The Incomparable Barakat Collection:
Treasures of Vanished Civilizations.
By W.H. Bowart
BEVERLY HILLS & THE WESTSIDE SEPTEMBER PALM SPRINGS
LIFE 1986 / 1987
Officials in Los Angeles considered
it a major event the day Fayez Barakat opened his gallery in that city.
Mayor Tom Bradley said, "I am delighted to know that the Barakat Collection
will be permanently on view in Los Angeles and accessible to all who may
wish to enjoy its treasures." It was as if a major museum had come to
town. But a museum with a difference a museum in which irreplaceable
antiquities can be purchased by private collectors.
As a young boy Fayez Barakat worked beside the famous
British archaeologist Kathleen, Dr. Kathleen Kenyon, sorting and identifying
shards from her excavation in the ancient Jerusalem of King Davids
time. A fourth generation member of the Barakat family, which was well
known for its collection of ancient Middle Eastern art, Fayez showed brilliance
as a historian and archaeologist at an early age. Throughout his life
he continued to expand on his familys calling.
In 1967 Fayez began to acquire artifacts sold by
villagers who streamed into Jerusalem. Many of the items had originally
been plundered from tombs in the hill country west of Hebron. He acquired
numerous common household objects from periods extending from the Middle
Bronze I (2100-1900 BC) through the Byzantine era (AD sixth century).
Today Fayez Barakat stands at the pinnacle in a unique
field. In the words of Gerald A. Larue, professor emeritus of biblical
history and archaeology at the University of Southern California, "Fayez
is a connoisseur devoted to a dream. He believes he owes something to
archaeologists and instructors who helped develop his expertise
and indeed, to all who prove the past and help us appreciate our rich
human heritage. He has undertaken a duty to preserve the past and to save
from possible damage and loss these exquisite artistic statements
Barakat is salvaging art objects for future generation
ever expanding collection now includes objects from biblical lands, Africa,
Europe and the Americas
Here is beauty from our distant past
Meet Fayez Barakat.
PSL: Describe how it feels to own a rare artifact.
I hold such a treasure in my hands, it gives me as much pleasure as it
did its original owner thousands of years ago. A truly fine piece of Ancient
art is not merely a remnant of vanished civilizations, it is a definition
of civilization itself, evidence of what we can attain, and of how we
can express ourselves with grace and imagination. Such objects seem to
possess an infinite serenity they are survivors, happy to be here.
They remind one that whether it is Athens or Rome, Jerusalem, Baghdad,
Paris or New York that is the capital of their age, the world endures,
and men and women continue to dream of beauty, not merely to subsist.
PSL: That sound almost metaphysical.
antiquities that I cherish most have an aura, a personality that transcends
their obvious appearance or function. I call it energy, and, like
beauty it is to be found in the eye or touch of the individual. Energy
is partly the result of reality, partly of imagination, and everyone perceives
PSL: Give us an example.
instance might be a clay oil jug found in Hebron and dated to the Middle
Bronze Age (circa 2000 BC), the era of the biblical patriarchs. In appearance
it is simple, of buff-colored terra-cotta, nicely shaped but unadorned.
It feels pleasant in the hand cool, dry and light. Then one realizes
that a craftsman formed this jug with his hands, someone bought it and
held it in his. The piece has a history, not completely known, but an
undeniable real history.
In the Old Testament it says that Abraham anointed Isaac
with oil. Could he have used this jug that contained oil? The imagination
begins to spin and one feels the energy of the object, the link
between one life and another. One realizes that the cycle of existence
has been continuous. One is given a renewed hope that it will remain that
PSL: Do you suppose that your customers feel the same way you do?
after many years in the business, just when I think I have seen it all,
I am constantly discovering a new reason why somebody collects ancient
art. There are institutional collectors, museums and corporations, who
in this modern day and age tend to be extremely selective about their
needs. Antiquities, like all fine art, have been steadily escalating in
value. There are collectors who make no secret of the fact that they acquire
objects just as a hedge against inflation. I respect their straightforward
attitude and am pleased to offer investment counseling, but I have almost
always found that at the heart of their prudent collecting is a love of
the art itself.
PSL: What type of person collects art?
types. There are intellectual collectors, those who build with a specific
goal in mind, say, a complete set of Roman Imperial coinage, or objects
related to the history of gaming and gambling. These people often wait
years for a particular piece to complete their holdings. It is a challenge
for me to locate artifacts with such clients in mind. I once negotiated
for almost a decade to acquire an unobtrusive clay oil lamp from a European
gentleman because it had been found in a specific site and another client
needed to complete his collection. The purchase price was about $100 and
I sold it only for a small profit, though the new owner would have been
willing to pay much more.
By far the largest group of collectors, and in many ways
the easiest to please, are those who are guided by their aesthetic instincts.
These are the people who choose what is beautiful regardless of its origin.
Some of my favorite clients have living rooms in which a marble head of
the goddess Aphrodite may share space with a Mayan cylindrical vase, and
on the wall a painting by Picasso.
The best impulse collectors are those who
fall in love with a piece at first sight. That is a very special kind
of energy indeed! The object very frequently happens to be historically
important and a sound financial investment and is only a happy coincidence
to them. They love the artifacts they collect!
Related to this group of collectors are the sentimentalists,
people who buy things for deeply personal reasons, usually not directly
dependent on an artifacts
cultural origin. One woman purchased a vibrant pre-Columbian
statue from me because she said it reminded her of her late husband. Another
person bought a Roman glass tear bottle, into which the living usually
wept tears for burial with the deceased, as a lovers gift. I wisely
did not ask if his tears were of sorrow or joy.
Religious, ethnic and historical factors contribute to
the other major form of collecting, that which is emotional. My family
has been acquiring antiquities in the Holy Land for over four generations,
and we have a wealth of objects which are important to three of the worlds
major faiths. Among these are a coin minted in the final hectic days of
Shimon Bar Kochbas doomed revolt against Rome in the second century,
the last independent Jewish coins struck until modern times; a Coptic
papyrus codex that is perhaps the earliest version of the Christian bible;
and early Islamic documents that rival the Dead Sea Scrolls in importance.
PSL: How do you price such treasures?
it is an arbitrary matter to place a value on such treasures. Though they
are all for sale, I will only let them go to the right owner, and at the
right time. Other emotional needs are more simply met.
PSL: Which antiquities are most desirable?
relating to Alexander the great are much sought after, and I almost always
have items dating to his lifetime available. One excited woman wanted
something which had personally belonged to Cleopatra. After I had explained
how difficult this would be to prove, I was able to satisfy her quest
with a coin bearing the image of the last Ptolemaic queen of Egypt. In
real life, Cleopatra was no great beauty, but the woman saw exactly the
qualities she wanted in the tiny portrait..
PSL: What group of collectors interest you most?
BARAKAT: The most fascinating category of collectors
for me personally are those who are guided by spiritual energy. I have
had people burst into tears while handling an artifact in the gallery
and say that they recognize it as something they owned or created in a
previous existence. Others thank me for bringing them together with items
they feel they had misplaced centuries before. The energy is there to
be felt. It only takes a little imagination to experience it.