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Friday, May 23, 2014

Why collect Ancient Greek art?

To appreciate the Greek artwork we find on Greek coinage one must have a rudimentary appreciation of Classical Greek culture.  Is Greek culture really still relevant in the 21st Century?

The answer is that it is relevant only to those who are interested in Democracy, an Independent Judiciary, psychology, philosophy, ethics, drama, tragedy and comedy - all of which were invented in Classical Greece.

It is tempting to regard the above statement as something of an exaggeration.  Surely, other cultures and other periods contributed something to origin of these intellectual and practical constructs.  But no; in fact other cultures did not.  As incredible as it may seem these were all invented in Classical Greece - mostly in Athens and mostly during the Age of Pericles and shortly thereafter.

For example Socrates invented the discipline of Ethics - as it is understood today.  His inquiries into the nature of Justice as something absolute that applies equally to all simply did not exist before he raised the issue.  Before Socrates Justice was something that existed solely in relation to the right of Power.  In fact, there is no philosopher in Western history to compare with Socrates.  The next closest in brilliance would be Plato and Aristotle.

Take Drama, which was also invented in classical Greece.  The plays of Euripides (a student of Socrates) and Sophocles - just to name two - are performed, studied, deconstructed and emulated to this day.  And the musical scales and theory invented to accompany these performances are also in use and studied to this day.

Then there is the invention of Democracy.  The much-referenced Founding Fathers were all - each and every one - students of Ancient Greek and Ancient Greece.  It is from that model that our representative Democracy as well as our model of an Independent Judiciary were borrowed.

Before Classical Greece Democracy was not even a Concept.

And speaking of Concepts - these were invented in Classical Greece.  Before this culture during this period, Concepts didn't exist.

"But of course there must have been concepts - even if by some other name!"  Actually - no.  There weren't.  People had thoughts.  People had ideas.  But not concepts.  What's the distinction?  You'll have to study Plato and Socrates to find out.  But suffice it to say it has nothing to do with the word as currently used in bankrupt terminology such as "Concept Art."

And that brings us to Classical Greek Art.  Of course, we must begin with the Parthenon, a building wherein the dynamic tension of curved lines (entasis) and the inverted inclinations of its planes are sources of wonder, study and contemplation to this day.  The building was adorned with fantastic sculpture presided over by Phidias.    Many of these still exist in the British Museum (the Elgin marbles.) 

But none of this is currently available for sale to modern collectors/investors.

But many sculptors of this period also worked in minature - as celetors - or engravers of coinage.

And their magnificent artworks are still available to collectors.

For example the facing head Arethustra of Kimon, pictured above.  This coin will be auctioned off Monday and some lucky collector will buy it for between 1 and 2 million dollars.  Which makes this the most expensive Greek artwork currently available to collectors.  Apart from the beauty of the work itself, the context in which it was created is incomparable to those with the education to appreciate that context.  Imagine Kimon sitting at a dinner party with Plato and Philistis (who were present also at the court of Dionysus I when this coin was minted) discussing the latest performance of a play by Aristophenes who was in Sicily for the performance.  Imagine the conversation at that dinner.

The fact that the ancient Greek artworks of great beauty sell for tiny fraction of the price of  Contemporary American artworks is a testament to the tremendous deficit of taste and education amongst America's wealthy elite.  Barnett Newman is an interesting artist.  His artworks - which sell for 80 to 100 million dollars - have already stood the test of time of about 50 years.  Not bad.  But there are thousands and thousands of Barnett Newmans floating around.

There are six facing head Kimons.

Will a blue canvas still be interesting to collectors in another 50 years?  Or 500 Years?

Who knows?

Will a facing head tetradrachm of Kimon still be intersting to collectors/investors  in another 2500 years?

It is certain.

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