My highlights of Parcours des Mondes for this year: the Hemba ancestor figure at Arte Y Ritual – and their duck head with lock (two keys included) / Fon fetisch from Jacques Kerchache, the Cameroon show at Bernard Dulon, Chinese glass hairpins at Maine Durieu, the incredible ensemble of Yupik masks at Donald Ellis, the Boyo (Luba?) figure chez Yann Ferrandin, Bruce Frank’s collection of miniature sculptures from the Sepik River region, the Hampatong figure in the basement of Valluet, the group of Kulango bronze figures at David Serra, Emmanuel Ameloot’s collection of hats and hairpins at Galerie SL (with an extra compliment for the presentation) and the breathtaking Kerewa skull hook from Voyageurs & Curieux. Of course, there was much more to see, but these managed to jump out above the unsurpassed scope of offerings. Not suprising, Sotheby’s preview of the Allan Stone collection and their December sale proved hard to surpass by any of the participants. Personally, I was happy to be involved in the reunion of the male Urhobo figure from Bernard de Grunne with its female counterpart in a private US collection, had a great time signing my book at Librairie Fischbacher, visited a splendid private collection of ere ibeji and enjoyed sipping coffee at the zinc of Bistro Mazarine sharing thoughts with fellow visitors. All in all, it was again a wonderful edition, the congregation of so many passionate collectors, dealers and ‘amateurs’ in the lovely surroundings of Saint-Germain-des-Prés for me stays the ‘tribal’ art event of the year.
Flip through the catalog here.
Above a Baule mask that will be sold by Christie’s New York on 4-5 November 2013. Forming part of the A Dialogue Through Art: Works from The Jan Krugier Collection sale, the mask is expected to fetch between $ 500,000-800,000 at auction. Published in Rubin’s Primitivism in 20th Century Art. Affinities of the Tribal and the Modern (p. 360), it belonged to André Breton before arriving in the hands of Pablo Picasso. It was inherited by Marina Picasso, who later sold it to Jan Krugier (1928-2008) – once the world’s foremost Pablo Picasso dealer. Read more about his life and the sale of his collection here.
Highlighting the African art of Jan Krugier’s expansive collection is a Baule mask that has come to be known the Krugier-Picasso mask in honor of two of its proud owners, Krugier and Picasso. Nowhere in the genesis of the Modern Art movement at the beginning of the 20th century is the profound influence of African art more apparent, powerful and consistently resonant than in the work of Picasso. This mask is a transcendent force of sculptural energy, with a vibrancy so apparent as to rival Picasso’s most famous muses. Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) clearly and famously defined the mask association, which he then powerfully harnessed as a constant motif in nearly every aspect of his œuvre. Based on the strong plasticity of the mask, its appeal to André Breton, another owner of this work, and later Picasso is evident. Here the image of a bushcow is transformed into an architectonic state – imposingly rectilinear and yet full of expansive movement. The semi-circular mouth with pointed tongue appears in several of Picasso’s paintings, most notably Guernica (1937), where tortured bovines tangle with human figures. The Picasso-Krugier mask thereby represents a major axis upon which much of Picasso’s work revolved – the abstraction of African art itself, the mask and the bull.
A small reminder that I will be signing my book at Librairie Fischbacher during Parcours Des Mondes, wednesday September 11 at 16:00. Hope to see you there !
The autumn edition of Tribal Art Magazine contained an interesting interview with the US collector Jay T. Last. Over the course of fifty years, he formed one of the world most comprehensive collections of Lega art, now held by the Fowler Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles. A catalog of the collection, Art of the Lega: Meaning and Metaphor in Central Africa, written by Elisabeth Cameron in 2001, remains a central reference on the subject.
The good news is that a revised version of this exhibition will be on view this autumn at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris. Also, a new edition of the catalog in French is being produced to accompany it – something to look forward to ! John Buxton mentioned on his blog there are 242 pieces selected.
We just completed an appraisal of the 242 pieces of Lega art from the Fowler Museum and Jay Last bound for an exhibition at Quai Branly in Paris.
And to quote Jay T. Last himself: “You learn so much more by seeing groups of things that are related, and each tells you something about the other”. In the same way, the philosopher Martin Heidegger observed that tools form systems, so that any given tool is defined with respect to the remaining tools in a systematic totality, “zeugganzes” – a totality of tools (from Being and Time, 1961). To understand an object, is thus to imagine a system of objects into which it fits – with this upcoming exhibition visitors thus will have a great opportunity to have a look at the Lega “zeugganzes”.
Fisher-women in the Maldives displaying cowries which have been exhumed from a burial pit, washed and laid out to dry (photo by Jan Hogendorn).
If you ever wondered about the background story of the cowrie shells you can find attached to various examples of African art from all over the continent, “The Shell Money of the Slave Trade”, published by Cambridge University Press in 2003 and counting 248 pages, is the book for you. A preview can be found online via Google Books here.
This study examines the role of cowrie-shell money in West African trade, particularly the slave trade. The shells were carried from the Maldives to the Mediterranean by Arab traders for further transport across the Sahara, and to Europe by competing Portuguese, Dutch, English and French traders for onward transport to the West African coast. In Africa they served to purchase the slaves exported to the New World, as well as other less sinister exports. Over a large part of West Africa they became the regular market currency, but were severely devalued by the importation of thousands of tons of the cheaper Zanzibar cowries. Colonial governments disliked cowries because of the inflation and encouraged their replacement by low-value coins. They disappeared almost totally, to re-appear during the depression of the 1930s, and have been found occasionally in the markets of remote frontier districts, avoiding exchange and currency control problems
The money cowrie is almost impossible to counterfeit. King Gezo of Dahomey told the explorer Richard Burton that he preferred them to gold for that reason. The king also pointed out that a hoard of shells was much harder to hide from the tax collector than the equivalent value in gold. (page 6) Long lasting, durable, easy to handle, portable, hard to counterfeit, right unit value for market needs, adequate constraints on supply and little leakage into other uses are mentioned by money and banking texts as the properties of the ideal commodity money. (page 7) The first recorded shipments to West Africa from the Maldives were already recorded in the early 16th century. By 1522 cowrie shells had become as important as manillas in Portuguese trade with Benin. (page 30)
Cowrie shell on a Songye figure. (Image courtesy of the Yale University Art Gallery (2006.51.18))