Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sotheby's African, Oceanic, and Pre-Columbia Auction Results

Sotheby's offered 94 Lots for sale in its African, Oceanic, and Pre-Columbian Auction on May 15.  For a preview of the auction, check out Jacaranda Tribal's blog preview post here. The auction sold just 67% of all lots - or 63 of the 94 lots - for a total of $5.693 million. 

This auction included several very fine pieces including those from the collection of John Friede - pieces from which were originally slated for San Francisco's de Young Museum but sold to help pay off debts to Sotheby's and others after a lengthy legal battle. But the sale included others than just the Friede collection, some of which are exceptionally fine. 

One of the highlights include Lot 170: a Fang-Betsi reliquary head from Gabon, Africa. The work is estimated to fetch between $200,000 and $300,000, but was sold on May 15 for over $500,000. 

Lot 158, a Dogon, Wakara style figure from Mali, was significantly less impressive but still managed to meet expectations. The work was estimated to bring between $200,000 and $300,000 and eventually sold for $218,500. 

African pieces fared well enough but the real star was Lot 146 a half-figure of the God Iriwake from Papua New Guinea. The work fetched over $1.2 million and came from the Friede collection. 

Monday, May 25, 2009

Sotheby's Chaim Gross Auction Results

On May 15, Sotheby's held an auction of art from the collectors Chaim and Renee Gross to fund the support of their foundation. We wrote a post on the auction that you can check out here.

Even in dire financial times, auctions with fine, museum-quality pieces continue to do well, proving that there are still collectors out there who are willing to invest in the best pieces. This auction with 81 lots, sold over $4.8 million dollars and exceeded the total sale estimates of $4.4 million. Interestingly, five of the top 10 buyers in this part of the sale came from different fields, such as antiquities or modern and contemporary art.

The highlight of the auction was Lot 67, a Ngbaka Male Ancestor Figure from the Ubangi region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from the Crowninshield collection, estimated at $400,000 to $600,000. This fine piece far exceeded its estimate and fetched over $1.2 million.

Lot 25, a Senufo Kneeling Female Figure from the Ivory Coast purchased in the 1950s from Merton D. Simpson, estimated between $250,000 to $350,000, also did extraordinarily well fetching over $750,000.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

NYTimes Write Up on Tribal Art Show


More than 60 galleries and dealers from the United States and abroad — significantly fewer than last year’s 76 — are installed in the 69th Regiment Armory for the 15th New York International Tribal & Textile Arts Show. Missing from the floor are some of the high-end European dealers in African art, and the English textile dealers, but there is still the usual bounty of lavish textiles, sculpture and statuary, exotic curios and jewelry.

An emphasis on extraordinary textiles from indigenous and precolonial cultures is a hallmark of this show. It is true again this year, with outstanding Central Asian material at Gail Martin Gallery; a selection of colorful Persian and Syrian carpets and utilitarian bags at Alberto Levi; and a pair of heavily beaded Northwest Coast Indian leggings at Myers and Duncan. It is all presented with deft professionalism and backed up with some useful educational material.

Not too many dealers have shipped big, expensive stone sculpture, given the economy, but there are one or two monumental wooden pieces. For a reminder of the role of religion in daily life in Africa, stop by Dave DeRoche to see a late-19th-century “rhythm pounder,” probably Senufo, from Ivory Coast. This imposing wooden sculpture of a woman was used to pound the earth each spring to enhance the soil’s fertility and ensure a good harvest.

As always, there is a small but fine selection of Pacific Island material. Lewis/Warra has an unusually ornate, possibly mid-19th-century Malagan ceremonial mask from New Ireland, a part of New Guinea, while the Thomas Murray display includes some top masks from the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea, one shaped like a bird’s beak. They are part of a group of a dozen beautiful Oceanic carvings from a single California collection put up for sale.

For pure fascination and enjoyment, visitors might like to check out the hand-painted wooden Egyptian sarcophagus lid, about 1069-702 B.C., at Arte Primitivo. It is in great condition. Equally enchanting is a minor retrospective of paintings by self-taught artists at Cavin-Morris, including a delightfully simple painting of a mule by Bill Traylor, the Alabama-born former slave and outsider artist, that was drawn on a Montgomery, Ala., sidewalk in the 1940s.

There is lots of other strange and wonderful stuff in the show, though some of it is hiding in cases, so you really have to take the time to look. Clam Galerie has a Mayan poison bottle that is close to 1,400 years old, while Kip McKesson has a carved divining staff used by a Tanzanian witch doctor to make the rain come, ward off evil spirits, see the future or even frighten enemies on the eve of battle. Who wouldn’t want to hold the staff?

Another revelation is the range and beauty of native jewelry in gold, silver, tin, shell, stone and other materials. What an obvious inclusion this material is, although there has not been so much of it at the fair in the last few years. The jewelry has an undeniable beauty, so I would not be surprised if more finds its way into future shows. Let’s hope so.

The show is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. onFriday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday; (212) 532-1516, caskeylees.com; $20.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

2009 New York International Tribal & Textile Arts Show

We will be showing some fine work from our gallery at the 2009 New York International Tribal & Textile Arts Show at the New York City Armory from May 14 to May 16. We will be located in Booth B2 at the show. Please stop by and see us!

The Armory is located at 68 Lexington Avenue at 26th St.

In addition, we are hosting a wine tasting of several wines from South Africa. South Africa has become one of the largest and best recognized producers of wine in the world.

Here is a short excerpt about the wine industry in South Africa: “In the post-apartheid era, since 1994, South African wine has returned to the world arena with significant impact, growing from some 50-million litres exported that year to topping 139-million in 2000, representing more than 25% of good wine production….Internationally, the industry is small, ranking 16th with about 1.5% of global plantings, but production, at seventh position, accounts for 3% of the world's wine.”

Dori Rootenberg


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Geneva row over African cultural heritage

Source: swissinfo, Frédéric Burnand in Geneva:

Art experts have attacked the looting of African archaeological heritage on behalf of rich western collectors.

A group of specialists has pointed an accusing finger at a new exhibition of ancient African ceramics held at the Barbier-Mueller Museum in Geneva. But those responsible for the exhibition reject the criticism.

In a signed opinion column, entitled "Le pillage de l'histoire africaine" (The pillaging of African history) in the French-language newspaper Le Temps on Monday, Eric Huysecom, an archaeology professor at Geneva and Bamako universities, condemned the looting of African cultural heritage.

His criticism is particularly directed at the "African Terra Cotta: a Millenary Heritage" exhibition, organised by well-known Geneva collector, Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller, who specialises in ancient art from Africa, Asia and Oceania.

The article was signed by a dozen cultural heritage experts, including Hamady Bocoun, director of Senegal's Cultural Heritage Department, his colleague from Niger, Oumarou Ide, and Marie-Claude Morand, president of the Swiss branch of the International Council of Museums.

According to Huysecom, the ceramics and other artefacts in the new exhibition must have been exported illegally from Mali, where they were discovered.

"They come from sites discovered after 1977 and appeared on the market in 1979. The first decree in Mali relating to this dates from 1973," said the professor, who teaches archaeology to over 50 students in the capital, Bamako.

"These pieces clearly were taken illegally from Mali after being looted, as it's very rare to come across these kind of works accidentally," he said.

Reject claims

But the museum curator Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller rejected the claim: "I am linked with this kind of trafficking as if I was a vile criminal, whereas for the past 32 years I have held exhibitions throughout the world and helped build Geneva's cultural reputation, without any kind of public financial support."

According to the collector, Huysecom's accusations only concern a small number of archaeological pieces out of over 200 that are on display.

"All the others were acquired recently and could be purchased from the local potter," he said, adding that the suspect ceramics were acquired between 1970 and 1988.

"These pieces were displayed in 1983 in an exhibition of ancient art from Mali at our museum and there were no criticisms or complaints," said Barbier-Mueller, who claims he ceased purchasing archaeological pieces as soon as he heard it was problematic.

Deficient law

Huysecom says he is not accusing the curator of breaking the law: "Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller respects the legislation to the letter. But Swiss law is deficient in this regard."

The federal law on the transfer of cultural property, which entered into force in 2005, is not retroactive. Artefacts acquired before this date do not apply.

"Switzerland adopted a relatively convoluted law following its ratification of the 1970 Unesco convention," explained Barbier-Mueller.

The Swiss law is essentially based on bilateral agreements with states, he added.

"All countries throughout the world have been contacted and no sub-Saharan African country reacted," said the collector.

Scientific backing

In the Le Temps article, the group of art experts also criticise Boris Wastiau, director of Geneva's Ethnography Museum, for having contributed to and helped put together the exhibition catalogue.

"The new director gives his scientific backing to this collection. From an ethical viewpoint this is not acceptable. It's a whitewash," he declared.

According to the archaeologist, this kind of exhibition, accompanied by a catalogue with scientific texts, allows archaeological works like these to be sold without any risks. But Barbier-Mueller claims this is not something the museum is considering.

Wastiau also clarifies his position: "I have worked for the past ten years on the issue of illegal trafficking of cultural property in Africa, in particular the looting of national museums."

This is a commitment shared by the 23 other scientific contributors involved in the exhibition catalogue, he adds.

Temporary holders

Wastiau believes the catalogue is completely transparent.

"Whether is was done by the Barbier-Mueller museum or by someone else, I think it's a positive step to publish the collections. Most private collections are not visible and are not subject to any kind of publication. To show and publish allows for this kind of debate and any subsequent complaints," he said.

For Wastiau, there is general agreement over the whole issue of cultural property rights: "Over the next few years the issue of cultural property will come increasingly to the fore.

"Sooner or later representatives of American Indian cultures will start asking us to return certain objects from the collections at Geneva's Ethnography Museum and we will collaborate openly with them. In this respect I see museums as temporary holders of their collections," he noted.

Daniel Rootenberg

Friday, May 8, 2009

Auction of African Art From Gross Collection

Source: NY Times May 9, 2009

Collecting African art can be a risky business; fakes are everywhere. Even Picasso was fooled.

The market has recently become so lucrative that unscrupulous craftsmen now create copies, skillfully adding signs of wear, that can deceive even the most knowledgeable buyer. And there are no good tests to reassure collectors. (Carbon 14 testing of wood, which has an accuracy range of plus or minus 50 years, is useless in a field in which most objects are less than 100 years old.)

One collector who seemingly beat the odds was Chaim Gross (1904-1991), a Ukrainian-born New York-based sculptor. On Saturday Sotheby’s will put on view 80 pieces of African art from his vast collection. They will go on sale May 15.

Like his contemporaries Picasso, Matisse, Brancusi and Henry Moore, Gross greatly admired African art and acknowledged its influence. From the 1920s through the ’60s he avidly acquired examples at flea markets, auctions and galleries in New York, London, Brussels and Paris, which is still the center of the African art market. He helped found the National Museum of African Art in Washington, which in 1976 opened the traveling exhibition “The Sculptor’s Eye: The African Art Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Chaim Gross.”

“My father’s enthusiasm was contagious,” Mimi Gross, his daughter, said as she showed a visitor around her father’s art-crammed house and studio, now a private museum in Greenwich Village. “He would get people to fall in love with African art. He always talked about the quality of carving, and he’d get upset when he saw contemporary fakes.”

The Gross collection has been out of the public eye for decades. “Collectors and dealers who have come to see the sale thought the Gross collection was dispersed years ago,” said Heinrich Schweizer, the African art specialist at Sotheby’s. “We’ve had a good response because the material is so fresh.”

James Willis, a San Francisco tribal art dealer since 1972 who once visited Gross in his New York studio, added, “There are some strong pieces in the sale.”

One is a 19-inch-tall Ngbaka statue from Congo. The striking male figure, representing a mythical ancestor, has a proud stance, knees slightly bent, stomach protruding, its head marked with scarification lines that look like strings of pearls. Based on its encrustations and deep black patina, experts say it is from the mid-19th century or earlier. It is estimated to bring $400,000 to $600,000.

Another 19th-century piece is a Senufo kneeling female figure from Ivory Coast, with a comblike hairdo and scars on its cheeks and arms. It leans forward, as if tending a fire. “This is the only kneeling one known,” Mr. Schweizer said.

The sale will benefit the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation (rcgrossfoundation.org), which is selling its most valuable pieces of African art to create an endowment and promote scholarship on Gross’s art. The sale is expected to raise $3 million to $4 million.

“The market for African art is relatively narrow, but it’s growing,” Mr. Willis said. He said it was helped in part by two events in Paris in 2006: the opening of the Quai Branly Museum and the Vérité sale at the Drouot auction house, which brought $55.4 million. “Once pieces started selling for a million dollars, people paid attention,” he added. “The high prices gave people confidence to get into the market, and now people who never bought before are buying great pieces.”

New enthusiasts include contemporary-art collectors. Joshua Dimondstein, a dealer from California, said, “As contemporary collectors understand the affinity the two art forms share, they recognize how well they complement each other.”

The Sotheby’s sale coincides with the four-day New York tribal art show, which opens Thursday at the 69th Regiment Armory, at Lexington Avenue and 26th Street.

Sotheby's Tribal Art Auction Preview

Sotheby’s is offering a second tribal arts auction in addition to the Chaim Gross auction on 15 May. This sale will focus on African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian art – though a majority of the best pieces are Oceanic. The sale is slated to fetch more than $3 million if all lots meet their low estimate.

The sale consists of 94 objects including two very fine African pieces:

Lot 158: a Dogon, Wakara style figure from Mali. Within the broad corpus of Dogon statuary, examples of the Wakara sub-style are exceedingly rare. This work is estimated to bring between $200,000 and $300,000.

Lot 170: a Fang-Betsi reliquary head from Gabon, Africa. The work is estimated to fetch between $200,000 and $300,000. Sotheby’s catalog describes it as follows: “this magnificent head was identified by Perrois (1972: 333) as a typical example of the "school of Mitzic" a regional substyle of the Fang-Betsi. The offered lot is distinguished by the relatively small size of the face, the bulbous forehead, and a compressed profile, all combining to a maximum effect when seen from the front.”

This, as with the Chaim Gross auction, will be an interesting marker for the Tribal Art world. We shall see how the economy will bear on this latest American auction. We hope that with several fine pieces in the sale, that this sale will do better than previous auctions this spring. 

Dori Rootenberg


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Sotheby's Chaim Gross Tribal Art Auction Preview

Sotheby’s is offering a sale of tribal art from the collection of the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation. Chaim Gross, well known Modernist sculptor, and his wife Renee collected African and Oceanic tribal art during the 1940s and 1950s. They were some of the earliest and most enthusiastic collectors of tribal art in the United States. In the 1940s, Gross acquired the Crowninshield collection, formerly of Vanity Fair editor Frank Crowninshield. Many of these works had been exhibited in the 1937 Brooklyn Museum exhibition “African Negro Art from the Collection of Frank Crowninshield."

Highlights of the sale include:

Lot 9: The Soninke Hermaphrodite Figure from Mali, possibly 12th to 15th Century, estimated at $400,000 to $600,000

Lot 25: A Senufo Kneeling Female Figure from the Ivory Coast purchased in the 1950s from Merton D. Simpson, estimated between $250,000 to $350,000

Lot 67: Ngbaka Male Ancestor Figure from the Ubangi region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo from the Crowninshield collection, estimated at $400,000 to $600,000

This should be an extraordinary sale with several exceptionally rare and high quality pieces. Because of the unexpectedly good results of the Sotheby’s Rosenthal sale in November 2008, the consignors must have very high expectations from this auction.

Works from the sale will be on exhibition at Sotheby’s New York from May 9-14, 2009 and the sale will take place on May 15 at 10.00am in New York.

More information is available in Sotheby’s press release

Dori Rootenberg