“There are no good parts. They’re refusing to clear the pastiche for export because they don’t like the provenance, not that they ever do. The problem is they’ve started talking about halting all shipments in transit and ending our Favored Exporter status.”
If Italy went, the rest of the EU could follow.
These things were unpredictably slippery laps around chaos that kept her present, living and reacting to whatever “now” threw at her. Heading Conservator was like having three hundred children who depended on her decisions to pay their mortgages and funds their 401Ks. Conner seemed to have been born with a natural gift that told him how to direct his diverse brood of little geniuses and worker bees, but Aubrey’s best bet was to listen more than talk when the specifics were being discussed and to ask questions. It had taken the experience of three years to come to that realization. It had been humbling.
“The pastiche. Sorry, the composition vase we’re shipping to New York. It’s an eighteenth century composition of Roman fragments. This is bullshit, Aubrey. Pure grade A bullshit. It was already cleared for export in Milan, and the seller has a paper trail for the thing back to the artist, who happens to be a nobody. This isn’t on Char. I double-checked her work."
That was like a symphony conductor checking a surgeon’s work. Audrey smiled, but didn’t give him any grief.
Charlotte Tanner was Conservator’s provenance researcher, the in house art archeologist, so to speak. The rule of capitalism is caveat emptor and art is no exception. Conservator didn’t buy or sell art, but as they began to do as much art conservation and restoration as they did transporting, it had become evident that it was in their best interest to make sure the legitimate owners were the people requesting services. Legitimacy was determined by provenance.
Provenance was one of those things Aubrey learned about early in her experience as the decision maker for Conner’s company. She’d incorrectly assumed the standard rules of legal commerce would apply. Someone wanted to sell. Someone else wanted to buy. Money traded hands and there was a proud new owner.
The exchange wasn’t as simple when the commodity was a painting, sculpture, or a fertility goddess that bore a notable resemblance to a bulbous rock. Having expressed that thought years ago, Aubrey was shown a stack of documents: letters from the archeologist complete with sketches, a receipt of delivery to the nineteenth century aristocrat who funded the dig, a note of thanks for its generous donation to a British museum and finally, a bill of sale from a financially pinched curator.
Provenance was the paper trail that told the story of an object’s life, though most of it was now digitized and organized into large databases. It was proof the object was genuinely what it was proposed to be and that the current owners had the right to pass it to a new owner, the debatable morality of cultural theft notwithstanding.
“And there’s nothing in there about where the fragments originated?” Aubrey asked.
“Exactly. The Roman’s were a little lax with their paperwork.”
“Okay, first of all, does the client know?”
“Good, if we did screw this up, I want to know how and who before we involve them. I have to ask how well they were vetted.”
Conner had always insisted on stringent background checks for new clients, but as the company grew, that became more difficult and they had been burned a few times.
“The client is Nick Bardi.”
Mr. Nick Bardi had imperious leanings and a wardrobe preference for kilts, which made him a come across as marginally psychotic. He also had history with Aubrey and a thirty-five year tenure as the director of one of New York’s most prestigious art galleries, di Gallery. Nick ran a great deal of work though Conservator, so questioning his work would be a diplomatic problem.
“Enough said. What exactly are they taking issue with?” she asked.
“They’re attributing it to Piransesi.”
“Great, another lost ‘Michelangelo.’”
Michelangelo signed one sculpture, the Pieta, in a fit of artistic pique and never gave in to what he saw as his sinful pride again. Every other Michelangelo is attributed to him by well educated guess work, or the written accounts of patrons and his contemporaries. It wasn’t an uncommon problem.
Governments occasionally made use of this artistic eccentricity to keep unsigned works by anonymous artists in the country. Regardless of how understandable this practice was, it was arbitrary and subject to the whims of human nature and it was also frustrating, but there was nothing to do except make sure they hadn’t missed anything.
“I’m not sure it would surprise me to found out he suspected it was a much more important work.” She said.
“Sounds like the greedy little freak. This will send the price through the roof. Are you going to call Shannon? ” Alan had a hard spot for Conservator’s lawyer Shannon Mayes who was blonde and did do great things for a pencil skirt. She’d be able to clear the sculpture quickly, but she tended to bludgeon first and finesse the scattered pieces as a last resort. Nick and the problem with the Italians weren’t one of law, yet.
“ God, no. Besides, you’re missing the point. Nick would lose the sale. I just meant that I don’t put it past him to do shoddy research knowing Char would do his work for him. If it comes to it, I’ll do some digging with him. What exactly does the provenance file look like?”
“The provenance ‘file’ isn’t a file. It’s a page from a household receipt book and a photo. The entry in the book says “Vaso, Scultura” and it’s dated July, fourteenth, seven-teen seventy-three. The photo is of a nineteenth century portrait of a great aunt with the sculpture painted into the scene.“
“Who do we have in Rome? I’m assuming.” They made sure there was some local on the ground in all the major airport hubs they used. She just couldn’t remember which local was where.
“Yeah, Rome. Since Cele got married, one guy, Angelo Brevini but so far, he’s as useful as a fart in a sieve, sorry, and wants more money.”
“Find out how much more. He’s all we’ve got at the moment.”
“I won’t be happy about it, but I’ll do it.”
No matter what the Italians were threatening, sparse documentation could be enhanced with an effective understanding of how to use cultural nuance for purposes of persuasion. In other words, in Italy, the right blonde in a push-up bra had superpowers.
“Such a boy scout. For the long term, I want someone else, Alan, a useful someone, a woman. Think Shannon, but friendly and Italian. In the short term, let’s let this settle a while. I’m on my way into the city for dinner, but call Mr. Brevini and see how much it would take make him more effective.”
“Now? It’s three-thirty in the morning.”
“Look at it this way, you get to piss him off.”
“I hear and obey.”Aubrey was solidly brunette and ambivalent about push-up bras, but as she walked to the restaurant from the parking garage, she decided to pack a bag when she got home regardless because she had to be better looking in one than Brevini and millions were at risk.
© 2010 Tracy Cartmell
Mountain Flowers Macro Monday