R.I.P. Tim Hunt

Tim Hunt, ca. 1985. Image courtesy of Christie’s.

I’m sorry to report on the passing of Tim Hunt, who died of cancer last weekend. Tim was one of my predecessors and began his career at Christie’s in London (1980–1986), where he worked alongside Hermione Waterfield and William Fagg in the African and Oceanic art department. He subsequently moved to New York to work for The Andy Warhol Foundation (1987–2014), where he served primarily as an “in-house” dealer, selling works from the artist’s estate on behalf of the Foundation. Since 2016 he owned a gallery on the Upper East Side in New York. He participated at Parcours de Mondes in 2016 with a very inventive exhibition ‘Visages: crées et trouvés’, including many found objects resembling masks. I last saw him in his Manhattan gallery last year, where he was entertaining a group of female collectors after the MATA event with the kind hospitality he was famous for. Tim was a widely loved, genial Brit like they don’t make them anymore, he will be missed by many. Rest in peace.

Catalogue online: “Collection Vérité” – Christie’s, Paris, 21 November 2017

Begun nearly a century ago, the Vérité Collection astounded the world and shattered records when these treasures of African and Oceanic art came to market in 2006, and created a new benchmark at auction (selling more than 500 objects for almost € 44,000,000!). Imagine the amazing surprise today, 11 years later, that more masterpieces, the ones they kept, could emerge again as the last secrets of Ali Baba’s cave! It has been a fantastic journey to be able to work on this catalogue, which is now available online here.

Pierre Vérité (1900-1993) began collecting in the 1920s, at the dawn of French art market and a time when someone with a knowledgeable eye and a sharp sense could secure unimaginable masterpieces of African and Oceanic art. Like magicians, together with his son, Claude (b. 1928), they quietly ‘hid in plain sight’ and continued their collecting endeavours into the golden age of the 1950s and 1960s, with no one fully knowing the extent of their treasures.

At the heart of this momentous strand of last pearls is the Hawaiian god figure (lot 153). A work that Claude Vérité always remembers from his childhood and amongst the most coveted. As with most of the Vérité works, its origin is unknown. Possibly found in the English countryside, or brought to the gallery in exchange for another ‘piece of wood’. What we know today is that is can now be appreciated amongst the greatest works of art ever created – equal on the great world stage to any other iconic sculpture to which it could possibly be compared. It was created at the apogee of Hawaiian sculpture during the late 18th century and the sovereignty of Kamehameha I, who associated himself with the great god of war – Ku ka ‘ili moku – whom this figure surely represents. His name means – land snatcher – and his power and purpose was fully aligned with the mission of Kamehameha I to so-called ‘unite’ the islands under his reign. This is what we now call the famous Kona style – a hallmark being the broad, figure-eight mouth, nearly extended tongue inside a prognathous jaw- also called ‘the mouth of disrespect’ – distended eyes and the posture of a wrestler. It is surely the same masterhand as another famous sculpture in the British Museum (LMS 223) collected by Tyerman and Bennett in 1823. Important to note that they are each carved from the same wood – metrosideros – or ohi lehua. A symbolic tree found only in the high mountains with red flowers and once cut the core looks like raw flesh.

Another major sculpture is the Walden-Kraemer-Loeb Ancestral Figure called Uli for the Malangaan in New Ireland (lot 145). With its deep, black patina and tight posture and carving details, it is an archaic style of one of the most celebrated sculptural figures of the South Pacific – the ancestral Uli. As with most Vérité objects, it had a secret life. It was only in recent months that we unlocked its font of history and provenance – from its collection in a New Ireland village in 1909 to its home in the famous collection of Pierre Loeb – the important avant-garde modern art gallerist, scholar, voyager and collector of les ‘arts premiers’ – by 1929 to the last time it was seen in public in 1930. It was seen at the landmark exhibition at Galerie Pigalle, and as one of the few Oceanic works of art presented, it was featured in an editorial review of the show penned by Carl Einstein, another luminary of the early 20th century, a critic and historian who championed both modern and African and Oceanic art.

The magnificent range of Kota reliquary figures is of a level not seen together in public in many years – apart from what we can see at the current major exhibition at the Musée du Quai Branly Jacques Chirac and featuring works of art from Gabon, ‘Les Forêts Natales’ – here in the Vérité collection we see 11 (!) variations on this classical, evergreen form appreciated for its abstract form, astonishing range of variation on a theme and the assembly of materials in wood and precious metals. From a Kota by a masterhand we could call the ‘Stieglitz Master’ for being the same atelier as another formerly in the collection of Alfred Stieglitz and now at the Musée Dapper – to a delicate Shamaye and Sango type – and a rare Mahongwe. The most important piece from this group is a Kota of the N’Dassa, which is estimated at €200,000-300,000 (lot 94).

Another amazing discovery is a beautiful and classical Hemba figure from the Democratic Republic of Congo (lot 115), representing a heroic ancestor among his clan. Apart from the famous Hemba in the Antwerp museum, very few of these sculptures made their way to Europe before the 1970s. It was clearly created by an important Hemba artist who thoughtfully made a signature style with diamond-shaped eyes, which are echoed in the shape of the navel – the center of the life and portal to the supernatural realm. In a chance discovery, we found that it was part of the landmark 1935 exhibition – African Negro Art – at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), when at the time it was part of the collection of Pierre Loeb. The catalogue entry demonstrates it was still an unknown style and he is simply referred to as being from Tanganiyka in the Congo.

Some history of the Vérité Collection:

In 1934, Pierre and Suzanne Vérité opened their first shop called – Arnod, Art Nègre – on the Rue Huyghens, in Montparnasse. The address, suggested to them by their friend and neighbour, the American artist John Graham, was illustrative of those early years and synergistic time when in 1916, the Lyre et Palette gallery, located a little further down the street, held the first Parisian exhibition that combined Modern art (Matisse, Picasso and Modigliani) with African art. Art dealers and collectors such as Paul Guillaume, Charles Ratton, Pierre Loeb and André Portier met and mingled at the Vérités’ gallery, alongside members of the Parisian avant-garde – the Surrealists Paul Eluard, André Breton and Tristan Tzara – and the international avant-garde, including Helena Rubinstein and James J. Sweeney, to whom Graham introduced the Vérités.

In 1937, they moved to the heart of Montparnasse on boulevard Raspail, and there Galerie Carrefour was born. More than ever, the Vérités were at the nexus of haute- Parisian cultural life in their salon. ‘Welcome to my forest’ – Pierre’s affectionate gallery greeting to his gallery and its inhabitants from Africa and Oceania – was likely spoken to the virtual constellation of 20th century modernists – Matisse, Picasso, André Lhote, Marcoussis, Breton, Eluard, Ernst, Derain, Lipchitz, Magnelli, Léger &c.

Pierre and Suzanne Vérité acquired most of the masterpieces of their personal collection during the 1930s, however their collection was not revealed to the public until 1950s when a few exhibitions came to light with works from their collection: 1951 at Galerie La Geintilhommerie, ‘Arts de l’Océanie’, 1952 and 1955 at Galerie Leleu, ‘Chefs-d’Oeuvre de l’Afrique Noire’ and ‘Magie du Décor dans le Pacifique’; ‘Art Afrique Noire’ 1954 at the Musée Réatu in Arles organized by such luminaries as Michel Leiris, Pierre Guerre, Charles Ratton, Pierre Vérité himself, and LeCourneur and Roudillon – here it was the last time that objects from the collection would be named as such. Later, though they remained generous in their loans and contribution to the academic knowledge of African and Oceanic art, their names only appear episodically, or not at all for instance the loan of the great Fang Ngil to the Museum of Modern Art’s ‘Primitivism’ in 1984 – anonymous.

 

The sale of the collection is on 21 November 2017 at 3pm and promises to be the event of the year; you are more than welcome to come preview the final treasures from this collection on:

15 Nov, 10am – 6pm
16 Nov, 10am – 6pm
17 Nov, 10am – 6pm
18 Nov, 10am – 6pm
19 Nov, 2pm – 6pm
20 Nov, 10am – 6pm
21 Nov, 10am – 2pm

I hope to see you there! Don’t hesitate to get in touch if I can be of any assistance.

Catalogue online: “African and Oceanic Art”, Christie’s, Paris, 22 November 2017

I’m proud to announce the catalogue for our African and Oceanic Art sale of 22 November in Pars is now online; you can find it here. As the appetite for Oceanic art has never been so strong, we actively sourced top material to be included in this sale. We’re very proud of the result, with more than half of the sale being Oceanic in nature and many exceptional objects one rarely encounters at auction (for example the Fiji statue, the Tahiti statue, the Hawaiian game board, and especially the Hawaiian god staf). The African art section is also very strong, including one of the most iconic Dan masks known (shown during African Negro Art at the MOMA in 1935), a top-notch Songye kifwebe mask (never on public view before), and of course the cover lot: an ancient Northern Hemba statue once owned by Jacques Kerchache – an exceptional masterpiece in an amazing condition for its age. There are much more goodies in the sale of course, but I’ll let you discover them yourselves. Now that this catalogue is ready, it is finally time for this blog to come out of hibernation mode! It’s my hope to be able to post more frequently again and I regret not having more time to spend writing for the blog. I hope to see you in Paris for the preview, the dates:

15 Nov, 10am – 6pm
16 Nov, 10am – 6pm
17 Nov, 10am – 6pm
18 Nov, 10am – 6pm
19 Nov, 2pm – 6pm
20 Nov, 10am – 6pm
21 Nov, 10am – 2pm
Sale 22 Nov, 4 pm

Don’t hesitate to get in touch if I can be of any assistance.

Save the date : Christie’s fall sales of African and Oceanic art in Paris, 21-22 November 2017

Dear all,

just a short message to inform you about the dates of our upcoming fall sales so you can mark them in your agenda. On Tuesday 21 November, Christie’s will be selling an exceptional private collection of African, Oceanic and Northern American Art. I can’t reveal much just yet, but this evening sale of around 180 fresh-to-the-market objects will be a not to be missed event. The next day, on Wednesday 22 November, we’re having a day sale with 60 carefully selected objects sourced from different private collections. So now you can imagine what I’ve been up to lately, hence the silence on the blog..

The preview of both sales starts on Wednesday 15 November at 10 am and closes on Monday 20 November at 6 pm. We’re open daily from 10 am to 6 pm, except on Sunday 19 November, only between 2 pm and 6 pm. An invitation to the cocktail will accompany the catalogue once it is ready around early October.

Our next sales of African, Oceanic and North American Art thus will already take place in Paris in November instead of the traditional mid-December date, just as the Laprugne sale was moved ahead to a more favorable April instead of June date. Our main, dedicated collecting base, which is strongly European, as well as our top collectors from the United States and around the world, have responded favorably to our new agenda which is more in line with the current market’s rhythm. This spring in Paris we saw exceptional prices among which two new world records at auction, for a Kota Sango figure from the Laprugne Collection (€938,500) and for the iconic Rasmussen-DeHavenon Dogon mask (€2,370,500). As previously reported, these strong results made us market leaders for African and Oceanic art in Paris for the first half of 2017. Furthermore, in April, an archaic Sepik mask from Papua New Guinea sold for seven times its low estimate (€290,500), confirming the growing appetite for quality works from Melanesia. Our day-sale on 22 November will therefor again present a strong selection of fresh-to-the market Oceanic art; this time with a focus on the art of New Ireland and New Britain. The below archaic Hemba figure, once sold by the famous taste-maker Jacques Kerchache, is one more of the many objects to look forward to.

We’ll hope to see you in Paris for Parcours de Mondes, starting on Tuesday 12 September, during which we will also show a small selection of highlights of both sales at our Paris headquarters. Should you be in Paris on any other moment before or after, don’t hesitate to get in touch for a private viewing.

But for now, let me just wish you a fantastic summer, full of joy, good company and great art.

Very best,

Bruno

 

Christie’s market leader for African and Oceanic art in Paris for the first half of 2017

 

With the first half of 2017 behind us, I’m proud to announce that Christie’s is now the market leader for African and Oceanic art in Paris. As the above graph shows we sold for more than 1 million euro worth of art more than our nearest competitor. Our innovative new auction calendar, the strengthening of our team (enter Victor Teodorescu), the company-wide support, the tightly curated selection, the experienced directorship of Susan Kloman and the presence of ‘the legend’ Pierre Amrouche in our team all steered us towards this goal. And, it is our intention and strong ambition to maintain this position onwards. For now, I can’t reveal much about the second half of the year, but I promise you even more fireworks. As we say in our office, team work makes the dream work!

But for now, happy holidays everybody*!! I hope to see you in Paris for Parcours des Mondes during which we will already preview some masterpieces of our fall sales at our Paris headquarters.

*not for us obviously as such auctions don’t make themselves 🙂

 

Adenike Cosgrove – an interview with the woman behind ÌMỌ̀ DÁRA

Image ©Parcours des mondes (Cerise Laby)

One of the rising stars of the online African art community is Adenike Cosgrove, who’s website ÌMỌ̀ DÁRA has quickly become one of the most inspiring online resources for a frequent fix of interesting African art related stories and content. As Cosgrove has been featuring more and more interviews on her site, while herself discretely staying out of the limelight, I thought it would be interesting to change the roles for once and interview the interviewer..

BC: Dear Adenike, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. To start, could you tell us something about yourself?

I’m a Nigerian, born in Tokyo, raised in Hong Kong and Lagos, and currently residing in London! I’ve been fortunate enough to have travelled extensively – I’ve seen many wonderful cultures, and as such have been exposed to art, history and people from over the world. Despite this though, I’ve always been drawn back to Nigeria. I’ve always wanted to know more about my history and the Yoruba culture of my parents.

About five years ago, during a trip back to Nigeria, my Dad took me to an art village in Abuja – you know, the type that’s full of art for tourists. Not knowing much about classic African art at the time, I bought what I thought were a pair of antique Benin bronze leopard aquamaniles. At about $600 each, they weren’t cheap and the vendor told me they were ‘special’ and that I was the first person he’d shown them to because ‘I look like someone that appreciates art’. Convinced at the time I had purchased authentic gems, I smuggled them in my suitcase and snuck them out of Nigeria.

Boy was I wrong! Back in London, I wanted to learn all I could about the pieces. I’m fortunate to have access to the British Library here, I started reading. I visited the British Museum and entered the Africa section for the first time. I compared my leopards to those at museums, in auction catalogues, and in books and very soon realised that what I’d bought were in fact fakes!

This revelation led to the idea for ÌMỌ̀ DÁRA, a resource that collectors can use to better understand the distinguishing features of different classic African pieces, in the hope that they might avoid acquiring fakes themselves.

BC: I remember ÌMỌ̀ DÁRA in its early days was mainly about selecting a specific object type and highlighting its distinguishing features. I think your bullet-point style is a clever and efficient way to list these, especially in the online world, where people’s attention span is much shorter. From its start, the website was very well designed, simple and clean, and easily brownsable. How did you create it?

As mentioned, I spent every spare moment reading books on classic African art to increase my knowledge. I soon realised that I had amassed a wealth of information that didn’t seem to be easily accessible online. I wanted to create a platform where I could share the information gathered in a browsable, accessible, and easily digestible format. I wanted the platform to cater to established collectors looking to learn more about the pieces in their collections, but I also wanted it to capture the interest of a new, younger audience. And thus, ÌMỌ̀ DÁRA was born.

But to be honest, ÌMỌ̀ DÁRA wouldn’t be here if not for my husband, Jonathan Cosgrove. He’s an awesome web developer that tends to focus on minimalist designs. When I told him about what I wanted to create, he had the foresight to know that the website should focus on the visuals, that the art should take centre stage while allowing a concise way to display the information related to each piece – hence the bullet point lists of ‘Distinguishing Features’. He also knew that having a mobile version of the site would be important, so that those in the field, wanting to learn about pieces that they saw at museums and at art shows could use the platform on the go.

BC: While focussing on the ‘distinguishing features’ page in its early days, ÌMỌ̀ DÁRA quickly expanded its content and you started addressing and exploring other topics as well. How did this happen?

In doing the research, speaking with collectors at fairs, and visiting a number of different galleries, I very quickly realised that ‘learning’ is about more than just reading books. It’s about learning from the experience of others and visiting museums and fairs to see and handle as much art as possible.

So we decided to start educating collectors about what it means to collect African art by interviewing collectors at different stages of the collecting journey, through a magazine style format. We did this also because there has been so much talk lately about the ‘dying African art market’ and that there are no new collectors in the field. The interviews we’ve done has shown this not to be true. Yes, young collectors may not be spending tens of thousands of Pounds, Dollars or Euros on art but the field has a role to play in nurturing these future collectors and getting them excited about the wealth of art available at all price ranges.

We’ve also started writing about museum exhibitions and art fairs which we feel present opportunities for collectors to learn more about African art. In addition, we’re also profiling contemporary artists that are influenced by the art of Africa. Finally, we have now also created a platform that collectors can use to manage their collections online.

BC: I’m delighted to see what an ambitious venture ÌMỌ̀ DÁRA has quickly become. As I know from personal experience managing such an active website is a very time-consuming endavour; is it your fulltime occupation ?

In one of the recent interviews we published on ÌMỌ̀ DÁRA, I spoke with Dr. Polly Nooter Roberts, consulting curator of African art at LACMA. She said something that resonated with me, “whatever you do in life requires hard work and passion, that we have a commitment to pick something we’re most in love with”.

Even though, at this point in time, I have a full-time job in the cybersecurity industry, ever since that day in the market in Abuja, I’ve fallen in love with African art. So much in love that I don’t mind working two jobs, much to the chagrin of my husband! But in all seriousness he sees the pure joy on my face when I see an amazing piece of African art. I’ve never felt anything like this before and I want to share this feeling with more people globally.

BC: While ÌMỌ̀ DÁRA happens online only for now, do you think you will ever organize events in the real world as well ?

We started online because that seems now to be where people start in their discovery of African art. For too long, galleries have relied only on foot traffic but that model alone is not sustainable, or at least not enough to attract the next generation of African art collectors. We need to be where they are… we need to be online.

That being said, I like the idea of a multi-channel experience: web, social, mobile, and physical interactions. I would love for one day to be in a position to curate guided tours of museums, galleries, libraries, and private collections. To have collectors collaborate with curators, dealers, academics, and enthusiasts on all things African art. Who knows, you may see an ÌMỌ̀ DÁRA sponsored event soon.

BC: While Paris and Brussels are now the central hubs for the African art market, London (where you are based) once was an important epicenter as well – unfortunately not so much anymore. Do you have any explanations why this is so and do you think it will change again in the future ?

Having a quick glimpse into our website analytics, figures show a significant interest from the United States, followed closely by the UK. France and Belgium do appear but they are not at the top which may or may not suggest a potential for change in the market, if not now then sometime in the future. Nigeria falls within the top five, which contrary to some perceptions, suggests interest in the origin country of many of these amazing pieces of art. This could be a change in the existing market or evidence of a new market.

In addition, because of globalisation, people are more willing to make the effort to travel to the sources of quality African art pieces. As for potential changes in the future, nothing is static, time inevitably leads to change. Who knows where the new epicenter might be.

BC: As a Nigerian, how do you feel about questions of repatriation ?

This is a tough one. On the one hand African art is African! Africans should be able to appreciate the art of their ancestors. They should be able to have easy access to that art. If should be within reach of the next generation of artists that expand the definition of African art while maintaining a link to the past.

However these are antiques. These are delicate materials that must be appropriately maintained. An example, last year I went to visit the National Museum in Lagos and on display were two Benin Ivory tusks. Beautiful things! But they were left exposed! No glass case, no temperature control, no equipment to ensure that a consistent atmosphere is maintained and preserved all year round – through the very humid rainy season and the dry Harmattan season. And as we know from the interview with restorer Anne-Catherine Kenis, the worst thing for ivory is humidity. The tucks were left exposed for anyone to touch or damage. That is my concern about returning pieces back to countries without the infrastructure to maintain them. Having spoken to our Nigerian museum guide, he was aware that the condition of the museum was less than adequate but explained lack of funding as the main reason. He himself was not receiving a salary for the tour but did it purely out of his love for the art and its history.

But then again, if a piece has been illegally acquired from an institution in Africa then buyer beware! Africans are waking up to the value of their history.

BC: To finish, which 3 books would you recommend to someone who wants to learn about African art, and why ?

Another tough question Bruno because I think it depends on what type of art someone’s interested in – Africa’s huge and its art so so diverse, from the classic and naturalistic, to the raw and rough. What I can speak to are the books that I’ve enjoyed or learned the most from. I really enjoy books that not only have pretty pictures but also descriptions and context about the pieces within their pages. I especially like books that include the ethnic names of objects.

I am personally really interested in Yoruba art. ‘Yoruba Art and Language: Seeking the African in African Art’ by Rowland Abiodun is a great resource that covers the art, language, and history of the Yoruba culture. It’s helping me brush up on my Yoruba too!

Another great and very detailed book is ‘Central Nigeria Unmasked: Arts of the Benue River Valley’ by Marla C. Berns, Richard Fardon, and Sidney Littlefield Kasfir. This really is the bible of art from Central and East Nigeria. Reading this book opened my eyes to the beauty of masks and figures from the Mumuye, the Chamba, and the Jukun. Because of this book, I’ve also become more interested in exploring art from Cameroon.

Books that I’d like to get my hands on are the volumes written by Leo Frobenius, ‘Und Afrika Sprach’, a four-volume account of his expedition to Nigeria in 1910–1912. The illustrations in the book are incredible and I imagine the content gives a glimpse into the early perceptions of Nigerian art discovered by Frobenius during his travels. Only thing is I’d have to brush up on my German first!

There are also many great online resources that people can turn to. ÌMỌ̀ DÁRA (naturally), your blog, Tribal Index and Artkhade for insight into the auction results of various objects, and Facebook. The groups of collectors sharing information about pieces in their collections is so insightful. I love the willingness to share in this field.

And as the saying goes, ‘sharing is caring’ – dear Adenike many thanks for this interview and keep up the good work!

 

Controversy around Damien Hirst’s golden (Ife) head on view in Venice

I don’t know if you have noticed, but the influence of traditional African art on contemporary artists has never been so big. When frequenting any contemporary art fair these days, chances are big one runs into some very explicit references, and more often just plain copies of African masks and statues.

This trend is not new of course. Kendall Geers, for example, already made ‘nail figures’ (citing Kongo nkondi statues) in the early 2000s. But also many younger artists are following this trend and finding inspiration in the historical art of the African continent. Damien Hirst, one of the best known ‘Young British Artist’ of the 1990s, could not resist to join in, and his current exhibition in Venice, Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable, features a copy in massive gold of an ancient Ife head from Nigeria.

The head (illustrated above and below) is presented with the label ‘Golden head (Female)’, that, without any reference to its inspiration, which has been causing a huge controversy. While all of the artworks in the exhibition imitate or are inspired by the arts from a wide range of cultures throughout history, Ife has proven to a somewhat more sensitive subjet and a major fuzz about this head has emerged. Even CNN has dedicated an article to it: Damien Hirst accused of copying African art at Venice Biennale. On social media, Hirst has been widely branded as a ‘thief’, and the head continues to generate a lot of critique in so far even a spokesperson of Hirst had to react clarifying Ife is in fact cited in the exhibition guide. But the damage was done.

Things got rolling when the Nigerian artist Victor Ehighale Ehihkamenor, currently exhibiting at the Nigerian pavilion at the Venice Biennale, openly criticized Hirst in articles in the New York Times and Huffington Post. It is interesting to note that none of the representatives of other cited cultures have reacted to the show. There are numerous copies of Egyptian and Greek statues, for example. But none of those cultures have almost all of their national heritage outside their country of course, which is the case with Nigeria’s old Ife Kingdom. To make it even more interesting, also in the general press the show has received a lot of negative critique; ARTnews calling it ‘undoubtedly one of the worst exhibitions of contemporary art staged in the past decade’ (here) or generating statements like that it ‘offers scale in lieu of ambition, and kitsch masquerading as high art’ (in The Telegraph).

For my part, I think it is too soon to judge Damien Hirst – let’s see in 50 years what remains of his work. And, the famous Salon des Refusés in mind, I do recall some other artists who were once rejected by the general public. Jeff Koons also just copied someone else’s work (read about that here). Anyway, if it made only a handful of new people genuinely interested in the ancient art of Nigeria, we can only be happy about the effect this head provoked.

African art inspired tattoo of the day: a Songye kifwebe mask

Last month in New York, I came across this amazing tattoo of a Songye kifwebe mask. This famous mask resides in the collection of the Penn Museum at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia. It was sold by Charles Vignier in Paris in 1919 to Marius de Zaya and was one of the stars of Yaëlle Biro’s exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, African Art, New York, and the Avant-Garde in 2012 (info).

Hilary Whitham, who has this tattoo on her upper arm, assisted as a graduate curatorial intern at that show. She chose the Philadelphia-based tattoo artist Jennifer Rahman for the project because of her specialization in stippling and shading. The formal qualities of this kifwebe mask had always drawn her attention – the rhythmic disposition of striations over its curvatures making it a truly stunning object. Who knew it would be so suitable as a tattoo. Hilary generously allowed me to post a picture of the tattoo here and wrote:

Learning about the mask’s role within late nineteenth century Songye communities as an agent of social moderation – marking life events and safeguarding secret knowledge – furthered my fascination. Kifwebe epitomize the scholarly challenges associated with African objects arriving in European and American collections during the first decades of the twentieth century.  Elucidating the complex epistemologies from which these objects emerged, given the extremely partial and biased historical record resulting from colonialism, drives the field of African art history. The mask’s personal significance contributed to my choice to inscribe it permanently on my person. It was included in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition African Art, New York, and the Avant-Garde on which I assisted as a graduate curatorial intern, and belongs to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, where I am completing my PhD. Both of these institutions and the individuals that comprise them have shaped not only my approach to and understanding of art history, but also life more generally, in innumerable positive ways.

Whitham is currently writing a dissertation on the impact of African art on the Dada movement as a PhD candidate in the History of Art Department at the University of Pennsylvania. She will especially focus on Tristan Tzara (1896-1963), the Romanian avant-garde poet and African art collector who played a pivotal role in the the development of Dada. Her dissertation aims to fill the lacunae in scholarship on Tzara’s role in the development of twentieth century collecting of African art as well as to demonstrate how Tzara’s interest in African art impacted the development of the Dada movement. So please do get in touch if you would happen to own an object once in the possession of Tzara!

ps I’m sure there are more African and Oceanic art inspired tattoos around, so don’t hesitate to send a picture (and its story) if you’re willing to share; thanks.

Musée Dapper to close its doors forever on 18 June 2017

Sad tidings from Paris, the Musée Dapper will be closing its doors permanently on 18 June 2017 🙁  You can find the official press release here (French only). The brainchild of Michel Leveau (who passed away in 2012) and Christiane Falgayrettes-Leveau, the museum was founded in 1986 to stimulate the interest in African culture. It moved to its current location in 2000. The Dapper foundation will continue its mission, but without having a permanent exhibition space (which had become too expensive to run).

The best private African and Oceanic art museum in the world, the Musée Dapper set up over 40 (!) groundbreaking shows over the years – without any public funding. All its excellent exhibition catalogues easily take up a full shelf in one’s library. It’s current exhibition, Masterpieces of Africa (which was already prolonged) will be its last. So don’t sleep if you want to say goodbye to all these treasures. The museum’s presence will be sorely missed; it’s a huge loss for our field.

ps this October, the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac will include some of the masterpieces of the Dapper collection in their big upcoming Gabon exhibition.

 

Javier Peres on Why Contemporary Art Collectors Should Care About Tribal Art

Last week Artnet, one of the most important and widely read websites about the art market, interviewed this years honorary president of Parcours des Mondes about his passion for African art. The interview took place ahead of Frieze New York, which was showing tribal art for the first time (with Galerie Meyer, Entwistle and Donald Ellis participating). At the same time as TEFAF NY (with the presence of Jacques Germain, Tambaran Gallery and Galerie Meyer), the Almine Rech Imaginary Ancestors exhibition, and coinciding with the preview of Christie’s African art sale TIMELESS, there definitely was a momentum going on in New York city, which elicited the interest of Artnet. You can read the full interview here. An excerpt:

How does the tribal art market compare to the contemporary art market in terms of price points?

I think the record for an African tribal art work at auction is $12 million—that is the pinnacle. You can still get masterpieces depending on the type of object. And there are incredible objects that can be bought for under $100,000. Recently, Christie’s in Paris sold a really iconic Dogon mask with a figure on top that was in all the important museum shows for $2,5 million. It’s a chunk of change, but if you compare it to contemporary artists where we don’t even know if they’re going to be around in 20 years, then it’s not that much. So relatively speaking, the high end is in the low millions—maybe between $1-6 million—whilst in the modern and contemporary market, an edition by Koons can cost more.

I couldn’t have said it better. And that’s why we are so proud of our upcoming sale, bringing together a selective group of top notch African art – below two teaser installation views of the preview. As you can see, African art does get its rightful place at Christie’s (amidst works of Brancusi, Braque and Basquiat).