Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Tomkins Collection Website

For a great example of using the internet to display your personal collection, I highly recommend that you check out the Tomkins Collection, the private collection of a noted tribal art collector.

As the collector describes his site "The Tomkins Collection is a website of the arts of pre-modern cultures. The Collection focuses on objects that represent ancestors, guardians and idols. Information about the objects in this private collection has been made available to encourage others to share their collections online in an accessible format."

What I particularly like about the site, aside from the high quality of the material and the beautifully produced website is the detailed provenance listed for each acquisition.

Daniel Rootenberg

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Native Arts and Cultures Foundation Created

The US is taking steps to protect and promote its native cultural heritage with the formation of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. With $10 million start-up capital from the Ford Foundation, the foundation will provide grants to artists and arts organizations, support native arts leadership and team up with other organizations to increase financial supports for indigenous arts and cultures. In addition to the grant from the Ford Foundation, the Rumsey Bank of Wintun Indians have given $1.5 million with the initiation of a matching campaign, at which point they will donate another $1.5 million. This is the first fund of its kind in the US and represents a real victory to the native arts community.

The organization will be based in Portland, Oregon and has selected Tara Lulani Arquette, a native Hawaiian as its president and CEO. Prior to joining the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, Arquette spent four years as CEO of the Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association, a private, nonprofit organization committed to supporting Hawaiian culture and arts in tourism.

W. Richard West Jr., the founding director emeritus of the Smithsonian’s American Indian Museum and a Ford trustee, said: “There need to be agencies and institutions that support native contemporary art and artists. For the most part, those agencies and institutions don’t exist.”

Most major media outlets have picked up this story in the last week and the New York Times has a great write up on the organization. There is so much need for the support of the native arts, we are just happy that the United States and several private organizations have recognized this need and helping to provide for their protection and support.

If you want to sign up to receive more information about the iniative, the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation has a newsletter that you can sign up for.


Dori Rootenberg

Thursday, April 23, 2009


By John Cote - San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco has agreed to sell 76 pieces of tribal art pledged to the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in a bid to resolve an inheritance dispute that threatens the city-owned museum's cornerstone collection of Oceanic art.

But as the city is trying to help settle part of that inheritance fight among Annenberg family heirs, it also is battling one of the family members in court over a promised $3.7 million donation - money that is supposed to help sustain and promote a collection considered to be one of the world's finest compilations of Papua New Guinea art.

That nation's ambassador to the United States has hailed the compilation of items as an "unparalleled and extensive collection of masterpieces," one that the de Young Museum specifically designed an 8,000-square-foot wing for when it rebuilt its Golden Gate Park home.

The 4,000 or more pieces were compiled by New York philanthropists John and Marcia Friede over four decades and promised to the de Young Museum for public showcase in a series of agreements dating back to 2003. But the art has since been at the center of legal battles in California, New York and Florida, involving the estate of John Friede's mother, Evelyn A.J. Hall. Hall, who died in 2005, was the sister of publishing tycoon Walter Annenberg.

The latest legal twist came Tuesday when City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a court challenge that accuses John Friede's half brother of "malice and a desire to destroy the relationship between the Friedes and the museum" by opposing a $3.7 million payment to the de Young from Hall's estate. Herrera contends the half brother, Thomas Jaffe, has intentionally harmed the museum and public by trying to block the payment, which was promised by the Friede family for the upkeep, promotion and study of the collection.

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. While more than 400 pieces are on display at the museum, the vast majority of it remains at the Friedes' home overlooking Long Island Sound in Rye, N.Y.

None of the 76 items to be sold is on display at the museum, and they are pieces that are either redundant or less significant than others in the collection, museum and city officials said.

"It's a bitter pill to swallow, but we're wiling to swallow it," Deputy City Attorney Don Margolis said. "The city's overarching goal is to make sure (the collection) is available to the public."

Debt to brothers

John Friede's two brothers contend they have the right to seize the collection and sell up to $20 million worth of its art after a Florida judge ruled that Friede had violated the terms of a legal settlement involving their mother's estate.

In that case, Friede agreed to pay his brothers $30 million and put the Jolika Collection up as collateral, despite having pledged it to the de Young in a deal finalized a week earlier. Friede values the entire collection at about $300 million.

He so far has paid his brothers more than $22 million of the $30 million, but legal fees and interest make the shortfall around $10 million, court documents show.

In order to preserve the art collection for the city, museum officials and Friede agreed in March to auction off 76 items like masks, headrests and mortars. They expect to raise about $3.5 million, according to court documents.

John Buchanan, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, which includes the de Young, said the sale of those 76 items would have "minimum impact" on the overall collection.

Friede's half brother opposes the sale. In a letter to Margolis, Jaffe's attorney, Jonathan Bell, said the auction proposal contained unrealistic estimates, didn't include valuable enough items and didn't give Jaffe input into what should be sold. Jaffe is also a collector of Oceanic art, albeit a less prolific one, and John Friede has blamed the dispute in part on sibling rivalry.

"The basic interests of Tom - in having a few, high-quality, high-value pieces sold off to cover the shortfall - and of the museum - in keeping the 'good stuff' and seeing the less desirable pieces sold off - have always been in some conflict," Bell wrote.

Jaffe has also opposed the sale of a painting the brothers jointly own to cover the debt, even though "Le Dejeuner" by Pierre Bonnard has been valued at up to $10 million, court records show.

Family laundry

Even brother Robert Friede, who has regularly sided with Jaffe in the dispute, questioned Jaffe's opposition to those sales. In Florida court documents filed last week to compel the sale of the Bonnard painting, Robert Friede's attorney wrote that "Tom is, in essence, objecting to the very relief he previously sought and successfully obtained from this court."

Margolis called Jaffe's position "kind of perverse."

"Why are you frustrating efforts to get your debt paid?" Margolis said.

Bell refused to comment on specifics about the proposed sales, saying to do so could compromise settlement talks.

"Tom's interest is in getting all of the money he is owed paid to him on time," Bell said. "This is purely a business matter, purely a business matter. Any suggestions to the contrary are completely inaccurate."

Jaffe also opposes the disbursement of a separate $3.7 million payment from their mother's charitable foundation to the de Young to sustain and promote the collection, saying John Friede hasn't lived up to his obligations. The funds are being held by the trustee, JPMorgan.

The city maintains the payment of those funds is not tied to John Friede at this point, and is seeking court permission to sue over them.

"This just happens to be one of the most unique collections in the world," Herrera said. "We're lucky to have it, and we'll do everything we need to protect its integrity."

The players

John Friede: The eldest of three sons of Evelyn A.J. Hall. He and wife Marcia pledged the Jolika Collection to the de Young Museum over a period of years, then put it up as collateral on a $30 million payment to his brothers to settle an inheritance dispute.

Robert Friede: John Friede's brother. He initially sided with their half brother, Thomas Jaffe, in the inheritance dispute. Was owed $10 million by John Friede, now partially paid.

Thomas Jaffe: Half brother to John and Robert Friede. Was owed $20 million by John Friede in inheritance case, now partially paid. Has aggressively sought payment through legal action. A less renowned Oceanic art collector than John Friede.

Daniel Rootenberg

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

African Tribal Ceramics Exhibition in Chicago

The Douglas Dawson Gallery, a Chicago-based gallery specializing in ancient and historical non-Western art, is set to open a new exhibition of African ceramics on Thursday, 24 April 2009. This will be the gallery’s fourth major exhibition on the subject.
While much research remains to be done, African ceramics have been getting more attention of late and have emerged as a new and dynamic area of collecting. Ceramics offer an alternative to the new collector as better-known African tribal artifacts, such wood sculptures and figurines, have become increasingly rare and expensive.
The gallery has already contributed significant scholarship to the under-researched field and has produced another catalog for the forthcoming show.

In addition to the show’s opening and the production of the catalog, the gallery has invited William Itter, long time African ceramics collector and Professor Emeritus of Fine Arts at Indiana University, to speak. Professor Itter has built one of the most comprehensive collections of African ceramics in the world and is an expert in the field. The talk will be held Tuesday 12 May at 6.30pm at the gallery.

Dori Rootenberg

Monday, April 20, 2009

Here to Stay, at the Neuberger

For those unfamiliar with that hidden gem called the Neuberger Museum, below is portion of an article by Benjamin Genocchio from the January, 2009 New York Times:

So much attention is focused on temporary exhibitions throughout the region that we often forget that many museums are constantly collecting wonderful things. Every now and then we get an opportunity to sample the best of these acquisitions through collection shows like the two currently at the Neuberger Museum.

The Neuberger received its first donation of African art when it opened back in 1974. Since then, further significant donations and occasional acquisitions have turned the museum into a major repository of African art. To reflect this, in 2007-8, the museum reinstalled 83 of the most beautiful works from its collection, along with 17 long-term loans, in a larger space with specially designed display cases, cabinets and columns. For those who have not yet seen the exhibition, here’s some encouragement: It looks spectacular.

The works are grouped according to geographical areas from northern to southern Africa, or the other way around depending on which end you enter the show. But within that arrangement the museum’s African art consultant-curator, Marie-Thérèse Brincard, has brought out certain subjects and themes, including masks and headdresses; symbols of political office; and the human figure. Lots of wall labels and text help you identify what you are looking at.

The virtue of thematic groupings is that they help illustrate connections between art and artists across the continent. For instance, several headdresses, masks, amulets and other ritualistic objects here represent animals believed to have symbolic powers in African cultures, among them the antelope, snake and the crocodile. Two undated headdresses from Mali — each of which represents an antelope and is made of wood and fiber — are especially evocative and beautiful.

But just as importantly, the thematic groupings remind us of something else: that in Africa, with almost 1 billion people speaking more than 1,000 languages spread across 57 countries, culture and art differ from place to place.

Compare, for instance, about two dozen tiny wooden figures, each carved by a different artist, representing ancestors, family members and gods from various regions of Africa. An extraordinary diversity of styles and facial features is evident among the figures, which are installed together in a pyramidlike display toward the end of the show.

Elsewhere in the exhibition is an unusual, beautifully carved wooden equestrian figure from Mali, dating from the late 19th or early 20th century. Horse-owning was a sign of privilege and power in West Africa, suggesting that this sculpture might represent a wealthy village priest, headman or possibly even a foreign invader, warrior or emissary. Either way, it is a visually striking work of art.

“African Art Reinstallation,” continuing, at the Neuberger Museum of Art, 735
Anderson Hill Road, Purchase.
or (914) 251-6100.

The museum is a short ride form New York City and I highly recommend a visit.

Daniel Rootenberg
Jacaranda Tribal

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


A must see show comes to an end on May 24, 2009.

Titled Visual Encounters - Africa, Oceania and Modern Art, the exhibition in Basel, Switzerland is the subject of a special issue in the Spring 2009 Tribal Magazine.

The Fondation Beyeler exhibition centers around art works from Africa and Oceania. Our own selected group of sculptures will be enriched by about 180 outstanding loans from over 50 public and private collections. Each of the thirteen exhibition spaces focuses on an African or Oceanian cultural region, emphasizing its unique character. These extra- European works of the highest quality and global significance are juxtaposed with masterpieces of classical modernism from the Beyeler collection. The exhibition sheds light on the visual force and sensuous presence of the works on view, the source of the unceasing fascination they exert on people from all walks of life around the world.

Daniel Rootenberg

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Lempertz Tribal Art Auction

25 April 2009 marks the annual Lempertz Tribal Art Auction in Cologne, Germany. Lempertz is one of the most well recognized art auction houses in Europe and the oldest family-owned one in the world. It has a rich history in the tribal arts field.

189 lots will be auctioned off at the upcoming auction. Those interested may see the collection at the auction house in Cologne during the coming week and in Brussels the following week.

Preview in Cologne

Tuesday 14 April - Friday 17 April

10 am - 1 pm and 2 pm - 5.30 pm

Saturday 18 April

10 am - 4 pm

Preview in Brussels

Tuesday 21 April – Friday 24 April

10 am - 6 pm

Saturday 25 April

10 am - 1 pm

The highlight of the auction is Lot 183, a Fine and Important Mangbetu Container that is estimated to fetch between 40,000 and 60,000. The Mangbetu are a culturally sophisticated tribe located in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This base of this cylindrical container takes the form of a round traditional Mangbetu stool. Its center is formed from bark and its base and the wooden lid is a finely carved human head with a heart-shaped face, pointed chin, a small 
protruding mouth, a slender 
nose and round convex eyes. The container represents the elegant face of a 
Mangbetu woman sitting on a title 
stool, wearing the typical basketry 
disc on her hair.

In addition to the Mangbetu container, there are several other lots of particular interest including Lot 40, a Fine Lobi/Birifor Pair of Figures estimated between 32,000 and 38,000.

Lot 51, a Fine Senufo Staff estimated between 20,000 and 25,000.

Lot 54, a Fine Baule Mask estimated at 36,000.

And Lot 60, a Fine Baule Female Figure estimated between 34,000 and 38,000.

Stay tuned for the results and our auction summary after 25 April.

Dori Rootenberg

Friday, April 10, 2009


The 2009 New York African Film Festival, presented under the banner “Africa in Transition,” takes an introspective journey across the African continent with films that create a vision of Africa's future through a deconstruction of its past.

It has been 15 years since South Africa’s first all-race democratic elections. In mid-April of this year, South Africa will go to the polls for the fourth time since the end of Apartheid. With Nelson Mandela long retired, a new generation of leaders governs the country and grapples to maintain the grand ideals that drove the struggle against Apartheid. It is both the best of times, and the most challenging of times!

The films in this year’s New York African Film Festival speak to these challenges. A centerpiece of the festival is Jihan El-Tahri’s Behind The Rainbow, which probes the history of the governing African National Congress party. Director Ralph Ziman presents a new South African Scarface with his irreverent gangster movie, Jerusalema; meanwhile Triomf, by veteran director Michael Raeburn, focuses on South Africa’s white poor. Rounding out the focus on South Africa is the artists collective, Filmmakers Against Racism, which produced a series of short films in response to the xenophobic incidents that rocked South Africa in 2008.

The festival also offers an introspective look at Africa through new contemporary works. It spotlights three up-and-coming female Kenyan filmmakers: Lupita Nyong’o (In My Genes), Judy Kibinge (Killer Necklace), and Wanuri Kahiu (From A Whisper). Meanwhile, the 21st century reality of young African asylum seekers within Europe and Africa is explored in Area Boys and Paris à tout Prix. This year’s new directors join veterans across the continent in configuring a new vision of Africa’s future.

Veteran filmmakers Jean-Marie Teno and Mahamat Saleh Haroun are back with films that, like those of the new generation, question the purpose and direction of African filmmaking. With Sacred Places, Teno asks African filmmakers who their audience is – and who it should be. Haroun surprises us with a comedy about the Diaspora (Sex, Okra and Salted Butter), which highlights the importance of his own African audience.

This year’s festival recognizes the journey into Africa’s future with coming-of-age tales L'Appel des Arènes, Bronx Princess and Nora, which follow young people who reclaim their cultural legacies to create new opportunities. Fighting Spirit and Yandé Codou expand on this idea by exploring the lives of well-known historical figures who have influenced generations.

This intersection of past and present is a theme that will be further explored in 2010's festival, as the New York African Film Festival reflects upon 50 watershed moments in African history that still affect winds of change today

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Recent Acquisitions: Gertrude Hance Collection

We recently added some very unique new acquisitions to our website. Several of these were profiled in the March, 2009 Ethnic Arts Council of Los Angeles (E.A.C.) Newsletter "Tribal Soul, Modern Eye” such as the Zulu Prestige Vessel below, but we wanted to mention a few more of the highlights, including those from the Gertrude Hance collection.
Gertrude Rachel Hance served for many years as a Presbyterian missionary to the Zulu peoples in Natal, South Africa. Ms. Hance was born in 1844 in the small town of Brookdale, Pennsylvania. She travelled to South Africa with the American Zulu Mission when she was only 26 years old and remained until 1899. If you are interested in learning more about her travels and experience as an intrepid American missionary, Hance published a book in 1916 called The Zulu Yesterday and Today: Twenty-Nine Years in South Africa. The book is out of print but can be found at select libraries or online at AbeBooks.

Ms. Hance was an extraordinary woman and we have several select objects from her fine collection of material culture from the region such as these beautiful baskets and snuff containers illustrated below.

Stay tuned as we will be adding and exhibiting additional pieces from this collection over the coming months.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Masterpieces of African and Oceanic Art from Barbier-Mueller Museum at Metropolitan Museum

An exhibition featuring exceptional works of African and Oceanic sculpture selected from the extensive holdings of the Barbier-Mueller Museum in Geneva, one of Europe's preeminent private collections of non-Western art, will go on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on June 2. Presenting more than 35 works—most never before seen in the United States—African and Oceanic Art from The Barbier-Mueller Museum, Geneva: A Legacy of Collecting will explore the wide spectrum of artistic creativity from two distinct regional traditions that have profoundly influenced world art.

It was organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in collaboration with the Barbier-Mueller Museum, Geneva.

The Barbier-Mueller collection of African and Oceanic art was founded in the 1920s by Josef Mueller, a pioneering collector of modern and non-Western art, and is continued by his son-in-law and daughter Jean Paul and Monique Barbier-Mueller. Their desire to share the collections with a wider audience culminated in the opening of the Barbier-Mueller Museum in Geneva in 1977. Representing more than eight decades of their collecting, the exhibition will reflect the legacies of their connoisseurship.

African Art
Twenty-one works from western, central, and eastern Africa have been selected to illustrate both the range of the continent's artistic creativity and the discerning eye of the collectors. Among these, an idealized female head in fired clay is a tribute to the art of portraiture developed by sculptors between the 11th and the 15th century in the ancient city of Ife, in present-day southwestern Nigeria. A series of iconic masks includes an exceptional work created by a Teke master (Republic of Congo), whose brilliant use of color, geometry, and symmetry ignited the imagination of artist André Derain, one of the previous owners of the work. The technical virtuosity and inventiveness of West African metalsmiths are epitomized by a magnificent Malian ornament of the 13th-15th century in the form of a male torso; this unique piece synthesizes miniaturized detail with bold abstraction.

Oceanic Art
The Oceanic works in the exhibition exemplify the breadth of creative achievement by artists from across the Pacific. They include figures, masks, and decorative art from Polynesia, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Indonesia, and other regions, in media ranging from wood and stone to more fragile materials such as bark cloth and delicately carved turtle shell. Among the works on view is a boldly carved portrait of a chief from the Batak people of Sumatra, mounted on a fantastic creature, which served as a supernatural guardian. Other highlights include a rare wood sculpture from Easter Island that once belonged to the pioneering modern sculptor Sir Jacob Epstein and a stunning female figure from the Micronesian island of Nukuoro remarkable for its elegant lines and strikingly minimalist conception of the human form.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue.