Art: The Barakat Collection
There Are More Things in Heaven and Earth,
By Skip Press
BEVERLY HILLS & THE WESTSIDE SEPTEMBER 1985
If Indiana Jones were a real person, one of his
closest confidants would be Fayez Barakat, owner and proprietor of the
Barakat Gallery in Beverly Hills. Barakat would be one of Indianas
best customers, for the antiquities featured in the Barakat collection
are a dazzling display of eras, cultures, peoples and artists. Barakat
belongs in an adventure film, with his finely trimmed beard and mustache
and bemused smile. His eyes light up as he tells you, while you hold a
simple terra-cotta drinking cup that is 5,000 years old, what a work of
art the cup was for its time, and how it must have belonged to a wealthy
man, perhaps a Bedouin chieftain, who treasured it and carried it on desert
journeys. No piece found in the Barakat Collection is without such a story,
and many of the tales are of the gallerys patrons.
"I have had customers form an instant bond with an
artifact," Fayez relates, "or burst into tears of joy, saying that they
have found something theyve searched for their whole life."
The explanation may be a little mystical, like the
small statuette of an Egyptian Goddess in whose eyes Barakat says you
can feel the power of an ancient culture; but one reason why some customers
react so strongly to an object, he thinks, is because they may have owned
it before - in a former life.
Shades of reincarnation? A story line from Amazing
Stories? Maybe. Or, possibly, just another scene in the ongoing dream
of life. In any estimation, it is no ordinary gallery. The museum-quality
pieces, many of which were featured in an exhibition at the Fisher Gallery
entitled "Fusions of the Hellenistic World," are sold only to the "right
person," and not necessarily the fattest purse. While the drinking cup
mentioned earlier costs several hundred dollars, a marble bust of the
Roman emperor Vitellius, or a bas-relief frieze of Socrates, is more expensive.
Whatever the price, in some cases Fayez has actually given a piece
to someone to whom it meant a great deal.
"On rare occasions, someone has come in and completely
fallen in love with something," he says. "Like it was a part of them that
was missing. Ive lowered the price so that they can have it, and
sometimes Ive simply given it away, it meant so much to them."
Not the ordinary way of doing business in Beverly
Hills, but Barakat is no ordinary merchant, and much too perceptive to
be taken in by a trickster. The recipients of his generosity are always,
like the pieces in his collection, the real thing. A fourth-generation
collector with 20 years of personal involvement, the man has connections
all over the art world. Workers plowing his grandfathers vineyards,
near Jerusalem, unearthed ancient tombs yielding centuries-old artifacts,
such as a hand-cut piece of glass dating to the time of Moses ( a piece
in the collection). With interest in things ancient already a family trait,
embarking on an archaeological career was simply following tradition.
Fayezs interest extended beyond biblical and
classical cultures, however. In the Barakat Collection one finds a fish
fossil 80 million years old, discovered along the Amazon. A stone jaguar
god, and terra-cotta pre-Columbian figures represent Mayan and Aztec cultures.
It is an international display. In the rear of the shop, in a
giant case, is a startling, glass-enclosed assembly of
Egyptian scarabs, of all the colors of the rainbow, one that would impress
any Egyptologist. Scattered along the wall, one finds medieval Russian
icons, African masks and Hindu bronzes. Some objects not that ancient
make up for their youth in sheer beauty. A womans purse of pure
gold-chain maille, for example, dated around the turn of the century.
Or ancient Japanese erotic scrimshaw, carved into an ivory medallion.
The range of prices is as varied as the works themselves.
Oil lamps, seals, amulets, coins and jewelry may be as low as $50. A marble
representation of Alexander the Great, sculpted 150 to 200 AD, fetches
$1 million, as does a pure-gold hairnet of the Hellenistic period (fourth-first
centuries BC). Along the front wall are necklaces of all sorts, the most
striking ones made of amber. Several necklaces are from before the time
To document a collection so extensive and diverse,
Fayez put together a full-color, hardbound catalog, at a cost of $150
each. With gold-foil detail and 320 color plates, the book is for the
benefit of customers and students of antiquities. What exudes from the
book, the gallery, and the man is a love of art and an overriding enthusiasm
for the pride of ancient artisans. In the catalogs introduction
Fayez speaks of wanting to "touch the lives of others with a sense of
beauty and truth of the ages," and to "bring to man my share of the contributions
of his awesome heritage of beauty, wisdom and spiritual history." With
that in mind, the collection features original Islamic documents that
rival the Dead Sea Scrolls, and a set of silver coins ("shekels of Tyre")
with the profile of Melqart (Hercules), the same currency paid to Judas.
There is something even more interesting the earliest copy of the
Bible available in the world.
"A Gutenberg Bible?" I asked in innocence.
"Oh, no," replied Fayez. "Much earlier."
"In Greek, then?"
"No," he smiled, scratching at his mustache, amused
by my naivete.
I saw many things that day, and spoke with Fayez of the
types of energy emanating from each. A bowl with a stylized fetus, used
in pre-Columbian fertility rites, brought chills. A small vase seemed
older than my ancestors, and gave me images of a beautiful woman. A carved
golden Buddha, matching Grecian water jars with faces of women
hadnt I once
? I dismissed the thought, but I wondered.
Outside the Barakat Gallery, I looked out over the
courtyard where the shop is located. For an instant, it seemed like a
part of an ancient bazaar. Fayez Barakat stood by a railing, smiling as
he watched people milling about.
Here, I told myself, was a man not only interesting,
but interested, secure in his present environment, with a mind focused,
lovingly, on the splendor of ancient days.