Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sotheby's African and Oceanic Auction - Rosenthal Collection

The African and Oceanic art collection of Frieda and Milton Rosenthal will be auctioned at Sotheby’s New York on November 14th, 2008.

As a collector and dealer of African art, we are always interested in seeing the choices that others have made when selecting art for their personal collections.

William C. Siegman writes in the Sotheby’s catalog that the Rosenthal’s collecting was stimulated by the opening of the Museum of Primitive Art in New York in 1957. We too, were stimulated by a New York museum show in 2001, the African Forms exhibit at the Museum for African Art. Struck by the beauty, refinement, master craftsmanship and sometimes deceptive simplicity of many of the non-figurative objects on display at that show, we began our specific focus on southern African art which is largely non-figurative.

Although the Rosenthal collection includes magnificent figurative objects such as the Senufo pair of Ancestor Figures, lot 63 or the Baga Male Figure, Lot 52, we cannot help but notice the collectors’ inclusion of utilitarian objects which they no doubt selected for their great beauty and extraordinary forms. Some beautiful forms collected by the Rosenthal's include:

A ceramic sculpture by contemporary artist Magdelene Odundo, Lot 1 (est. $10,000-$15,000)

Early Rurutu Chief’s Stool, Austral Islands, Lot 114 (est. $200,00-$300,000)

New Ireland friction drum, lot 91 (est $70,000-$100,000)

African and Oceanic non-figurative forms were clearly valued by sophisticated and careful collectors such as the Rosenthal’s.

The collection will be an interesting gauge of how the Tribal art markets fare at a time of deep distress in the financial markets. Particularly watched will be some very important objects including an important pair of Senufo ancestor figures (est. $3 million - $5 million), a Sepik Malu board (est. $600,000-$900,000) and a fine rapa nui figure from Easter Island (est. $250,000-$350,000)

Only one southern African art object is included in the sale, lot 43, a figurative staff described as South Nguni but more likely North Nuguni, possibly Tsonga.

Dori Rootenberg