In this newsletter, I’d like to highlight a situation in the field of ancient African art that was only subtly suggested in the last newsletter – namely, a legal dispute that ended in the gallery’s favor.
A schemer, a denouncer, a few docile scientists and an overzealous investigator – all that was needed for an existence-threatening attack. During the last few years, many readers have followed a dispute over Nigerian bronzes and witnessed the escalation of this dispute, which for Peter Herrmann was about facts regarding African art history, but which for others, as became quickly apparent, was about entirely personal concerns.
The proceedings initiated against the Galerie Peter Herrmann in 2011 in connection with bronzes from the Paul Garn collection were recently abandoned by Berlin’s department of public prosecution. In other words: the allegations against Peter Herrmann were dropped.
What does that mean in the larger context?
In recent years, Peter Herrmann has repeatedly explained why alloy testing cannot produce accurate age classification results. Against him were museum ethnologists from Berlin and Vienna who presumably (and because of repatriation issues not relevant to the immediate discussion) had a great interest in scientific obfuscation as opposed to discovery. Also against him, of course, were those laboratories that apply the criticized method, no insignificant adversaries: the Curt Engelhorn Center for Archaeometry GmbH in Mannheim with a talking-head professor at its helm, the Rathgen Institute in Berlin whose expertise is supposedly exquisite and several private testing laboratories whose expensive analyses don’t stand up to examination.
Through incorrect interpretation of their analyses, these laboratories have so thoroughly confused the historical image of Africa that anti-discrimination organizations should have been called to the scene. The documents of this ethno-alloy faction, after all, contain pretty much everything against which such initiatives were founded, right up to blatant racism.
Peter Herrmann found his greatest supporters in political bodies and among collectors capable of thinking in overarching dimensions. Ironically, those representatives of ethnology whose dusty chambers received a gust of fresh wind thanks to theses introduced by Peter Herrmann proved themselves the greatest opponents – not, as one would have hoped, on the basis of factual science, but rather of professional pride and very low emotions.
We thank Berlin’s public prosecutor for diligently working through the many folders full – at least superficially – of apparently intelligent statements from “scientists.” We also thank the hard-working woman charged with reading the remarks of a “self-styled expert” and “adventurer,” to borrow the abusive expressions used in academia for outsiders. She thereby saw that historical knowledge was more important to dealers, of all people, than to scientists. Testing laboratories completely disregard such standards anyway.
The public prosecutor was ultimately convinced by the the articles on age classification and research on the motivations of the opposing scientists available in the gallery archive. Should you, dear reader, still have any doubts about the statements made by Peter Herrmann, we hereby kindly ask you to take the time to read these inevitably long background materials. Peter Herrmann was, incidentally, only the bundling force here. Thanks is due to all those friends and providers of information who supported Peter Herrmann through difficult times, through weakness and illness, always delivering new findings and encouraging him. Thanks also to several lawyers who “aligned” their usual fees in accordance with the gallery’s difficult circumstances.