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Carpet's old but not quite that old

After a LACMA acquisition is called into question, further examination is done. The museum says the Turkish rug is genuine but not circa 1600.

February 21, 2005|Suzanne Muchnic | Times Staff Writer

A Turkish carpet in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art -- acquired as a circa-1600 work but disparaged by a New York rug dealer as a much later reproduction -- has emerged from a preliminary investigation with its authenticity intact but a later estimated date of creation.

"We have no significant doubts about the carpet," said Nancy Thomas, deputy director of the museum. "But like a lot of acquisitions, it has gone under a microscope since it came here. That's just part of normal museum business. We now feel comfortable in dating it at 1650 to 1750." LACMA has also established that the carpet was made in Ladik in the Konya region of central Turkey, she said.

The new information about the carpet came from LACMA staff's consultation with Walter Denny, an eminent authority on Islamic art and architecture, who is a professor of archeology and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a research associate at the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. Denny was one of several people who vetted the carpet before LACMA bought it. He based his initial judgment on a transparency and studied the actual work in late January, when he came to LACMA to deliver a lecture, Thomas said.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 03, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 94 words Type of Material: Correction
Turkish carpet -- An article in the Feb. 21 Calendar section about a Turkish carpet purchased by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art whose date appears to be later than believed at the time of acquisition identified Jack Cassin, who questioned the carpet's authenticity, as a New York rug dealer and author. Cassin identifies himself an art dealer whose interest is in historic Oriental carpets. Also, Cassin previously said that he had not seen the carpet; he says now that he did see it years earlier while it was on exhibit in Philadelphia.

LACMA bought the carpet -- a knotted wool-pile work measuring about 6 feet by 8 feet -- last year from Philadelphia rug dealer Dennis Dodds for an undisclosed sum. The purchase was funded by members of the collectors committee, a support group that helps the museum buy works recommended by the curators. The carpet was recently displayed at the museum in "Luxury Textiles East and West," an exhibition of highlights from the textiles and clothing collection

Questions about the carpet's authenticity arose when New York rug dealer and author Jack Cassin, who directs the online Weaving Art Museum, heard of the acquisition and charged that it was much newer than the museum thought. Cassin, who had not seen the carpet and based his judgment on photographs, claimed it was an 18th century or 19th century reproduction. After contacting LACMA officials and Philadelphia dealer Dodds, he launched a campaign on his website, alleging that the color and design of the carpet were not consistent with earlier craftsmanship. The predominantly red carpet lacks large areas of purple and green "that all masterpieces of early Turkish rugs display," the website said. The site also said that several design elements in the borders and interior, including medallions and checkerboard triangles, were typical of later periods.

"It's a pastiche," Cassin said of the carpet in a telephone interview.

Dodds, a longtime dealer who is secretary general of the International Conference on Oriental Carpets, a professional organization dedicated to advancing the understanding of carpets and related textile arts, said Cassin's claims were without merit and unsubstantiated by concrete evidence.

"I stand behind the rug 100%," Dodds said. "I supplied the museum with reams of examples of carpets from museums and private collections around the world showing conclusively that the iconography, the architectural detail, in the LACMA carpet is fully consistent with other carpets from this period.

"The LACMA carpet comes from a distinguished lineage of reputable collectors and dealers," Dodds said. "Over the past 25 or 30 years, it has been published in exhibition catalogs and respected journals. It's one of the great carpets of this type in existence."

Cassin also claims that the museum paid far too much for the carpet -- a price he pegs at about $290,000 -- and that the same work was sold in 1981 for about $30,000. LACMA declined to comment on the price, citing museum policy.

"We don't have buyer's remorse," Thomas said, adding that the change of the carpet's date does not make it significantly less valuable and that it would not be returned to the dealer.

"The next step is to do a dye analysis, and perhaps carbon-14 dating. We will make the results known at the appropriate time."

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