Good curating: “Mobile Worlds” at the MKG Hamburg

A bit under the radar and running until 14 October 2018, the exhibition Mobile Worlds or The Museum of our Transcultural Present at Hamburg’s Museums für Kunst ind Gewerbe is worth your attention. The blurb on the museum’s website reads:

The exhibition “Mobile Worlds” draws inspiration from the collection housed at the Museums für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg. The MKG collection is in turn inspired by the great world exhibitions held in London, Paris and Vienna in the 19th-century. Now the world of the 19th century is passé, and with it the central position that the West has long claimed for itself. Even though our world knows many centers today, many Western museums still present themselves as though the traditional, museological division into geographies, nations, epochs, art and non-art were universally valid.

I can think of a museum or two where this indeed is still the case, so this central premise is relevant indeed. You can discover more about the show’s themes here. An interesting review in the New York Times was just published by Jason Farago; please find it here. Farago makes some excellent points:

When Europeans of the 18th and 19th centuries established their grandest museums, each building meant to unite the world’s cultural heritage under a single roof, they had no doubt as to who should explain it all: themselves. They took a Eurocentric view, categorizing the spoils of colonial enterprise by nation and region, splitting art from craft, and nature from culture.How much has really changed in this so-called postcolonial era? Apologies are made for the pillaging; diverse populations are invited to “respond.” But the museums’ old assumptions, their methods of classification and display, remain largely untroubled. How might you reorganize a universal museum for the 21st century, an age of migration and of perpetual exchange? One of the boldest answers yet is to be found in “Mobile Worlds,” at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, an applied arts museum in the northern German city of Hamburg that has a similar standing to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London or the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

And,

By and large, “Mobile Worlds” delivers on its contention that European museums need to do much more than just restitute plundered objects in their collections, important as that is. A 21st-century universal museum has to unsettle the very labels that the age of imperialism bequeathed to us: nations and races, East and West, art and craft. It’s not enough just to call for “decolonization,” a recent watchword in European museum studies; the whole fiction of cultural purity has to go, too. Any serious museum can only be a museum of our entangled past and present. The game is to not to tear down the walls, but to narrate those entanglements so that a new, global audience recognizes itself within them.

The curator Roger Buergel, best known for serving as artistic director of Documenta 12, hypothesis for a more conscionable museum is spot on. And as Farago points: “The past is hideously violent, and these institutions won’t be regenerated overnight. But history, “Mobile Worlds” reminds us, never stops moving forward — and museums won’t be reformed at all if we don’t put in the work.” The time is now!

African art on record covers: Basa Basa

In a previous life I used to be a dj and record collector, so I’m always thrilled when I discover a record with African art on the cover. I recently came across the above lp by Basa Basa, which features this great drawing of a Kota reliquary figure from Gabon. This album was recorded at Decca Studios in Lagos, Nigeria in 1979 and performed by the Basa Basa band which was The Nyaku twins from Ghana and Themba Matebese who played synths and keyboards and also produced it. The connection with a Kota is therefor a bit mysterious. Also note how the empty space between arms and legs is white, so the graphic designer clearly did not know this area was empty on the original thing. The Amsterdam based label Vintage Voudou recently re-released this hard to find album, you can buy the lp here; it’s great. Happy weekend !

Interview with yours truly on Imo Dara about the Durand-Dessert sale

For the occasion for the sale of the African art collection of Liliane and Michel Durand-Dessert, I did a short interview with Imo Dara’s Adenike Cosgrove; you can find it here. One of the subjects..

For newer or younger collectors of African art, which artworks do you recommend they keep an eye on during the auction and what advice would you give them?

A great line I once picked up is “buy with your eyes, not with your ears”, inspiring the name of one of my social media accounts at the time ‘listentoyoureyes’. But, your eyes can fool you—many of the best fakes were made to accommodate Western taste, they were made to please our aesthetic—be aware of that. Key to getting a good ‘eye’ is to try to see as much as possible, to build a visual library in your head that serves as an instant comparison when you encounter a certain object. If you don’t have the time for this, make friends that do and look at an object through their eyes. The African art community is full of people who are willing to share their knowledge and insights (you are a perfect example of that!). Make friends and look together.

Thanks to wonderful initiatives as Imo Dara our community keeps on growing. It excites me when I see how many new young collectors are starting to look at African art. It can be a challenging field to enter, and one has to be courageous to start collecting African art – but information has never been seen easily accessible and knowledge is much more generously shared as before, so the future is looking bright!

Christie’s market leader for the Art of Africa, Oceania and the Americas in the first half of 2018

I’m proud to inform you Christie’s has maintained last year’s position of market leader for the Art of Africa, Oceania and the Americas in the first half of 2018. With combined sales of almost 18 million euro, Christie’s was responsible for 54 % of the market (one percent up compared to last year). With two successful collection sales (Prigogine and Durand-Dessert) a various owners sale in Paris and a curated sale in New York, we maintained our strong position in this competitive market. Focussed solely on Paris, where we held the first and last major sales of this auction season, and not taking into account our Prigogine sale, we have a market share of 72% for the Art of Africa and Oceania !

But our job is much more than just the numbers. Last week, it was an incredible honor and privilege to bring the Durand-Dessert collection to the market. It turned out to be much more than a sale, it was a manifest, renouncing the classical canon to valorize the multivalent arts of the African continent. Time will prove it was an important momentum for fragmented objects and the arts of Nigeria – two clusters which defined this visionary collection. Furthermore, we continue to grow our international base of collectors and increase the visibility of the art we love so much in the international art scene. I can’t reveal too much just yet, but we are now looking forward to an exciting second part of the year. Highlights of our sale on 30 October will be on view during Parcours des Mondes in Paris in September. But for now, let me wish you happy holidays and a great summer !

Very best,
Bruno

 

ps don’t hesitate to contact me if you would be interested in consigning objects with us for our sale in Paris in October !

Preview Durand-Dessert auction to start in exactly one week

Next Friday, the preview of the sale of the African art collection of Liliane & Michel Durand-Dessert begins. The campaign to promote this unique and visionary collection hence is in full swing. Earlier this week we launched the above trailer to wet your appetite about this exceptional group of objects. It’s best enjoyed on a big screen and with headphones. The idea was to make it clear it will definitely be worth a trip to Paris. The preview dates are:

Friday 22 June 2 PM-6PM
Saturday 23 June 10AM-6PM
Sunday 24 June 2PM-6PM
Monday 25 June 10AM-6PM
Tuesday 26 June 10AM-6PM
Wednesday 27 June 10AM-12AM

The auction will take place in Paris on Wednesday 27 June at 4PM. For the Christie’s website, I also did a short feature about our cover lot, the Mbembe statue; you can find it here.

Catalogue online: “FUTURE PERFECT : the African Art Collection of Liliane & Michel Durand-Dessert”, Christie’s, Paris, 27 June 2018

After the successful sale of the Vérité collection last year, I’m very proud to present another collection sale at Christie’s Paris. On 27 June, we’ll be offering the famous African art collection of Liliane and Michel Durand-Dessert. You can browse the catalogue HERE.

The 105 treasures (with a combined estimate of € 7-10 million) are a testament of the avant-garde taste of the Durand-Dessert couple, pioneer gallerists of contemporary art, who have taken an innovative look at African arts, to form a collection which they have brought together with love and rigour for more than thirty years.

The dispersion of this important ensemble constitutes a major event for the African art market, not only because of the intrinsic quality of the objects that are part of it, but because of the uncommon personalities of the couple that put it together with an unrelentingly critical, analytical and original approach, in which their high standards are clearly discernible. Open without exception to all areas of African art, this group was meticulously build up by the couple as a couple. Both are brilliant literary and scientifc academics, and audacious cutting-edge gallery owners who have been pioneers in their field, having shown the most radical 20th century avant-garde art. Also the choices they made in their collecting were well ahead of the pack – the arts of Nigeria indeed form a crucial segment of this unique collection.

In 2008, an important selection of it was presented at the Monnaie de Paris during Parcours des Mondes. This highly acclaimed exhibition, Fragments du Vivant (‘Fragments of the Living’), put their collection on the map and was accompanied by an excellent catalogue published under the supervision of Jean-Louis Paudrat and with beautiful photographs by Hughes Dubois. As you’ll note, many excerpts from the introductory interview published in this book enrich our catalogue notes, inasmuch as the eyes and appreciation that these collectors have had for their objects have contributed so much to making them the marvels that they are.

The African art collection Liliane and Michel Durand-Dessert was born from the same implacable passion that animated their visionary choices for their gallery. A short history of the collection and its makers in English can be found at the back of the catalogue. It is a great honor for us to bring this unique ensemble to the market. The auction will take place in Paris on Wednesday 27 June at 4PM; below the preview dates.

Friday 22 June 2 PM-6PM
Saturday 23 June 10AM-6PM
Sunday 24 June 2PM-6PM
Monday 25 June 10AM-6PM
Tuesday 26 June 10AM-6PM
Wednesday 27 June 10AM-12AM

Don’t hesitate to get in touch if I can be of any service or if you want more information or images on a certain object. I hope to see you in Paris for this not-to-be-missed event!

 

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Save the date: Christie’s, Paris, COLLECTION X, 27 June 2018

On 27 June 2018, in exactly two months, Christie’s Paris will be selling 104 objects from a very prestigious Parisian collection of African art. We are currently still working on the auction catalog, but I’m pleased to already announce the viewing days:

Friday 22 June 10AM-6PM
Saturday 23 June 10AM-6PM
Sunday 24 June 2PM-6PM
Monday 25 June 10AM-6PM
Tuesday 26 June 10AM-6PM
Wednesday 27 June 10AM-12AM

I can’t reveal much more for now, but I guarantee it will be worth a trip to Paris ! I hope to see you there…

ps with 3 auctions in 3 months, I hope you can understand why it was so quiet on the blog these last months..

Catalogue online: “ORIGINS – Masterworks of African and Oceanic Art”, Christie’s, New York, 17 May 2018

I’m very proud to announce the catalogue for our African and Oceanic Art auction of 17 May in New York is now online; you can find it here. The sale is at 10AM on the 17th. Our masterpieces will be on view at the Rockefeller Plaza spread around the viewing rooms among contemporary and modern paintings on:

Saturday 12 May – 10AM-5PM
Sunday 13 May – 1PM-5PM
Monday 14 May – 10AM-5PM
Tuesday 15 May – 10AM-5PM
Wednesday 16 May – 10AM-5PM

Just as its predecessors Evolution of Form (2016), and Timeless (2017), this 13-lot sale is tightly curated around a very specific idea..

Considering the title of this sale, from the perspective of African art and sub-Saharan cultures, as well as historic cultures of Oceania – Melanesia and Polynesia – it could also be called: Wild Things. Within these cultures, it is believed that we enter the world as wild beings. Of nature. It is only through social practices and ceremonial rites of passage that we are transformed into civilized beings of order. From the chaos of origins to the calm of refnement. This metamorphosis into the civilized is evinced upon their bodies. Elaborate practices of scarifcation, complex hair arrangements and teeth fling transformed girls into women and boys into men. The processes, which were the culmination of years of initiation, created a new person. This person was now far away from the tiny, amorphous or unformed creature of birth. They are sculpted by time, knowledge, experience, social mores and laws. Minds transformed, bodies composed for all to ‘read’. Art mirrors life and such ‘marks of civilization’ can be found in the statues and masks presented here. Far removed from their original context, they are the rare beacons of a lost language, whose visual associations would only be apprehended by the initiated of these societies.

The works of art are the portraits of these cultural philosophies. Spiritual realms, our alpha and omega, are commemorated through the sculpture. The first artist had to imagine: how can I physically portray the unknown of our beginning? Our origins? The supernatural realm? The metaphysical? It could not lie in verism. Hyper expressions of things from the au de la depend upon abstraction. The supernatural had to be portrayed in a way that is dissimilar from the world of the living. This is the majesty of African and Oceanic art.

The word ‘origins’ is at the root of the word – original. The hallmark of this special selection of thirteen magical works of art is its valorization of major works of art that fall outside the canon. Anti-classical. The twentieth century discovered and established classical African art, the 21st makes us look further, at art that was not yet accessible to early 20th century taste-makers, such as Charles Ratton and Paul Guillaume.

A chance to see things in a new light. We have a celebration of works of art from Cameroon and Nigeria, for instance. Origins explores the myriad forms and works of art that demonstrate the diversity of this vast topographic and cultural landscape.

Origins are also pure. The works of art are selected for their pure creativity. The Bassa head (lot 9). Baring long fled teeth, it is part human, part leopard, and something raw and unseen. A brutal Kota (lot 12). Its tiny serrated mouth and piercing eyes of highly prized iron warns and protects. The Dan mask (lot 6) is an anti-aesthetic statement. Dan people highly value beauty, and their best masks are based upon symmetry. In its asymmetry, the mask is deemed wild. It is undomesticated. A drum that walks from the Bangwa chiefs (lot 10). An Mfumte oracle is illustrated by a mouth that happens to grow horns and sits upon a geometric body (lot 11). A divining fgure from the Senufo by a master sculptor the Ivory Coast (lot 5). A beastie power chamber mask from the Bete (lot 4). The Eket Ogbom dancing figure for a headdress with deep, blackened wild surface (lot 7). The color of wicked beauty in a Vanuatu initiation mask (lot 1). A seemingly simple necklace from Hawaii with a sensual hooked pendant reveals itself as a source of ancestral power and the pendant transforms into a tongue of defance (lot 2).

With Origins, we are at the beginning of a new way to approach African and Oceanic art. It is a celebration of the vast place from which science says we all were born. Origins is meant to defy those looking with Western eyes. Look at them from all angles. Upside down. There is no vetting by the European Avant- Garde. This is the Wild West. These are the punk rock stars of the art world stage. Nevermind the bollocks, here’s ORIGINS!

I hope to see you in New York for the preview ! Send me a message if I can be of any assistance or if you want to meet…

Below just one of the many exciting discoveries in this auction.. a rediscovered Wè mask that might have inspired Picasso in his primitivist period –  read all about it in the catalogue here.

Catalogue online: “African and Oceanic Art”, Christie’s, Paris, 10 April 2018

I’m very proud to announce the catalogue for our African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art auction of 10 April in Paris is now online; you can find it here. Now you know what I’ve been up to these last months. You can come preview the sale in Paris on these days:

Thursday 5 April, 10am – 6pm
Friday 6 April, 10am – 6pm
Saturday 7 April, 10am – 6pm
Sunday 8 April, 2pm – 6pm
Monday 9 April, 10am – 6pm
Tuesday 10 April, 10am – 4pm

The auction is that Tuesday, the 10th, at 4pm. During the preview days, there also might be some objects on view that we will sell later this year.. (#teaser), so I can guarantee it’s definitely worth the trip to Paris! I hope to see you there and, as always, don’t hesitate to get in touch if I can be of any service. Best, Bruno

Save the date: Christie’s, Paris, African and Oceanic Art, 10 April 2018

Please be so kind to note in your agenda that Christie’s’ next African and Oceanic art sale in Paris will take place on Tuesday 10 April 2018. After successfully implying our new agenda in 2017, we thus continue to have sales early April. The viewing days will be:

– Thursday 5 April, 10am-6pm
– Friday 6 April, 10am-6pm
– Saturday 7 April, 10am-6pm
– Sunday 8 April, 2 pm-6pm
– Monday 9 April, 10am-6pm

We’ll be selling about 95 objects, about half of them originating from Oceania. For the sale we’ve reunited 3 objects from the La Korrigane expedition and rediscovered many more polynesian and melanesian treasures. I’m also very excited about the 20 unknown Congolese masterpieces I uncovered in a very private Belgium collection. Furthermore, there’s an historical Luba stool which was already exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum in 1937. The cover piece will be an exquisite Fang statue of which you find a teaser above. We’ll also be selling a part of the private collection of Hans Sonnenberg – famous in The Netherlands, but yet unknown outside the country (below you can find a short biography I wrote for the catalogue). We have also relaunched our Pre-Columbian art department earlier this year – with Fatma Turkkan-Wille as its director, and on Monday 9 April we’ll be selling the prestigious Prigogine Collection; more info about that sale here. Anyway, I can’t reveal too much other information just yet, but I can guarantee you it will be worth a trip to Paris! We might have some objects of other upcoming sales on view as well..

Hans Sonnenberg in his living room in 1997 with the painting ‘Suga Ray Robinson’ by Jean-Michel Basquiat from 1982, sold by Christie’s in New York on 13 November 2007. Photo Archives Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen.

Hans Sonnenberg (1928-2017), a Rotterdam art dealer and collector, was best known as ‘Mr. Delta’, after the gallery with which he had a huge impact on the Dutch art scene for more than 50 years. In addition to his job as a port agent (which he would keep until 1972), Sonnenberg was already an avid art collector at an early age. In 1954, he organized his first exhibition, and in 1958 he met Piero Manzoni, from whom he would later exhibit and sell several so-called Achromes. In 1958, Sonnenberg’s active role in the art world began as he founded the group Zero (not to be confused with its German counterpart with the same name), which included artists such as Piero Manzoni, Emil Schumacher and Jan Schoonhoven. The group’s work was related to the French art informel and American abstract expressionism and put on the map by Sonnenberg in the Netherlands through a number of expositions curated by him at Galerie Eroz.

When it opened in 1962, Sonnenberg’s Gallery Delta was the first in Rotterdam to focus solely on showing and selling art from living artists. With numerous exhibitions, it promoted successive emerging national and international art movements (such as Cobra, Popart and the ‘Nieuwe Wilden’) in The Netherlands. Sonnenberg exhibited works by Castellani, Appel, Constant, Jorn, Hockney, Oldenburg, Warhol, Lichtenstein, Haring, Scharf and emerging Rotterdam artists. The sale of the work of these avant-garde artists unfortunately never really took off, and commercial success failed to materialize (one client even returning a Warhol). In 1982, Sonnenberg for the first time exhibited the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat in the Netherlands. However, none of the five works purchased in the artist’s studio in New York would sell. Due to this disappointing success of foreign artists from the 1980s on Sonnenberg would focus more than before on Dutch artists, for who he had discovered a local collector base.

Generations Dutch art lovers, collectors, museum directors, curators and gallery owners started their career with a visit to Gallery Delta. As an art promoter pur sang, Sonnenberg for decades had a large and stimulating input on the Rotterdam and Dutch art scene. In 2000 he donated an important part of his personal collection of paintings to the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, including works by Basquiat, Manzoni, Arman, Hockney, Hamilton, Kusama, etc. The same museum in 2012 honored him with the exhibition ‘Mr. Delta’, following the 50th anniversary of his gallery.

Sonnenberg’s collection of African and Oceanic art belonged to his private domain; it formed an integral part of his apartment, where the important group of Malagan objects from New Ireland occupied a considerable part of the living room. Sonnenberg started collecting at the start of the seventies of the last century. His archives unfortunately contain little information about this part of his life as a collector. From sparse old correspondence we know, however, that he bought from traders like Jan Visser in Amsterdam and also frequently traveled to Brussels and Paris. He also exchanged statues with Jaap Wagemaker (one of his artists) and with Joop Schafthuizen, the partner of Gerard Reve. Visitors to his apartment would always receive a passionate tour through his collection. It should not be surprising that an art connoisseur with such an avant-garde taste for paintings also had an interest in non-European art.