Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sotheby's and the Monolith from Nigeria

Here we go again! So, I am looking at the catalogue of Sotheby's auction sale next month and I saw this really wonderful example of the famous stone monoliths from the Ejagham region of south-eastern Nigeria (auction estimate: 324, 000-520,000 US$). Really sublime piece, just like many of these mysterious sculptures that date back to the 15th century. But the real surprise for me is the information about the monolith's provenance--in other words, how and when it traveled from its original home in Nigeria to the auction block in Paris. The catalogue simply states that it was "acquired in 1978" by someone called Alain Javelaud, and from there to a "private" collection that has now put it up for sale. 1978? I thought the 1970 UNESCO Convention (on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property) made it illegal to sell or acquire works like this monolith? The big question is this: how come Mr. Javelaud acquired this in 1978, from where? Or is the Sotheby's provenance record for this sculpture incomplete; in other words, did Mr. Javelaud acquire it from another sources outside of Nigeria in 1978? Sotheby's could do well to fill in this critical but missing information; otherwise, they should put a little note on the sculpture: CAVEAT EMPTOR!

1 comment:

kushka53 said...

Yes, I quite agree. The whole business is disturbing, especially in light of press articles on how these groups of wonderful stones have been decimated by vandals taking them out of the country.
I am a collector and I understand the network and how money talks, although I would never stoop to such a thing. There ARE boundaries!
African Art in Transit is a good book on this sort of thing. real point here is that I started looking around on the internet for information after a collector on facebook posted photos of about FIVE of these in his living room and they were quite beautiful. I'd never heard of these stones, and being a retired journalist, wanted to learn more. So here we are.
ps nice tweets