Interview by Union Française des Experts
Philippe Koutouzis, Founder and President of T'ang Haywen Archives, shares his insights and art expertise in an interview by Union Française des Experts, UFE in Paris, an organization that dedicates to bring together some of the best arts experts in their field.
Interview can be read on UFE website, below is the English translation of the original text.
What do you consider to be the qualities of a good expert?
P.K. Armed with his knowledge of the work and, if necessary, using the constantly developing scientific means, he must adopt an objective approach and learn how to distinguish truth from the look-alike. He must be an honest and pragmatic judge of the work presented to him and prohibit himself from conflicts of interest.
What is the specificity of T'ang Haywen's expertise?
P.K. It stems from the specificities of the work. To give you a few points of reference: First of all, T'ang had a classical Chinese and Taoist approach to painting, combining spontaneity and the search for harmony, which is not always achieved.
Then the work is specific in its formats. T'ang painted most of his work in ink, watercolour and in diptych or triptych format, and in standard dimensions, which is unique in the history of art.
An important aspect of his expertise is the classification and dating of the works, painted on specific cardboard or paper, which can sometimes be dated. T'ang has produced a lot and almost never selected his works. Like all Chinese calligraphers or painters in the traditional medium, he accumulated his production without really selecting. His works are not all signed, they are sometimes only signed on the back of the work, but the signature when it exists is often an integral part of the composition.
What are the main difficulties encountered by the expert?
P.K. The primary mission of the expert is to distinguish the true from the false.
In recent years the growing market of modern Asian art has motivated counterfeiters and some unscrupulous or careless dealers. This mission has been made more difficult for me by the successive legal challenges I have been the subjected to. They have certainly hindered my efforts to promote the oeuvre but have also served to publicly confirm the objectivity of my position in relation to it. On 28 February 2018, the French Supreme Court (Cour de Cassation) clearly confirmed my rights and put an end to eight years of unfounded lawsuits. In 2015, during a conversation, Suzi Villiger, my colleague from the Catalogue Raisonné Scholars Association (CRSA) in New York and expert on Joan Mitchell's work, told me "you know Philippe, being the editor of a catalogue raisonné is a thankless job but someone has to do it".
Indeed, the expert is at the service of the work.
The expert may be challenged by third parties regarding his competence, initiatives and legitimacy. And this can take a very conflictual form, sometimes even leading to legal action. How, according to your experience, should the expert protect and defend himself when this becomes necessary?
P.K. Challenges of any kind will have to be substantiated, but the interests at stake can lead to legal action which may become inevitable; this does not only happen to others.
The first means, of prevention, available to the expert in addition to his knowledge of the oeuvre is the adoption of a code of ethics and a method to which he is committed in the exercise of his expertise. He gives his opinion, motivates it, and can sometimes be mistaken, but it will be up to the challenger to prove what he is alleging before any judicial debate, unless the challenger has decided to use justice as an instrument.
The second means, of defence, is to be able to call on his expert colleagues, who share the same principles, and who will be able to assist him before a trial is initiated or during a trial if necessary.
The third, if he is the target of legal action, is to have a good lawyer with whom he will share all information and whom he will assist in the preparation of his defence.
If he is professional, intellectually honest, consistent and clear in his communication, the expert should be able to avoid most of these pitfalls by dealing calmly and resolutely with challenges to his expertise.
What do you expect from UFE?
P.K. The meeting and exchange of information with other experts adhering to the same principles.
The propagation and maintenance of these principles, typical of our French know-how, in order to guarantee a real confidence from the collectors to the institutions.
Interview conducted by Hervé Labrid, UFE General Secretary, and Sylvie Buisson, President of UFE.