Sunday, December 27, 2009

Man Ray, African Art and the Modernist Lens

BY: Deborah Dietsch, Washington Post

Twenty-five years ago, New York's Museum of Modern Art mounted a controversial exhibit examining the relationship between modern art and "primitive" tribal cultures. The show was criticized for relegating non-Western art to a supporting role in the development of Western abstraction.

"Man Ray, African Art and the Modernist Lens" tries hard to avoid this imbalance in presenting mostly straightforward, commercial photographs of African artifacts next to the real thing, but it runs into the same trouble. The touring show, organized by curator Wendy Goodman for D.C.-based International Arts and Artists, reduces the carved figures, masks and hats from West Africa to mere reference points for the photos.

Even worse, this exhibit is as dryly academic as the footnotes to a doctoral dissertation. Many of the 100 black-and-white photos by Ray and his contemporaries are more descriptive than interpretative, offering no new understanding of African artifacts.

Some of these 1920s and '30s images were taken by well-known artists Charles Sheeler and Walker Evans to record the African objects collected by Western patrons and museums, but they might as well have been shot by anonymous archivists.

Ray gets top billing, but the expatriate surrealist is also reduced to a documentarian. A chunk of his photos in the exhibit merely record the tribal art collected by Danish lawyer Carl Kjersmeier, who by the 1930s had amassed some of the largest holdings of African objects in the world.

Such Western interest in tribal artifacts grew from the colonization of Africa by Europeans, whose takeover of the continent is documented through a colored map. By 1900, few major artists were untouched by the fascination with African and Oceanic "primitive" art. Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and others were drawn to the styles and motifs from these non-Western cultures as a way to challenge traditional aesthetic ideas, which they saw as stagnant and irrelevant to modern society.

While Europeans understood African objects through the lens of colonialism, Americans viewed them as representing the legacy of slavery and segregation. Racial biases resulted in the negative perception of African art that persists to this day.

However, for black American artists, African art served as an affirmation of their heritage and identity. The most intriguing portion of the show — it would make a worthwhile exhibit on its own — is devoted to this embrace by members of the New Negro movement, as blossoming 1920s black culture was called.

Harlem photographer James Allen's portrait of graphic artist James Lesesne Wells shows his subject intensely engaged with a drinking cup from Central Africa. Wells gazes down on the face carved on the vessel as if communing with an ancestor.

One of the few paintings in the exhibit is by Lois Mailou Jones, a Harlem Renaissance artist who invigorated her art with African and Caribbean influences. "Les Fetiches" (the fetishes), painted while Jones was living in Paris, pictures a group of open-mouthed African masks like a human chorus around a cubist face.

Surrounding the lively canvas are Evans' photographs of masks from a 1935 exhibition of African art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The exhibit suggests Jones based her painting on these images rather than actual objects, although the artist insisted her inspiration came from masks seen in Parisian galleries and museums. Certainly there was no scarcity of African objects in Paris, and modernist artists emulated both mediocre and first-rate sculptures.

In the last section of the show, high-minded art yields to popular taste in fashion photography incorporating African objects. The best of these is Ray's "Noire et blanche" ("Black and White") depicting a female head turned at a right angle to a mask from the Ivory Coast. Shot for Paris Vogue in 1926, Ray's carefully composed photo of opposites suggests the woman and the African object reflect the same modern beauty.

Following this stunner are repetitive images of tribal hats worn by Ray's dancer companion, plus view after view of the ivory bracelets collected by British heiress Nancy Cunard. Here, African art is reduced to trinkets of "l'art negre" worn by the fashionable and the rich, a trivialization the exhibit fails to condemn.

WHAT: Man Ray, African Art and the Modernist Lens
WHERE: Phillips Collection, 1600 21st St. NW
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday but to 8:30 p.m. Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday; through Jan. 10
ADMISSION: $12 adults, $10 students and seniors
PHONE: 202/387-2436

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Deal gives de Young most of Oceanic art works

By John Cote - San Francisco Chronicle

Most of the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum's cornerstone collection of Oceanic art will stay put under a deal that San Francisco officials have struck to resolve an inheritance dispute that threatened to have the collection dismantled.

The tentative settlement, confirmed Tuesday by attorneys involved, will give the de Young clear title to 274 of 398 pieces of Papua New Guinea artwork housed at the city-owned museum - a compilation that nation's ambassador to the United States hailed as an "unparalleled and extensive collection of masterpieces."

The fate of the remaining 124 pieces at the de Young Museum, dozens of them on loan from Sotheby's, is still unresolved and could result in some of the pieces being sold to satisfy a roughly $20 million debt to the auction house.

New York philanthropists John and Marcia Friede collected 4,000 or more pieces of New Guinea tribal art over four decades and promised the prized works to the de Young Museum in a series of agreements dating to 2003.

The de Young Museum specifically designed an 8,000-square-foot gallery named for the couple to house the collection when it rebuilt its Golden Gate Park home.

The artwork, named the Jolika Collection after the first letters in the Friedes' three children's names, was to be transferred over a period of years.

But the couple also used the works to secure loans from Sotheby's to acquire more pieces and, at the insistence of John Friede's brothers, put the collection up as collateral in an inheritance dispute following the 2005 death of John Friede's mother, Evelyn A.J. Hall, sister of publishing tycoon Walter Annenberg.

The result was a series of legal battles in California, New York and Florida.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera went to court in September 2008 to try to prevent John Friede's two brothers from seizing the collection and selling parts of it to raise up to $20 million after a Florida judge ruled that Friede had violated the terms of a legal settlement involving their mother's estate.

In that case, John Friede had agreed to pay his brothers $30 million and put up the Jolika Collection as collateral, despite already having pledged it to the de Young. He values the entire collection at about $300 million.

John Friede had paid his brothers more than $22 million of the $30 million, but legal fees and interest made the shortfall around $10 million, court documents show.

In April, the city agreed to sell 76 works not at the museum to help pay the Friedes' debts. Only some have been sold.

Under the settlement, the balance John Friede owes his brothers will be set at $5.65 million and will be paid from three sources: John Friede's one-third share of the Pierre Bonnard painting "Le dejeuner" that he owns with his brothers; a portion of a $3.7 million payment from his mother's estate that was to go the de Young to pay for upkeep, promotion and study of the Jolika Collection; and proceeds held in escrow from the sale of some of the works not housed at the museum, lawyers involved in the case said.

The brothers, Thomas Jaffe and Robert Friede, agree to give the de Young clear ownership of 168 works at the museum, on top of the 106 collection pieces the de Young indisputably owns.

"We've achieved a great result in protecting the museum's works from the brothers' claims," Deputy City Attorney Don Margolis said. "Everyone compromised to some extent."

Rosemary Halligan, an attorney for Friede's half-brother, Thomas Jaffe, noted that the agreement is tentative.

"We're not there yet, but we're hopeful that we'll get there," Halligan said.

The Board of Trustees for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, which oversees the de Young, signed off on the proposal Dec. 10.

John Friede said it is premature to comment before the settlement is finalized, but added that he is "very, very pleased with the progress."

Also unclear is what will happen to about 3,500 pieces at the Friedes' Rye, N.Y., home, which the couple has planned to gradually turn over to the de Young. Some could be sold to resolve the Sotheby's case in New York.

"We believe it's still (the Friedes') desire to bequeath these works to the museum," Margolis said.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Exhibit Explores African Art, Western Perceptions

From the Daily News Tribune. By: Chris Bergeron

BOSTON — To Western eyes, the mask-like faces and naked loins of carved African sculpture speak of primitive appetites from the Dark Continent.

Like other kinds of colonialism, the 19th-century "discovery" and marketing of native art from Africa, and later Oceania, transformed ritual and ceremonial objects from everyday life into commodities for foreign consumption.

Now an informative exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts uses striking objects to reveal how early Western collectors and photographers turned cultural artifacts into exotic works of art.

The show, "Object, Image, Collector: African and Oceanic Art in Focus," does far more than merely display objects that appear exotic to Western tastes. Breaking new ground, it explores how photography shifted Western perceptions of objects initially collected for anthropological study into highly prized works of art.

Adding a new dimension to such exhibits, it showcases photos by Alfred Stieglitz, Charles Sheeler, Clara Sipprell and Walker Evans along with publications by Carl Einstein that influenced how the public viewed art from Africa and the Pacific Islands.

The MFA's first exhibit of its kind, it borrows more than 50 objects including three-dimensional pieces and textiles from 20 Boston collections.

Museum Director Malcolm Rogers described the exhibit as "a wonderful marriage between object and photography. ...It's the very first exhibit of its kind to highlight art of Africa and Oceania through local collections," he said during an opening tour.

Located in the second floor Art of Asia, Oceania and Africa Gallery, the exhibit runs through July 18.

Christraud Geary, senior curator of African and Oceanic Art, and Karen Haas, the Lane Collection curator of photographs, organized the exhibit. Rather than just show objects of remarkable craftsmanship and beauty, they've focused on how photography and other kinds of presentation shaped public perceptions.

A scholar who has written extensively on the subject, Geary said French and European artists were fascinated by turn-of-the century exhibits of African art because it let them express feelings that were limited by Western traditions.

"Artists were the first to embrace these objects. Exhibitions in art museums and galleries followed and also played a role in their interpretation, but the impact of photography in promoting this shift has been neglected," she said.

In the early 20th century, artists as different as Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso and Man Ray were incorporating elements of African art into their works.

"Artists (from Europe) were attracted by the forms of African art. They saw it as specimens, not art," Geary said. "They felt anything that caught their fancy was an object to be celebrated."

Born in Germany, Geary has traveled widely in Africa, performing field research in Cameroon, Senegal, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and South Africa. She served 13 years as curator of the photographic archives of the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Regarded as one of the founders of Modernism, Sheeler emerges in this show as a master photographer whose images dramatically shaped public perceptions of African art.

Haas said she was fascinated "to realize the very early role that Sheeler's photographs played in the reception of African art as works of fine art rather than ethnographic objects."

Visitors will see many remarkably crafted objects that will dazzle their eyes and imaginations. By displaying old photos of these pieces, Geary and Haas challenge viewers to wonder whether they're perceiving them within the context of their original construction or whether their unfamiliar appearance tricks us into only seeing reflections of our own stereotypes.

In other words, do we collect them as works of art because we don't understand what they really once were? How would we feel about someone from Gabon who spent lots of money acquiring pictures of poker-playing dogs because they thought they revealed something deep and mysterious about American culture?

The exhibit also breaks new ground for many viewers who are likely more familiar with art from virtually everywhere else in the world than Africa.

Visitors examining for the first time a reliquary guardian figure from Gabon or a Congolese wood and shell hermaphrodite figure will not only see examples of stunning beauty but mirrors to their own perceptions about unfamiliar cultures.

Asked how visitors new to African art might best appreciate the exhibit, Geary said, "I think they ought to look at the form first. Form speaks to us," she said.


The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is open seven days a week. Hours: Saturday through Tuesday, 10 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.; and Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 9:45 p.m.; (Thursday and Friday after 5 p.m. only the West Wing is open).

The museum is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day and Patriots Day.

General admission (which includes two visits in a 10-day period) is $20 for adults; $18 for seniors and students 18 and older and includes entry to all galleries and special exhibitions. Admission for students who are university members is free as is admission for children under 17 during non-school hours.

On school days until 3 p.m., admission for youths 7-17 is $7.50. No admission fee is required after 4 p.m. on Wednesdays although donations are welcome.

For information, call 617-267-9300 or visit

Monday, November 2, 2009

Boni and Ethiopian Headrest Profiles

Today we bring you two additional examples of the fine works in our Headrest Collection. These pieces are far more recently created than the last two ancient examples, but are none the less beautiful.

Boni Headrest from Somalia. This is a very interesting headrest. While many other headrests were made to be sturdy and support the neck and head while a person slept, this headrest seems light, unstable, and fragile. It was meant to be only strong enough to allow a warrior a very light sleep, for a deep, undisturbed sleep would be deleterious to the wellbeing of a tribe. This work is particularly fine for its light grained wood and patina, from years of use and watchful sleep. A close examination of the sides of the work will reveal interlaced, geometric carving.

The piece resembles the form of the head and horns of the Somalian bush cow.

Headrest from Ethiopia. This headrest stands in stark contrast the Somalian headrest – for all the levity that the previous piece brings, this piece is sturdy, solid, and functional. Yet this headrest from Ethiopia does not lose any of its elegance in form. This piece was carved of a single black of dark wood and has achieved a rich patina through the years. It is adorned with vertical and horizontal lines on the face, giving it a very geometric style. On the face is a lug that was used for tying a string around.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tellem and Calabar Headrest Profiles

Our exhibition of African headrests continues on at, and today we bring you profiles of two extraordinary works. The first is an ancient Tellem Headrest from Mali and the second, a terracotta headrest from Ethiopia. I hope that everyone has had a chance to look around the website at all the other fine pieces on view. And, as always, if you ever want to see a piece in person and are in the New York City area, please call and set up an appointment. Our phone number is available on the website.

Tellem Headrest from Mali. The Dogon people in Mali are well known in the African art world for creating some of the finest and most beautiful works. But they do not use headrests. This carved wooden headrest was found in the high caves of Mali, in Dogon land, and is thought to have belonged to a tribal predecessor to the Dogon – the Tellem. The Tellem used headrests like this one for burial ceremonies, though there are few particulars that we know of their culture because they disappeared over 700 years ago. The examples of similar headrests from these people date from the 11th to the 13th centuries. It is likely that many of these headrests may have earlier roots, as similar headrests come from Dynastic Egypt.

Calabar Headrest from Nigeria. Our second profile today is of an ancient Calabar headrest found in Nigeria. This very rare terracotta creation is anthropomorphic in style. A close examination reveals the presence of two “eyes” and a “mouth” on the form. As an example of early pottery from the region, this piece would make an exceptional addition to any collection.

Thanks for reading and be sure to check back for more information on the collection

Monday, October 19, 2009

Zulu Headrest and Two Tsonga Headrests from the Headrest Collection

Jacaranda Tribal is pleased to announce a new exhibition of African headrests from across the continent. We have many rare and fine headrests available for viewing at

Zulu Headrest from South Africa. We are very fortunate to have this Zulu headrest in the collection. It is a fine example of a double headrest (as you can see, each “criss-cross” is a distinct headrest) carved from a single piece of wood. The piece is carved with alternating dark and light triangles on both the upper and lower portions of the piece. Experts believe that this headrest was created by a renownded master artist and carver from Natal and that other pieces by this artist exist in collections.

Tsonga Headrest from South Africa. This object is exceptionally fine and rare for neckrests with carrying handles are particularly rare and desirable. This one has a handle in the form of a dance staff that is such a length as to allow the end of the handle to rest on the floor surface.

In addition to the carrying handle, this headrest is carved with five parallel rows of fine rots carved in relief. As a male was sleeping, these dots would have formed temporary indentations into his face—indentations that resembled the facial scarification patterns of the Northern Nguni women. This would have caused much amusement.

The piece has developed a very fine patina from many years of use.

Tsonga Headrest from Mozambique.

There are around two dozen headrests with zoomorphic and anthropomorphic features illustrated in the literature on the art of Southeast Africa. But this headrest from Mozambique is the only example that evokes both the human figure and a four-legged animal figure at once. Female genitalia and breasts are carved on the underside. The figure also has a strange tail and wears a flat, circular hat. It is an incredible depiction and most certainly one of the only, if not the only, examples of its kind.

The aesthetic of this headrest is distinctive and unlike others in Southeast African art. It is certainly worth a look at this very fine example of a master carver and artist’s work.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Tip-Stool from Congo and Ashanti Stool from Ghana Profiles

Today we bring you two extraordinary examples of African stools.

Stool from Congo. This stool is a part of a wide tradition of artistry known as tip-stools. These are used widely throughout the Congo and as part of a variety of traditions including those of the Kiba, the Mbole and the Mongo. Many of these stools, all utilitarian and functional objects, have the same basic form of this stool, but not the uniquely intricate carvings and interesting geometric construction. A close examination of this chair will reveal very interesting and intricate geometric carving designs over the bulk of this object. It has also developed a fine patina over the course of years of use.
Ashanti Stool from Ghana. Contrasted this object to the previous tip-stool. This Ashanti stool from Ghana is a very interesting and complex form. These stools are carved from single blocks of wood and traditionally have crescent shaped seats. These stools are remarkable for their combined practical and spiritual uses. In the owner’s lifetime the stool was understood to be the seat of the owner’s soul. When not in use, the stool was leaned against a wall so that other souls passing by would not settle on it. At the death of the owner, it could become a shrine at which the departed’s spirit could be invoked. This fine object has developed a beautiful glossy patina.
Make sure to check back at the blog next week for further profiles of some of our very fine pieces in the Ginzberg collection. And, as always, check our the website for further information and pictures.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Konda Knife and Bedja Shield Profiles

I hope everyone has had a chance to look at our website and see the new additions to the exhibition of the African Forms, Ginzberg collection. There are several additions of weaponry and jewelry. Today we are previewing two pieces, a knife from Congo and a shield from the nomadic Bedja tribe.

Konda Knife from Congo. Knives are some of the most utilitarian objects available. They were used every day for hunting, eating, given as gifts, and used ceremonially. This knife, from the Konda region in the Northeast of Congo, is unusual. It was forged of very thin iron sheet metal and decorated with intricate designs making it virtually ineffective as a weapon. This object, in particular, would have been used ritualistically and as a decorative show of arms in parades. Most Konda knives are created with short and plain handles whereas the artist who created this object forged an extraordinary design in this knife’s handle. In addition to its fine handle, the knife also has a spiral cared handle, decorated with kaolin—a clay mineral used decoratively to give an object a high gloss. The tip of the knife is fitted with an ivory tip. This is a fine example of a Konda knife and is particularly beautiful for its rare decorations.

Bedja Shield from Sudan. Animal hide shields are quite common in African tribal life. The Bedja are nomadic tribes that live primarily in the Red Sea Hills of the Sudan. These tribal people are well known for being fierce warriors. For Bedja men, a round leather shield was awarded to individuals upon reaching manhood as a rite of passage gift. It is the quality and condition, in particular, that make this piece so extraordinary. The shield is a near perfect circle with small cutouts at the top and bottom, all of which is reinforced by a wooden form and handle. There are few other shields of this quality today.

Make sure to check back later this week for another update on the collection. And, as always, please check out the website and if you have any questions, we'd love to hear from you. If you're in the New York City area, make an appointments and we'll show you the collection in person.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Priest Staff and Ivory Comb Profiles

Today we bring you two more profiles from the Ginzberg collection – a staff from an Ethiopian priest and an Ivory beard comb from Somalia. These two examples show the geometric and nonfigurative design associated with this collection very well. Both pieces are certainly works of art, despite being used frequently in their period of use. These and other examples from this collection can be seen at our website,

Priest's Staff from Ethiopia. When Christianity was brought to Ethiopia in the 4th century AD when a Christian philosopher was shipwrecked there on his way to India. Envoys from this ship eventually became the private secretary and royal cupbearer to the Ethiopian king. It was these men who brought Christian beliefs to Ethiopian society. Christianity has thus since flourished in this region of the world.

This staff from the Ginzberg collection is a very fine example of those used by Ethiopian priests and “cantors.” Its straight or “T-shaped” finials of the silver cross are common among clergy. But this staff is quite extraordinary because it is made from ivory instead of more traditional materials, like wood. In addition, the carvings and engravings are very fine. Altogether, this is a piece not to be missed.

Ivory Comb from Somalia. This tiny ivory comb is a very fine example of a traditional beard comb – commonly worn around the neck, suspended from Muslim prayer beads. The carvings are intricate and delicate and recall the shape and designs of the more common Somalian wood spoons. The care and delicacy necessary to create such a fine piece is a testament to talent of the African artist who created it.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Kuba Horn and Yaka Whistle Profiles from Ginzberg Collection

There’s more still to this exemplary collection of museum-quality African art. I hope every one has been to our website to check out the entire collection – if you’d like to see the collection in person and are in the New York City area, call the gallery and we’d be happy to schedule an appointment.

Kuba Horn Container from Congo. These containers, usually used by the tribal elite for drinking palm wine (an alcoholic beverage made from the sap of palm trees), come in a variety of shapes and sizes. This one has been intricately carved from the hallow horn of a mature cow. The designs are strikingly geometric and appear very modern to our Western aesthetic. These designs are actually reminiscent of scarification patterns, common among the Kuba people. This is truly an extraordinary example of a palm wine container.

Yaka Whistle from Congo. This Yaka Whistle is a very interesting piece from the collection. While both this whistle and the previous palm wine container are from the Congo, this piece comes from the Kasai region. The tribal people from this region often carried whistles used during hunting expeditions. This piece, in particular, has obtained a very fine patina due to its use over the years. That, combined with the presence of light and fine carving, make this piece a particularly fine example of a hunting whistle from this region.

I hope that people are enjoying a closer look into the Ginzberg Collection and will take advantage of our access to the collection to learn more. We are always happy to answer any questions that you might have. Check out and, as always, feel free to give us a call at the gallery.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Azande Hairpin and Islamic Writing Board Profiles

While many of the objects in our selection of the Ginzberg Collection are commonly collected and traded, others are rarer. Earlier this week, we showed you a set of pipes and a headrest, this week we’ll bring you an exceptionally fine and intricately carved Azande Hairpin and a Writing Tablet from Sub-Saharan Africa.

Azande Hairpin from the Sudan or Congo
. This hairpin is made from ivory and has a very interesting and unusual form. In this case, a person’s hair was likely wound through and around the circular top of this hairpin. Hairpins like this fine example were mainly ceremonial, luxury or prestige objects and often owned by tribal leaders and created by the finest African artists.

Writing Board from Nigeria, Chad or Sudan. This is an incredibly fine object from the Ginzberg Collection and certainly not something that you’ll see every day in fine art collections. Tablets like this one were used widely across Islamic Africa including in Nigeria, Chad and Sudan. Writing boards were used as a slate in order to help school boys practice their writing skills, specifically to help them learn Arabic. Additionally, some individuals kept boards with a chapter of the Koran inscribed on to them, to use as a devotional object. The writing board that we have on display is particularly extraordinary as one can see the faint remains of a verse of the Koran in ancient handwriting. It is truly an extraordinary piece and offers a rare insight into African educational and devotional practices.

Both of these objects, along with many others, are on view at Jacaranda Tribal’s website: And, remember, to check back to our blog next week for further profiles of objects in the collection.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dan Chair, Xhosa Pipes, Bena Lulua Headrest Profiles

For the next several weeks, we will be profiling specific pieces from the Marc & Denyse Ginzberg collection available at Jacaranda Tribal Art Gallery. A complete selection, including pictures and descruptions, of our exhibition of the collection can be seen at our website

Dan, Mano or Guere Chair from Liberia. Chairs like this fine example were utilized by their owner not only as private and personal objects but also as status markers and prestige objects for tribal chiefs. Dr J.H. Furbay, President of the College of West Africa in Monrovia, Liberia, from 1936 to 1938, reported that a chair was always carried by a chief’s attendant because it was believed that a Chief without his chair was without his dignity. In addition to the fine carving, this object has a distinctly fine patina obtained from years of valued use. As with all of the objects in the Ginzberg Collection, this chair is an exceptionally fine example of a late 19th century or early 20th century chair from the region.

Xhosa or South Nguni Pipes from South Africa. Pipes of all forms, shapes and materials have been used by people and tribes of Southern African for centuries. Africans used pipes in religious rites and other ceremonies, and more commonly for practical purposes. Many individuals in a tribe owned and used pipes as smoking was practiced by people of all ages and genders. Especially fine objects were seen as status markers or prestige objects for highly respected members of a tribe. These pipes, from the Ginzberg collection, are particularly interesting because they have a distinct European influence in their design while retaining clear local innovation and techniques. The intricate designs and motifs in these pipes were carved by master African artisans who then filled the groves with molten pewter lead.

Bena Lulua or Luba Headrest from Congo. In many African cultures, small wooden "pillows" were used to support the head during sleep and in some instances to preserve a hairstyle. The Ginzberg collection has many exceptionally fine examples, several of which are on display on our website. This fine example from the Congo boasts satisfying proportions and distinctly geometric and nonfigurative carving. In addition, the object has a deep red patina from decades of use.

We will be profiling additional objects in the coming weeks. Make sure to check back again.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Marc & Denyse Ginzberg Collection Offered at Jacaranda Tribal

Two years ago, in September 2007, the Marc & Denyse Ginzberg Collection of African Forms went on sale at the Sotheby’s auction house in Paris. The auction was unlike anything that had ever been offered before at Sotheby’s – there was no figurative sculpture, no masks, and indeed little that would mark a traditionally inclined African art collection. Instead the collection celebrated the utilitarian and the nonfigurative; it celebrated the mastery and creativity that the African artist can bring to the everyday object. The objects in the collection have pushed the boundary between form and function, being at once fine works of art and useful household objects. After forming a full and comprehensive collection, writing a popular book called African Forms, and widely exhibiting the collection in museums and galleries, the Ginzberg’s were reluctantly ready to part with it. It’s no surprise that an extraordinary collection by renowned collectors should fetch €1,032,000, with many works fetching world record prices.

Marc & Denyse Ginzberg pictured

The Ginzberg collection brought much deserved attention to an under-recognized field of African Art and has brought recognition to some very fine, nonfigurative works. Jacaranda Tribal has been fortunate enough to debut a select exhibition of the Ginzberg Collection. The exhibition includes a range of objects – all of very fine museum quality – from snuff containers to jewelry, hats to weapons. We are delighted to be able to offer such a fine collection of works to the public. Be sure to check back at our blog often, as we will be posting several blogs on individual works in the coming weeks.

These highly decorated knives from Zimbabwe and the Congo are part of the collection offered by Jacaranda Tribal

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tribal Arts Fair in Santa Fe

This weekend is the yearly Historic Indian & World Tribal Arts fair in Santa Fe, NM. This is a really wonderful fair where lots of American Indian and other tribal art dealers come out. The majority of dealers will be from the Southwest but this year there are several NYC dealers as well including Chinalai Tribal Antiques, Merrill B. Domas and Paul E. Gray, and Oumar Keinde African Art.

If you haven't visited Santa Fe before, it is a vibrant town with numerous galleries and a thriving art scene. It is well worth a visit - though if you want to visit during the Art fair or next week's Indian Market you'll have to book hotel rooms well in advance.

The photo is from last year's Indian Market and as you can see, the town square fills up with antiquities, ethnographic objects, and people. It's an extraordinary experience.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Update on Tribal Art at De Young Museum

The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported on the John Friede collection at the De Yound Museum in San Francisco. This is a major victory for the city of SF and the De Young Museum. The articles notes:

In a victory for the city-owned museum, Judge A. James Robertson II kept in place a temporary order preventing works from the collection from being seized or sold off to pay part of a $30 million debt that de Young trustee John Friede owes his brothers to settle the division of their mother's estate.

"What this means is the art remains safe for public access," said Deputy City Attorney Don Margolis, who is representing the de Young. "The court is maintaining the status quo so that there can be an orderly determination of the competing claims."

Friede and his wife, Marcia, have pledged almost their entire collection to the de Young, including about 400 pieces already at the museum and thousands more at the couple's home in Rye, N.Y. But Friede also put up the artwork as collateral to settle the dispute with his brothers over the estate of their mother, Evelyn A.J. Hall, who died in 2005 and was the sister of publishing tycoon Walter Annenberg. - John Coté

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Zemanek Tribal Art Auction Results

Zemanek held its tribal art auction last week in Würzburg, Germany. The auction had a disappointing turn out in terms of persons bidding and also the lots available for sale. The sale fared just slightly worse than their last auction in March 2009 - selling only 30% of all lots offered. The best pieces offered for sale were priced around €10,000 with none exceeding €13,000. The object shown below, lot 468 a Figurine of a titled lady, was the highest priced sale fetching a total of €13,000 - well below its low estimate of €18,000. With a sale price that much lower than a stated estimate, the object was most likely available for sale without a reserve price - a very rare occurence in the art world.

On a side note: in this most recent auction, the auction house offered a sale of 'Wunderkammer Naturalia' or objects such as rare skulls, bone fragments, fossilized eggs and such of interest to Natural History aficionados. The one below, lot 9, is the fossilized egg of a daroosaur. It is still available for sale for €400. There were some very interesting and strange pieces available and it is most certainly worth a look, if just for amusement.
Dori Rootenberg

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

New Acquisitions at Jacaranda Tribal

We just recently sent out a newsletter with information on our latest acquisitions from the Ginzberg Collection. In this latest post, we wanted to profile two of these pieces which are exceptionally fine.

This first is a Dan, Mano or Guere chair from Liberia. This chair was probably carved as a prestige object for the use of the chief. The chair comes from the Marc Ginzberg collection and was featured in the book African Forms. The chair has a striking patina.
The second is an exceptional shield is from the Nilotic people located in southern Sudan. The shields from this region are commonly made from giraffe, ox, hippopotamus or buffalo hide. This shield also includes a ball of feathers that is located on the end of the shield and is usually made of ostrich feathers with some of the owner’s hair intertwined, wooden frame and intricate leather handle. It is truely a wonderful piece and has been show in several museums including in the Neuberger Museum of Art between 2002 and 2004.
We have been so fortunate to work with such fine and rare pieces. I hope everyone will take a look at these new acquisitions at our website.

Dori Rootenberg

Monday, June 29, 2009


A interesting and thought-provoking article by Dr. Kwame Opoku,

A major exhibition on Ife art, Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria, opened on June 16, 2009 at the Fundación Marcelino Botin, Santander, Spain and will move from there to the Museum for Africa Art, New York, United States and later to the British Museum, London, United Kingdom. The exhibition however will not be shown in Nigeria or in any other African country.

The exhibition consists of some 120 excellent bronze, terra-cotta and stone sculptures from 12th - 15th century from Ife (or more correctly, Ilé-Ife), the spiritual capital of the Yoruba in South-western Nigeria and the place where, according to Yoruba mythology, creation took place; the gods, Oduduwa and Obatala descended from heaven to create the earth as directed by the Supreme Deity, Oludumare. The objects in the exhibition have been loaned by the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) which is working in collaboration with the Fundación Marcelino Botin, the Museum for African Art and the British Museum.

The exhibits include idealized portrait heads, images of lively animals and caricatures of old age and diseases, carved stone animals and seated male figures. The objects demonstrate the authority and majesty of a royal dynasty as well as the highly sophisticated technology and skills of the Ife artists. So impressive are some of these objects that Leo Frobenius, one of the first Europeans to see Ife art, in 1910, could not believe they were produced by Africans. Following European prejudices and ignorance, he attributed the sophisticated, naturalistic works of Ife to a lost Greek civilization, Atlantis. He thought the sculpture could not have been made by an African people.

The strong realism of these magnificent Ife sculptures is in sharp contrast to the usual abstract forms of African art, especially sculpture, which contributed largely to the birth of modern art by inspiring artists such as Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Kandinsky, Kirchner, Modigliani, Klee, Moore and Giacometti to free themselves from the constraining European norms of naturalism and to adopt the freer African style of abstraction.

The pattern of collaboration between Nigerian institutions and the Western institutions will no doubt be familiar to many readers. The Nigerians lend their cultural artefacts to be shown in Europe and America but the show will not go to any Nigerian town nor will it be shown anywhere else in Africa. Does the Nigerian public not need to learn about Nigerian culture? Are the people in Zaria and Kaduna so familiar with Ife culture that there is no need to show them the achievements of Ife? Do people in Lagos, cosmopolitan city, not need to learn about Yoruba culture? Unless I am wrongly informed, many of the exhibits are kept in Abuja and Lagos so that even persons born and bred in Ife may not have seen them. Will a young Ife artist who happens to be in Europe be able to visit the exhibition? Will the European countries suspend their racist immigration policies at least for the period of the exhibition in order to permit Nigerians and other Africans who may want to see some of the finest achievements of Yoruba culture now on show in Spain and later on in Britain? Or do young African artists, unlike their European and American counterparts, not need to see such exhibitions? Soon all the experts on African art, including Ife art, will be Europeans and Americans who will be paid or generously funded by the rich American foundations to come and teach us African art. Already, Europeans and Americans are the ones writing learned articles and books about African culture. The wider implications of this for the development of African culture should make every dedicated African pause to think about the future of our cultures.

One recalls the Benin exhibition, Benin Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria which followed similar pattern but included some of the Benin artefacts looted in 1897 by the British in their infamous Punitive Expedition. Some of the looted objects are now in Western institutions which collaborated in the Benin exhibition. Not a single looted object has been returned to Nigeria from any of the countries holding the objects. Institutions such as the Art Institute of Chicago, with overweening arrogance and self-assurance, do not even deign to acknowledge receipt of formal communications from the Royal Family of Benin. This is a clear reflection of the scant respect many western institutions have for Africans and their institutions. What about the looted/stolen Ife objects that are found in Western Museums? The British Museum is not likely to return the head of the Ife King which is the subject of a DVD sold by the venerable museum since it appears to have been bought from the palace of the Oni (king) and eventually ended as a gift from Sir Kenneth Clark to the British Museum. Will this major exhibition help in returning some of the terra cotta objects which have been illegally exported to Britain, United States and elsewhere in contravention of Nigerian regulations and in flagrant defiance of the ICOM Red List of objects that should not be exported from their countries of origin?

Let there be no misunderstanding. We are in favour of active cultural exchanges between African States and others, including Western States with which, for good or bad, our fates have been linked both by geography and history. There is nothing wrong for Nigeria or any other country to show its national treasures abroad and collaborate with others for the dissemination of knowledge and information about African culture. The correction of deep-seated but unfounded prejudice and ignorance about African culture may be helpful. However, there should be reciprocity, mutual respect and a balance of interests. Collaboration should not be a one-way communication. In all these years of collaboration between African museums and European institutions, we are yet to hear of a major exhibition of European culture, beginning in Africa, with objects seldom shown outside the country of origin, going on tour to African States but not other cities in the European country of origin. Do Africans not need to learn about European culture? Many Nigerians may know the British as colonialists and imperialists but are there no other aspects of British culture that may interest them? The Spaniards may be known as invaders and exploiters of South America but some aspects of Spanish culture could be exhibited for Africans. For example, the contribution of African peoples to Spanish culture would be educative. Spain is only ten kilometres from our Continent. What has been the African influence on Spanish music and dance, flamenco for instance? Did the great Spanish painter, Picasso, not imbibe a lot of African ideas, whether in France or Spain? Could the long rule of the Moors in the Ibero-Spanish peninsula not be explored for the benefit of the African public?

There is a need to provide the public more information about the arrangements for such major exhibitions. Whilst it is not difficult to envisage what the Europeans and Americans may gain from such exhibitions, the public may not easily see what Africans gain. The public cannot judge whether such arrangements are fair and so cannot determine whether they contribute to better cultural understanding. There are reports about objects which were never returned after exhibitions. How much have Nigeria and other African States lost in such ventures? One recalls the public reaction to the revelation that arrangements to display Bangla Desh national treasures in France included deliberately under valued cultural objects and consequent lower insurance.

In the absence of adequate public information, one is left to wonder whether the exploitation of African cultural resources follows the same pattern as the exploitation of our mineral and other resources i.e. we supply cheaply to the great advantage of the West which nowadays does not even have to send in an army for whatever it wants as in the olden days. Somebody has to explain to the African peoples why we must continue to put our cultural resources at the disposition of the West when Western States do not show the least inclination to do the same for us. They are still not even concerned about returning the cultural artefacts that were looted in the colonial period and directly or indirectly, they continue to support looting of African artefacts. Requests for restitution are met with dead silence or insulting and baseless arguments. Is this how cultural cooperation should look like?

Hopefully, the Ife exhibition will prompt thinking about the need for Africans to learn not only about their own cultures but also about the cultures of others.

Kwame Opoku

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Christie's and Sotheby's Tribal Art Sale Results

Christie's tribal art auction had a lackluster performance last week. While 196 lots sold (around 64% of all lots offered), the sale garnered just 1,017,787. This is a trifle, considering that Sotheby's pulled in nearly the same amount of money from a single lot, Lot 87, a rare Kwele 'altar' figure from Gabon. While the lot was estimated between €450,000 and €600,000, it went on to fetch 971,950 at last week's sale. That price is just €45,837 short of Christie's total auction sale - maybe Sotheby's plan to be a high market, low volume auction seller really is working.

The highest priced and sold item at Christie's sale was Lot 144, a Fang Reliquary figure that went for
€51,400. It had been estimated to fetch between €40,000 and
€60,000. Neither of the two pieces (Lot 236 and Lot 311) that we profiled in last week's auction preview sold.

Sotheby's had a remarkably different auction. In addition to their million euro lot 87, the auction house sold 42 lots (or 66% of total lots offered) for a total price of
€3,601,500 - over 3.5 times more than Christie's. 7 lots sold for over 100,000 while all but 8 lots sold for over €10,000.

Dori Rootenberg

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sotheby's African and Oceanic Art Auction Preview

Hot off the heels of yesterday's Christie's sale in Paris, Sotheby's sale happens today. There are some interesting contrasts between the two sales from the top two auction houses in the world. Whereas Christie's had only two objects for sale above €100,000, Sotheby's is offering 12 of only a 65 lot sale (18%) above that price. In addition, 80% (or 52 lots) are for sale at an estimate above €10,000. But in the end it is the quality of the pieces and the interest in the room that will determine how well this sale goes. 

We'd like to highlight several pieces including Lot 87, a magnificent and rare Kwele 'altar' figure, Gabon. This lot is offered for sale between €450,000 and €600,000. It is an exceptionally fine piece and we believe there will be ample interest in it. 

Lot 89 is A fine and powerful Fang Mvai figure, Ntem Valley, Gabon. This object is estimated to fetch between €150,000 and €250,000.

Stay tuned for the results of the auction coming up. 

Dori Rootenberg