Judith Beiner of Griffin Gallery fell in love with the world of antiquities when she bought her first artifact. Captivated by the respective histories of each piece she purchased, she was hooked, and today she is a passionate antiquities collector and dealer. With over 500 artifacts representing a variety of ancient civilizations, her vast antiquities collection has captured the imagination of all those fascinated by the ancient world. Judith talks to us about the intriguing world of antiquities.
How did you become a dealer?
It really morphed from the fact that I’d been collecting for many years. My husband lived in Israel and was friendly with Moshe Dayan, a military leader and politician, a well-known antiquities collector. He used to invite my husband over to his house to look at antiquities, and so we drifted into collecting antiquities too. It was in our genes. We started with Middle Eastern Holy Land pieces, but our natural curiosity led us to investigate pre-Colombian, Classical, Asian works…really, everything.
Is it easy to live with antiquities?
I have eight grandchildren, and nothing has ever been broken. We have them all over our house. We have them on shelves, pedestals, over the kitchen cabinets. The only person who’s broken something is my husband. The biggest concern is light and dust and making sure that the pieces are in optimal condition. I used to have a wonderful Day of the Dead mask in the guest bathroom, but people were afraid of it, and I had to clean the bathroom myself. There’s not a room in my house that does not have a piece in it. In our kitchen, we have a 2000-year-old piece from Neolithic times.
What draws you to these pieces?
Just the idea of holding a piece in your hands that has been around for 2000 years –others have held it, others have used it. The sheer act that has created a piece that has lasted for that long. To us, what’s so important is not only the aesthetics of a piece, but also the history. They’re fascinating to live with; every piece has a story.
Is there a piece in your collection that you couldn’t bear to part with?
I try to keep a separation between my artifacts and my business, but I am particularly attached to a mother and child terra cotta from Jalisco, Mexico. It’s just the look of pure love on this mother’s face, something that was captured long ago. It’s a beautiful, moving piece, and the fact that somebody, probably not a fine artist, probably a folk artist, was able to capture this expression is amazing. It’s probably 800 years old.
Is there anything that makes dealing with antiquities more complex than other antiques?
We’re on first name basis with Homeland Security. When we purchase a piece, we’re not only concerned with authenticity, but also with provenance — how did it get to where we bought it, what were the legal ramifications of the piece? We need to know that it’s confirmed with UNESCO standards. And our gallery is different than other galleries, because most of our artists have been dead for 2,000 years!
What’s your favorite museum?
There are too many to pick just one–The Met, The Bible Lands and Israel museums in Jerusalem, the Louvre, the British Museum, and the Museo Larco in Lima.
What’s your dream acquisition?
The Maltese Falcon and the griffin aquamanile in the Met –just gorgeous, gorgeous pieces. They’re medieval –we don’t sell them and don’t own them. You don’t often see them — there’s a wonderful collection at the Cloisters, and also the Met. I’m mysteriously drawn to them. And one is a griffin and that is, of course, our gallery.
Why a griffin?
It’s a symbol that transcends every mythology you can think of — Greek, Roman, Chinese. They all look at a griffin differently—as a heroic figure, sometimes as a Christ figure. Everyone has different interpretations. They are marvelous creatures. The fact that so many diverse cultures have embraced them in different ways makes them appealing.
What is the first piece you ever purchased?
My husband and I actually purchased a collection of seven Holy Land antiquities ranging from 5,000 to 2,000 years old. Our dealer (now a great friend) warned us that collecting is a disease and there is no cure. He was right!
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