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Monday, June 29, 2009

Collecting Greco-Roman Antiquities Today

Collecting remnants from our classical past has been an interesting and valuable pursuit since the Renaissance, but the dangers surrounding acquiring such pieces are more prevalent than ever. Once a must have for any erudite person’s collection, Roman and Greek antiquities are now understood as one of the few physical links we have to our ancient predecessors. Avoiding the pitfalls of looted and forged items is essential in the pursuit of relics from Europe’s classical past, and an educated appraiser is the most important tool for success.

The most common items on sale on the market are pottery pieces such as oil lamps, serving vessels and amphorae and small-scale statues typically made of marble. Many of the items have been in circulation for quite some time while others are not deemed important enough to be kept as museum items and thus offered up on the market in an effort to support ongoing excavation. Newly discovered large-scale objects are rarely sold because national museums deem them important links to their past and priceless.

Legal concerns surrounding the provenance of accumulated items have made quite a splash in the news as of late, and many institutions are currently in legal battles defending the methods used to accumulate items in their collection. The Getty in Los Angeles was recently compelled to return 40 items from their collection after controversy surrounding the previous curator of antiquities erupted. One such item, a 5th Century BC statue of Aphrodite, was supposedly smuggled out of Sicily via a network of black market antiquarians (Wiley).

The problem with illegal excavation, besides material theft, is that items dug up as treasure are robed of their context. Archaeology today is a science, and the particular soil level in which an item is found tells these scientists much about the history of the object and site as well. It had been a common practice for Popes of early modern Europe to send diggers in search of artistic treasure buried beneath Rome but these practices were finally abandoned with the rise of modern excavation techniques pioneered by archaeologists such as Heinrich Schliemann.

The rise of Internet sites such as eBay has allowed for an increase in the sale of counterfeit items but thankfully a decrease in theft from archaeological sites. Today a collector has to worry not only about whether or not their item has been stolen but also if the item they have accumulated is a forgery. Matt Palmquist reporting on an article in Archaeology by Charles Stanish notes that as soon as eBay became a popular market fake antiquities were on the top of the list of questionable items being sold. Initially sub-par, these forgeries are now becoming increasingly more sophisticated as the makers refine their industry. The legal ambiguities coupled with the inexpensive production costs make forgery, not looting, a more cost effective means of making a profit from objects of shady provenance.

Consultation services through MIR Appraisal Services Inc. can lead you in the right direction in terms of authenticating conventional fine art and antiques but also such items as ancient pottery and can help you sort out the authenticity of your Roman and Greek items. Our appraisers work hand in hand with a panel of researchers that have seen quite a number of forgeries. With inauthentic items being sold so frequently on eBay and other websites it is no wonder they have seen such items. Remember, a certificate of authenticity is only as good as the organization issuing it.

MIR Appraisal Services, Inc.

307 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 308

Chicago, IL 60601

(312) 814-8510

Works cited:

Wiley, David. “Getty to Hand Back ‘Looted Art’ in BBC News.

Palmquist, Matt. “Indiana Jones and the Temple of eBay” in Miller-McCune.


Kennedy, Randy. “Collecting Antiquities, Cautiously, at the Getty” in New York Times.

Image credits:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Art Institute of Chicago's Modern Wing & Additional Art Museum Renovations

With just over a month since Chicago’s Art Institute officially opened the Modern Wing, it is important to remember other memorable additions or renovations to art museums of late.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Modern Wing
Conceived of after the successful public reception of Millennium Park, the Modern Wing was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano and is the southern bookend for the Millennium Park project. Connected to the park via a whimsical bridge rising over Monroe Street, it was received with much fanfare over the past month and written about by the world’s most influential newspapers. Thousands of Chicagoans and visitors alike have already visited the airy edition and appreciated the expanded modern collection in the clean and naturally lit galleries. Standing as a reminder of the success of green planning and simplicity, the Modern Wing is the newest in the line of important changes helping to improve Chicago.

Acropolis Museum, Athens
Another notable addition getting attention in the news is the new Acropolis Museum in Athens. Reenergizing the cultural scene in Athens, this 200 million dollar modern structure is an ideal setting to view some of mankind’s greatest artistic achievements. The crisp architectural details and generous amount of light streaming through the windows allow for the true beauty of the pieces on display to shine through. A dramatic concrete and glass structure built at the foot of the Acropolis, the construction of this world-class museum has even reenergized the debate over where the Elgin Marbles should be housed. Regardless of the outcome of this familiar struggle, the museum promotes classical beauty while at the same time being beautiful in its own right.

Milwaukee Art Museum, Brise-Soleil
In what was once known as the German Athens, the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava created a beautiful addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum in 2001. The addition, which is perched on Lake Michigan and replete with movable arched wings and a beautiful white skeletal structure, the construction did much to inject life into a faltering art community in Milwaukee. The addition caught the attention of the international media as well as museum goers and has served as the hub of cultural and social life of Milwaukee ever since. It is an example of how a talented architect, a cultural institution, and a beautiful location can come together to reinvigorate a neglected collection in the Midwest.

Neues Museum, Berlin
Proof of the potential even of rubble, the Neues Museum in Berlin reopened earlier this year after half a century of disrepair. Originally created in the 19th century as part of the museum campus of Berlin, the museum sustained heavy damage during the Second World War and endured years of neglect. An eleven year renovation project lead by David Chipperfield of London has given a breath of life into the bones of this once glorious institution, retaining the details of the original structure and adding a new interior that does not cover up the building’s history. Staircases and galleries are reformed in a modern, light fashion but bullet holes, brick inconsistencies, and chipped paint remain as a reminder of the building’s pervious history. A beautiful synthesis of old and new, the museum has reopened and will soon house some of the nation’s most prized pieces including the famous bust of Nefertiti.

Hope in Troubled Times
All of the additions mentioned remind us of the continued necessity of culture in our everyday lives. The fact that cities and cultural organizations continue to plan and expand for an audience of increasing diversity is a wonderful reminder of the power that art has to unite. A testament to the importance of art even in economically difficult times, the newest addition to the Art Institute of Chicago reasserts the importance of culture in the Windy City. This addition confirms Chicago’s place in the global art scene, putting MIR Appraisal Services, Inc. in an ideal location to be of service to art collectors.

~MIR Appraisal Services, Inc.
307 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 308
Chicago, IL 60601
(312) 814-8510

Works cited:
Carassava, Anthee. “In Athens, Museum is an Olympian Feat,” in New York
Times 19 June 2009.

Kimmelman, Michael. “For Berlin Museum, a Modern Makeover that Doesn’t Deny
the Wounds of War,” in New York Times 13 March 2009.

Rosenbaum, Lee. “A Modern Wing Takes Flight,” in Wall Street Journal 2 June 2009.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Salvador Dali: The Reality of a Mass Produced Surrealist

Since Salvador Dali burst onto the art scene during the 1920s he has very rarely been out of the news. Each stage of his career has been well covered and commented on. From his outrageous appearance formulated during his early years as an artist to his later appearances in television commercials, Dali has very rarely passed up the opportunity to reach out to and shock the masses. Long after his death his art seems to appear everywhere and is permanently on display in most of the world’s best museums. The world’s curiosity with this bizarre artist continues, and hardly a year passes when a museum fails to produce a show on Dali’s artwork (most recently the “Liquid Desire” retrospective at The National Gallery of Victoria in Australia). His obvious emphasis on self-promotion coupled with the sheer abundance of his work make him as inescapable as he is collectible.

Born in Catalonia in 1904 and named after his recently deceased brother, Salvador Dali grew up with an atheist father and a Roman Catholic mother. These early childhood conditions left a deep impression on him, enabling his later artistic exploration of identity and contradiction. During his time at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid Dali met leading cultural figures including poet Federico Garcia Lorca and filmmaker Luis Bunuel. Becoming involved in the Spanish avant-garde and making films with Luis Bunuel, Dali eventually moved to Paris and became involved in the Surrealist movement. He is by far the most recognizable of the Surrealists today but also the most controversial.

A recent article that appeared on The Guardian website makes it clear that Dali walked a fine line between artistic expression and outright offensiveness. The article, written by Jonathan Jones, highlights George Orwell’s revulsion with his artwork because of its often shocking nature. Obscene as it was during Orwell’s time, the author concedes that middle ground has to be found between condemnation and outright praise. This objective and liberating view of artistic controversy is healthy and just as useful today as it was in Orwell’s day.

Traversing the minefield of fake prints in an era of mass forgery is not the type of controversy Orwell had in mind, however. Since the 1970s fake prints have flooded the market, turning even the largest auction houses such as Sotheby’s towards a much more careful treatment of such items. Due to the questionable nature of many Dali prints, many auction houses won't even work with them. Dali, due to his popularity and productivity, has been a key vehicle for art forgers. Because of this proliferation of fakes many will not even sell prints outside of their sets. Dali prints on the market are often mere copies of authentic prints, extensions of sets beyond the true limit, or prints of questionable origin with forged signatures. Horror stories of Dali prints bought on cruise ships or from galleries that have since disappeared are common place and serve as a warning to those who have or are thinking of acquiring such a piece. The great loses that collectors have incurred reinforce the importance of competent art consultants and appraisers to evaluate pieces that you have in your collection.

Notorious as it may be, authentic prints by Salvador Dali can also be quite beautiful. Dreamlike landscapes with images and figures that defy logic and science, the pieces spark the imagination as well as discussions of the nature and purpose of artwork. MIR Appraisal Services, Inc. has a handful of authenticated Dali prints in its collection, including an abstract bullfight scene, an avant-garde interpretation of a classic Spanish preoccupation. Bold and dynamic, colorful and frenetic, it is a testament to the energetic and innovative artist that everyone recognizes. Due to the prolific output of the artist, it is important to investigate prints of this nature to get a better understanding of what you are dealing with, whether it be an authentic print or a forgery.

-MIR Appraisal Services, Inc.

307 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 308

Chicago, IL 60601

(312) 814-8510


Bradley, Fiona. “Dali, Salvador,” in Oxford Art Online.

Jones, Jonathan. “Why George Orwell was Right About Salvador Dali,” in The

Guardian Online.

Phillips, David. “Salvador Dali Fakes,” at Fine Art Registry.

World Art: The Essential Illustrated History. London: Star Fire Publishing, 2007.

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    Chicago, Illinois, United States
    Welcome to our blog site! MIR Appraisal Services, Inc. is a fine art and personal property appraisal company dedicated to serving clients throughout the United States and abroad since our incorporation in Chicago in 1994. We specialize in the multi-faceted field of appraising fine art, jewelry, antiques, and decorative items. We also provide professional fine art restoration and conservation treatment for various media, including but not limited to, artworks on canvas, board, masonite, and paper. We offer professional and precise appraisal services carried out by our team of accredited appraisers for the purposes of insurance coverage and claims, charitable donations, estate planning and probate, equitable distribution and fair-market value. We started our art commentary blog site as a venue for colleagues and fellow art enthusiasts to share their experiences within the art community.