani to be the best in the sale rather than our choice Lot 134. But this moot issue only comes down to personal opinion.
What is not opinion lot 23, which sold for 107,360 euro, in the Vok I sale, eclipses both of them by a double-wide margin.
Lot 23 is 18th century and in RKs opinion the earliest suzani in the Vok collection, something cataloguer maltzahn missed in describing it as likely to be one of the oldest embroideries in the collection.
Its not one of the earliest, detlef, it is the earliest.
Lot 152 is no slouch and is dated in the catalog early 19th century, which is close but wed say circa 1800, which is somewhat earlier.
However, we thoroughly reject the catalogs idea The idiosyncratic, even eccentric composition and the significant irregularities seen in the design and its execution are very different from the professionalism displayed in most Shakhrisyabz pieces, which are usually planned with precision and executed to perfection; many of them are probably workshop pieces.
This is an interesting statement for an important reason.
We are very surprised to learn someone like detlef maltzahn agrees with our long held and publicly expressed opinion many suzani were workshop items, and not the work of young brides for their trousseau.
This is the first time we have seen in print anyone agree with us on this central issue, and perhaps he got this idea from us?
The 35,000 euro estimate is another that will be shattered like a dropped ice-flower on sale day, and we see it being easily doubled.
Here is another of the no medallion suzani being mushed into the large medallion group.
Estimated at 40,000 euro it surely compares poorly in every way to lot 152.
This disparity of estimation demonstrates an incoherence in cataloguer maltzahns abilities to create a unified impression for his estimation work. What else to expect from someone as unskilled as he often proves himself.
There is nothing much we like about this suzani, but it is far better than the rambling say nothing catalog description, which as the quote below shows is virtually unintelligible.
The Vok suzani no. 43 belongs to the rare UE group, represented by just three examples, and is catalogued as UE1. In the first Suzani publication(ed. of the Vok collection), Taube(ed. Jakob Taube) neither assigned it to the large medallion group nor recognised its provenance in the surroundings of Bokhara, despite the fact that it meets all the relevant criteria. Why? The reason can be found in his essay, Reflections on Large-Medallion Suzani (Suzani II, pp. 75 80). Here, the author identifies one of the medallion suzanis (Vok suzani I, no. 48, lot 134 in this sale) as the oldest and thus most authentic example which supposedly still fully reflects a nomadic tradition. Based on a formula devised by himself, he goes on to describe the development of the designs as a continuous departure from the original tribal character and thus as a process of progressive alienation resulting in degeneration; on the other hand, he interprets it as the individuals liberation from the constraints of tribal tradition.
This is the type of pseudo-academic gibberish underlies much of the basis for the recent interest in, and steep price escalation of, suzani embroideries. RK can only call this completely meaningless scholar-scheiss.
We are sure this suzani, too, will sell but doubt it will go much past estimate. Though we realize never underestimate the gullibility and naivet of the present day high roller suzani buyer.
Last but not least the best kelim in Ignazio Vok II, lot 169, the Persian Senna with all-over design of colorful paired-boteh.
The catalog description recounts an interesting story of the previous owner Heiner Jacoby, scion of the well-known carpet book author and collector Heinrich Jacoby, and his days of negotiation in Istanbul to pry it loose from some unnamed Turkish dealer.
Years later, in 1988, he consigned it for sale to rippon boswell when it sold for 64,000 Deutsch Mark, quite a sum at that time.
Estimated now for 24,000 euro, which is pretty close to what it made in 1988, when its a good guess Ignazio Vok bought it.
Although its overall design layout is a bit boring, as is the case for most all-over Senna kelim, the sheer delicacy of the designs execution and sparkling colors put it among the top few examples of Senna slit-tapestry.
We expect it will sell for the around the estimate plus or minus 10-15 percent.
OK that does it for RKs critique of individual lots in the Vok II sale.
We do feel some general remarks are in order as well.
Judging from our commentary it might be hard to understand why RK states the sale will only return about a 60% sale rate.
The slightly less than 15% lots we reviewed are undoubtedly most of the best ones in this auction, the vast majority of the remaining 85% percent do not approach their quality or importance.
And we do not see how buyers, even those that turned out for the Ignazio Vok I sale and made it such a success, will do it again and remain as enthusiastic.
So far we have not heard anyone say Vok II is as good as sale as Vok I, another indication for downgraded expectations.
One of the major bright spots in Vok I was the goodly number of successfully sold Anatolian kelim. Granted at prices which were a major loss for Vok, but regardless they did sell.
We have already explained why they were in generally good condition and ready to be used as presentable decorative items, whether for floors or hanging on the wall.
This is not the situation in Vok II, where most of the Anatolian kelim are too damaged for the decorative crowd and far from too common and late for the dwindling number of still interested collectors.
In the final analysis Ignazio Vok II has a few bright spots but not enough to balance out the far too many over-priced, under-sought after kelims and lesser quality suzani that carry prices too high for mid-range buyers and are too late and uninteresting for high-end five and six figure high-rollers.
Time will tell if our predictions are correct and in any event we will revisit them post-sale with our usual honest, unbiased and candid appraisal.