Melia Robinson/Business Insider and Christie’s
- Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff paid more than $7 million to buy a carving of the Hawaiian god Ku at auction.
- The Benioffs, who own land in Hawaii, donated the carving to Bishop Museum in Honolulu, where they felt it belongs.
- Now some experts have called into question whether the statue was carved as far back as previously thought, according to the New York Times.
- One expert told the Times that the statue could be worth as little as $5,000, depending on when it was created.
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff’s love for the Hawaiian islands knows no bounds.
The San Francisco billionaire and island enthusiast purchased a rare carving of the Hawaiian war god Ku at a Christie’s auction in November 2017. Benioff got in a bidding war and ultimately paid more than $7 million for the idol, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Benioff and his wife Lynne gave the statue to the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, in an donation announced by the museum in May.
Now some experts have called the legitimacy of the piece into question and say it could be worth less than $5,000, according to the New York Times.
“It’s the sort of thing you see in a tiki bar,” Daniel Blau, Munich-based Pacific Island art expert, told the Times.
At the heart of issue is when the sculpture was actually carved. Initially, the 20-inch-tall carving was believed to be created between 1780 and 1819.
One expert told the Times he believed the piece was made later than was previously reported, and that if it was much later, it would be valued at a four-figure sum. Though other experts told the Time they remain convinced of its origin story.
Before the Benioffs won it at auction, the piece lived in a private collection in Paris since the 1940s. It’s unclear how it got to Paris, though the museum said back in May that it resembles another idol which was brought back to Europe by British missionaries who visited Kona in 1822.
Melanie Ide, president and CEO of the Bishop Museum, told the Times that the museum is aware of “a question about its history and provenance,” and said that curators are doing more research, including possible DNA testing.
Questions about the carving’s authenticity go back to the time of the auction, with a report on a local Hawaiian television stations’ website citing an expert who said he believed the piece was not genuine.
For now, the piece remains open to viewers at the Bishop Museum, though the placard doesn’t say when it was carved, according to the Times. The statue was returned back to Hawaii right before then, just one week before the Kilauea volcano erupted.
“We felt strongly that this ki‘i belonged in Hawai‘i, for the education and benefit of its people,” Benioff said in a statement back in May.
The timing was not lost on Benioff, according to a San Francisco Chronicle report at the time.
“It’s a spiritual item,” Benioff told the Chronicle. “It’s not really something that should be held to help the power of one person.”
Benioff, who owns a five-acre estate in Hawaii, has found ways to integrate Hawaiian culture into the day-to-day at Salesforce. "Ohana," Hawaiian for family, is a core tenant of the company’s culture. The company also regularly invites Hawaiian singers and dancers to perform at conferences and events.
Whatever the value of the sculpture turns out to be, it represents only a small portion of a broader pattern of philanthropy by the Benioffs, who have donated $200 million to San Francisco children’s hospitals, and $11.5 million to fight family homelessness, among other things.
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