Confessions of a Private Collector
By Fayez Barakat
LEADERS MAGAZINE APRIL, MAY, JUNE 1987
One of the questions most frequently asked of
me as a dealer in fine antiquities is, "What sort of art do you recommend
collecting as a sound investment?"
"Buy what you love," I usually reply. "All art of fine
quality is a good investment. Buy what delights your senses and stimulates
your imagination. Fine art is like a good marriage it should
provide daily pleasure, be full of constant surprises and offer the
thrill of rediscovering your initial attraction over and over again.
The value of a work of art will be there no matter who owns it. The
happiness it brings should be something very personal, a joy that is
"Thats all very well," my questioner persists,
"but Im a little uncertain of my tastes. Its like food.
Sometimes I want French and other times I crave Chinese. I need guidance.
What do you collect yourself these days?"
The answer to that question is Pre-Columbian art.
Its a lively kind of art, very human, a vibrant mirror of the
cultures that created it. Almost every Pre-Columbian artifact is endowed
with a distinct personality, as if it were alive and could speak about
where it had been and what it had seen. It is an art that evokes strong
emotions. On the face of a ceramic tomb figure from West Mexico we might
read laughter and joy, or perhaps grief, anger, even quiet contemplation.
We feel a kinship with the sculpture because we have experienced such
moods ourselves, and unlike certain great cities and civilizations,
these feelings have not vanished from the earth with the passage of
centuries. Pre-Columbian meets all my personal criteria for collecting:
it is exciting to the eye, warm to the touch, and it sends the imagination
traveling on exotic journeys of discovery.
I admit that Meso-American antiquities are a relatively
new passion for me. For almost my entire life I have been fascinated
by the beauty and mystery of the past, but until I opened my gallery
in Beverly Hills four years ago, my attention was focused on the Old
World of Biblical and Classical antiquities. I would become enthusiastic
about a new facet of the past coins, terra cottas, glass, bronzes
and would learn everything I possibly could about it. Enthusiasm
would become passion, passion obsession, and I would strive to build
the most perfect collection possible. Once I was satisfied that I had
done my best, I would move on to explore another aspect of antiquity.
When I came to Beverly Hills, however, the art of the New World was
exactly that for me new. Perhaps it was inevitable that
I should fall under its powerful spell. West Coast collectors had been
assembling important holdings of Pre-Columbian art for decades, so there
was great potential to build a truly remarkable collection from what
was still in private hands.
Following my own rule, "Buy What You Love," I have
acquired some magnificent touchstones of ancient American culture. Some
of these I have kept and others I have sold to clients and collectors,
but only when I know that they will love an object as much as I have.
If the pleasure they derive from it is a little different from my own,
that is only as it should be.
The Catalogue of Pre-Columbian Art in the Barakat
Collection is the result of four years of scholarship, acquisition
and appreciation that documents over 300 treasures from throughout the
Accompanying each photographed artifact is information
about where and when it was made and a short paragraph an expression,
a musing about how each piece strikes me personally. These few
lines are statements about the impression an artwork inspires, reflections
on the mood it evokes; they in no way attempt to be the last word on
an objects history or presence. They are merely a means of sharing the
pleasure I take in these magnificent creations, of offering each reader
the chance to view an object in a new light. For that too is part of
being a good collector; the joy should be personal, but not necessarily
secretive. When you take pride in an artwork, when you truly love it,
be prepared to share its beauty.
As I have gathered together these superb works,
I have become aware that this is perhaps the last golden age for collecting
Pre-Columbian art. Legitimate sources for such artifacts are now limited
to mostly existing collectors in North America and Europe, and reputable
dealers (who I believe have always been motivated by a desire to see
that beauty is passed to future generations) do their best to discourage
illegal traffic in antiquities from South America. Still, from the 16th
century through the middle years of our own, certain visionary collectors
have acquired and in many cases preserved from destruction splendid
examples of Pre-Columbian art. Many of these pieces are now coming on
the market, perhaps for the final time before they pass into public
collections. While I wholeheartedly support the egalitarian approach
of museums, which make art available to everyone, I know of no museum
that is open at the odd hours when I sometimes stand among my private
treasures and delight in the wonderful swirl of emotions that engulfs
me. It is this that is perhaps the ultimate pleasure of being a private
collector the doors never close.