Culture

Hawaiian War God Statue That Billionaire Bought For $7 Million And Donated To A Museum Could Actually Be A Tiki Bar Tchotchke Worth Just $5,000

Hawaiian War God Statue That Billionaire Bought For $7 Million And Donated To A Museum Could Actually Be A Tiki Bar Tchotchke Worth Just $5,000
A Hawaiian war god statue  (pictured) that was bought for $7 million in a bidding war could be worth just $5,000

A Hawaiian war god statue that was bought for $7 million in a bidding war could be worth just $5,000, experts claim.

They paid more than $7 million for the figure, which is less than two feet tall.

The San Francisco couple then donated the piece to the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, which announced the acquisition this week.

But experts have said that the object could be a Tiki bar tchotchke worth just $5,000.

'It’s the sort of thing you see in a tiki bar,' said Daniel Blau, an expert in the art of the Pacific islands who is based in Munich, told The New York Times.

At the sale in Paris, Christie’s said the wooden war god was about 200 years old. But now doubts have emerged about the sculpture’s age.

The carving, made sometime between 1780 and 1819, had been in the collection of Claude Vérité, a Paris art dealer, who apparently acquired it in 1940. It’s unclear where the carving was before that.

Similar pieces are found only in museums, said Susan Kloman, head of African and Oceanic Art at Christie’s, in a description of the piece prior to the auction.

Christie's described the piece in its catalog as 'Hawaiian figure, kona style, circa 1780-1820, representing the god of war, ku ka ’ili moku.'

It was estimated to sell for or $2.3 million to $3.4 million.

Susan Kloman, head of African and Oceanic Art at Christie’s, described the piece as 'an incredible discovery', adding 'This figure could stand on the world stage.'

'When I first saw this figure I was astonished - really speechless.'We couldn’t imagine that such a work could still exist in a private collection.'

Anthony Meyer, a dealer based in Paris and a specialist in Oceanic artworks, told the New York Times: 'I don’t think it’s a pre-contact or post-contact sculpture carved by someone with the belief systems of that period or place.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and his wife

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and his wife, Lynne, purchased the rare piece at a November auction at Christie’s in Paris, paying more than $7 million

'I think it’s made later, but I don’t know when,' added Mr. Meyer. He added that if the sculpture is of a much later date, it could have a financial value of less than $5,000.

Benioff said he learned of the piece only a day before the auction, when a Bishop Museum board member, called to ask for the billionaire’s help.

The carving was probably part of a temple on the Big Island, where King Kamehameha I prayed to Ku to unify the Hawaiian islands, Benioff said.

It is thought that missionaries boxed it up along with other sacred Hawaiian relics and sent it to Europe.

It felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to return something like this to its home, Benioff added.

Benioff, who owns a large estate in Hawaii, claimed that he had beaten a 'significant bidder,' to purchase the piece
Benioff, who owns a large estate in Hawaii, claimed that he had beaten a 'significant bidder,' to purchase the piece
The carving was returned to Hawaii in April last year and is now on display at Bishop Museum in Honolulu
The carving was returned to Hawaii in April last year and is now on display at Bishop Museum in Honolulu

He told the San Francisco Chronicle: 'It was either going to go back into someone’s living room for another 200 years or it was going to go back to Hawaii and be on display for the Hawaiian people.'

Benioff, who owns a large estate in Hawaii, claimed that he had beaten a 'significant bidder', to purchase the piece.

'It’s a spiritual item. It’s not really something that should be held to help 'he power of one person'.

The carving was returned to the islands in April last year, the land-eater idol arriving about a week before the eruption of the Kilauea volcano.

Last year, an expert group of curators from the Bishop Museum visited experts in London and Paris to investigate the history of the sculpture.

The museum’s current 'Transformative Images' exhibition, in which the figure is on show, describes it as 'long held in a private French collection.' However it does not detail when it was found.

Melanie Ide, the museum’s president and chief executive, said the museum was aware of 'a question about its history and provenance,' and claimed the curators were still carrying out research into the piece.

She claimed that the wood that it is made from had been 'scientifically analyzed' and that further testing 'may be informative.'

Before Salesforce, he spent 13 years at database software giant Oracle. He has a net worth of $6.8 billion, according to Forbes.