Monthly Archives: March 2014

The future of the trade in ‘antique’ African ivories

Last February the US government announced that it would no longer allow commercial imports of African ivory of any age, including antiques – which were previously exempt. This ban promises far-reaching consequences for the African art market. US dealers, who previously bought ivory works of art from overseas with the intention of reselling them in America, can no longer do so. On the other hand, EU dealers will no longer find clients for their ivories in the US. Domestic and export trade will become limited to artefacts more than 100 years old. Unfortunately, it’s often very difficult to prove an object is demonstrably more than a century old. The purpose of the expanded federal ban, clearly, is to drive down the demand for African elephant ivory by making trade illegal. In fear of further, perhaps worldwide, bans, it’s a likely scenario that collectors will become more and more reluctant to acquire ivory objects. Without a free market to allow the trade of ivory objects, it could of course very negatively impact their value in the long term.

Since it is not sales of genuine antiques in the West that is fuelling the largest demand for new ivory, but the insatiable and undiscerning appetite of Chinese and South-East Asian buyers, many antique dealers and museum curators are currently attacking the prososed new legislation. They rightfully claim certain provisions in the National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking will have a drastic impact on exhibitions, scholarship and the trade in antique masterpieces, while doing nothing to stop the slaughter of an endangered species. You can read more about the issue here. More technical details can be found here. To be continued..

 

An ivory Luba mikisi mihasi pendant. Image by Paul Lois. Photo courtesy of Patrick Mestdagh. Published in: BRUNEAF,  XVII, 2006: p. 81.

An ivory Luba mikisi mihasi pendant. Image by Paul Lois. Photo courtesy of Patrick Mestdagh. Published in: BRUNEAF, XVII, 2006: p. 81.

Art & Life in Africa website

A sowei in costume with attendants, Njahindama, Kakua, Bo, Sierra Leone. Photo courtesy of Ruth Phillips.

A sowei in costume with attendants, Njahindama, Kakua, Bo, Sierra Leone. Photo courtesy of Ruth Phillips.

Prof. Christopher D. Roy and Dr. Catherine Hale recently announced the launch of the Art & Life in Africa website. Hosted by the University of Iowa Museum of Art (UIMA), it is a freely accessible educational resource which is the product of the collaborative efforts of more than fifty scholars, technicians, collectors and institutions around the world. You can find it here.

The website converted content from a now-outdated, but once critically acclaimed CD-ROM. Roy created the Art and Life in Africa CD-ROM in 1997 as a tool for educators and scholars. It brought together media and scholarly material including photographs, essays, maps and videos. Roy didn’t want the CD’s content to be lost in the Internet-era and all of the original participants were invited to evaluate their previous contributions and make modifications or submit new content for this online edition. Some additional info:

The conceptual structure of the CD-ROM, which continues to inform its current online presentation, was based on Prof. Roy’s reading of Arnold van Gennep’s publications about passages of life in Africa. This format draws on the Congo Cosmogram of a circle with a cross, with the sun rising in the East and traveling counterclockwise to its apex at noon or adulthood, and declining in the West at sunset or death, and then continuing through the underworld until it is reborn in the East as a new day. Inspired by the Cosmogram, Prof. Roy and his colleagues wrote individual chapters to create an overarching narrative, which included such topics as Key Moments In Life, Education/Initiation, and Sacred Spaces. These chapters are supplemented further by more focused topic essays written by scholars in their fields of expertise.

The CD-ROM, completed in 1997, sold thousands of copies to public school systems, public libraries, and universities in North America and abroad. It received critical praise for contributing substantially to the understanding of Africa by students, scholars, and collectors of African art. Prof. Roy invested the profits from the sale of the CD-ROM into video equipment he used to produce videos about art and life in Africa, which include twenty-six full-length documentary videos filmed in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria, and Niger, many of which are featured on the new website.

The first phase of developing the Art & Life in Africa website focused on updating the original CD-ROM content so that it is available to as wide an audience as possible. Moving forward, the Art & Life in Africa team plans to invite scholarly contributions that will address underrepresented areas such as modern and contemporary artistic practices and geographic locations like South Africa. These new essays and/or chapters will be added to the site on an ongoing basis.

An accompanying exhibit is on display at the University of Iowa Museum of Art’s Black Box Theatre through June 15. Tablets are available so visitors to the display can scan QR codes on each piece of art’s label. The code takes them to the corresponding page on the website, where they can learn more and find links to further information.

Staff ornament. Igbo Ukuw. Height: 14,5 cm. Photo by Dirk Bakker. Image courtesy of the National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria (39.1.18).

Staff ornament. Igbo Ukuw. Height: 14,5 cm. Photo by Dirk Bakker. Image courtesy of the National Museum, Lagos, Nigeria (39.1.18).

R.I.P. Jean Willy Mestach (1926-2014)

Jean Willy Mestach March 2008

Last Saturday, 22 March 2014, the quintessential artist-collector, Jean Willy Mestach, passed away. His passion and eye were inspirational for a great many collectors. Mestach understood African art as no other. An artist himself, his collection was unmatched in terms of personal aesthetic choices, generated by a strong emotional and intuitional response to African art. Each object in his collection related integrally to all others, creating an ensemble widely considered as one of the best collections of African art ever and a work of art itself. I was fortunate enough to visit his apartment that looks down over the Sablon once in 2008, which for me was a life-changing experience. In his studio, a magical place, Mestach lived, worked and slept among his masterpieces, slowly and unconsiously becoming one himself. His continuing influence will forever be felt in the world of African art. The 2007 publication on his collection, L’Intelligence des Formes, the catalogue of the exhibition Mestach l’Africain, is a must-have. Rest in peace, Mr. Mestach.

Investing in African art and ‘the rule of 72’

I’m often consulted concerning the investment potential of African art, so I want to share a simple rule of thumb that may help when considering the acquistion of a particular object for investment purposes. In finance, the “rule of 72” is a method for estimating an investment’s doubling time. It’s a simplified way to determine how long an investment will take to double, given a fixed annual rate of interest. Here’s the formula:

Years to double = 72 / Interest Rate

By dividing 72 by the annual rate of return, a collector can get a rough estimate of how many years it will take for the initial investment to duplicate itself. Vice versa, when you know the number of years it took for an object to double its value, you can deduct the interest rate. If an object’s value doubled in 7 years, you for example have an interest rate of roughly 10%. If an object you bought in the year 2000 now is worth double, you have an interest of 5 % (72/14) – still better what you get from the banks these days. So, practically, imagine you buy a € 10K object today and pursue a 7,5 % interest. Adding 1,5 % inflation, a rate of 9 % will imply, that the value of your acquistion will have to been doubled in 8 years, by 2022. If you buy wisely, that’s certainly possible.

Notice that, although it gives a quick rough estimate, the rule of 72 gets less precise as rates of return become higher than 10 %. Extending the rule of 72 out further, other approximations can be determined for tripling and quadrupling. To estimate the time it would take to triple your money, one can use 114 instead of 72 and, for quadrupling, use 144. The Fang figure from the Georges de Miré collection below for example was sold by Christie’s in 2004 for € 371K (info). In December 2013, nine years later, Sotheby’s sold the same figure for € 1,441K (info). In 9 years, the value of this figure thus roughly quadrupled; equalling an interest rate of 14 % (144/9).

Note that this formula doens’t consider inflation. You can also calculate the length of time it will take for inflation to halve the real value of your money with the rule of 72. Assume an average inflation rate of 3%. Divide 72 by 3, and you’ll quickly see that your money’s purchasing power would halve in 24 years. An inflation rate of 1,5 % (like in the US in 2013), makes that 48 years.

 

Fang figure Georges de Miré

Preview: The Allan Stone Collection, part 2 (Sotheby’s, 16/05/2014): Kongo statuary

Kongo figure. Height: 49,5 cm. Estimate: $500,000 - 700,000 USD.

Kongo figure. Height: 49,5 cm. Estimate: $500,000 – 700,000 USD. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

On May 16, 2014 Sotheby’s NY will auction the second (and last) part of the collection of Allan Stone. Following the success of volume one in November 2013 (reviewed here), volume two will feature a selection of African, Pre-Columbian, and American Indian Art of comparable quality, number and variety to the first offering. Highlights will be on exhibition at Sotheby’s Paris from April 9-17, and the entire Volume Two sale will be on view at Sotheby’s New York from May 10-15, in advance of the May 16 auction (info). Click here to learn more about Allan Stone.

Below and above a selection of the featured Kongo power figures from the Democratic Republic of the Congo featured in the sale.

Kongo-Yombe figure. Height: 91,4 cm. Estimate: $700,000-1,000,000 USD. Image courtesy of Sotheby's.

Kongo-Yombe figure. Height: 91,4 cm. Estimate: $700,000-1,000,000 USD. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Kongo-Vili janus-headed dog-figure. Length: 72,4 cm. Estimate: $150,000 - 250,000 USD. Image courtesy of Sotheby's.

Kongo-Vili janus-headed dog-figure. Length: 72,4 cm. Estimate: $150,000 – 250,000 USD. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Kongo figure. Height: 62,9 cm. Estimate: $60,000 - 90,000 USD. Image courtesy of Sotheby's.

Kongo figure. Height: 62,9 cm. Estimate: $60,000 – 90,000 USD. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Kongo-Vili figure. Height: 53,3 cm. Estimate: $25,000 - 35,000 USD. Image courtesy of Sotheby's.

Kongo-Vili figure. Height: 53,3 cm. Estimate: $25,000 – 35,000 USD. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Kongo figure. Height: 52,7 cm. Estimate: $30,000 - 50,000 USD. Image courtesy of Sotheby's.

Kongo figure. Height: 52,7 cm. Estimate: $30,000 – 50,000 USD. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Bernard de Grunne’s Senufo champion cultivator staffs at TEFAF, 2014

Bernard de Grunne Senufo Champion Cultivator staffs

As always, Bernard de Grunne had made the effort to prepare a special themed exhibition for TEFAF. This year a presentation of 13 Senufo tefalipitya or ‘champion cultivator staffs’ took place. You can view the catalogue on de Grunne’s recently redesigned website, here. Highlights of his booth at Tefaf was the Bamana chiwara illustrated below. Extremely interesting was a big bronze antelope. Clearly an archeological find, this important piece was listed as “Djenne” (Inland Niger Delta), but with such ancient objects that just seems an arbitrary classification to me. Click here for a related example sold by Sotheby’s in 2010.

Bernard de grunnen bamana chiwara

Bernard de Grunne Bronze antelope Djenne Gan

Visions from the Forests: The Art of Liberia and Sierra Leone

Visions from the Forests Siegmann

Visions from the Forests: The Art of Liberia and Sierra Leone will be on view at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art April 9 through August 17. The exhibition features some 70 artworks from the collection of William Siegmann (1943–2011) that survey the traditional arts of Liberia and Sierra Leone. Siegmann, a former curator of African art at the Brooklyn Museum, lived and worked in Liberia from 1965 to 1987. While there, he began collecting art from Liberia and Sierra Leone. Siegmann’s collection, particularly rich in masks, provides an overview of the region’s traditional art forms, including numerous objects used in men’s and women’s initiation associations, jewelry and prestige objects of cast brass and horn, small stone figures dating from the 15th to the 18th centuries, and woven and dyed textiles.

The exhibition, making its debut at the National Museum of African Art, is organized by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in Minnesota. It is accompanied by a scholarly catalog that includes an essay on connoisseurship by Christine Mullen Kreamer, the National Museum of African Art’s deputy director and chief curator and additional contributions by Mariane Ferme, Barbara C. Johnson, Nanina Guyer, Daniel Reed, and Jan-Lodewijk Grootaers. With an emphasis on connoisseurship and the identification of artworks to particular artists or workshops, the exhibition hopes to reveal the deeply personal and scholarly connections forged by Siegmann during his many years of field research in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Jan-Lodewijk Grootaers, curator of African Art at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts since 2008, is also preparing another important exhibition. “Islamic Africa: Art and Architecture,” opening in March 2016, will examine the social and historical significance of the diverse forms of Islamic art and architecture that have developed in Africa over the last 1,500 years.

Ladders of the Lobi vs. ladders of the Dogon

Image courtesy of Petra Schütz / Detlef Linse.

Image courtesy of Petra Schütz / Detlef Linse.

I recently discovered the fascinating website of Petra Schütz & Detlef Linse documenting their travels through Lobi-country in Burkina Faso. You can find it here; it’s great for the armchair-traveller. Going through these photos, I discovered the presence of Dogon ladders on some of these pictures. At least, a type of ladders often offered for sale as Dogon in the trade (examples 1, 23). Clearly, the Lobi made use of very similar ladders, but apparently those of the Dogon are valued higher. Personally, I can’t tell the difference.

Image courtesy of Petra Schütz / Detlef Linse.

Image courtesy of Petra Schütz / Detlef Linse.

Field-photo of the day: a Songye figure

Image courtesy of Boris Kegel-Konietzko, 1959.

Image courtesy of Boris Kegel-Konietzko, 1959.

A few years ago, when I was still actively contributing to the Yale University – Van Rijn – Archive of African art, the German dealer Boris Kegel-Konietzko allowed us to include the field-photos from his travels through Songye-land in the database. The above picture, taken at Kabinda in 1959, was included in the batch. Of course, I did not hesitate to browse through the thousands of Songye figures in the archive to check if I could find this figure back. Great was my suprise, when I discovered this statue was now, in a slightly different state, in Yale’s own collection. Being part of the Benenson collection, it was donated to the Yale University Art Gallery in 2006 – without the Kegel-Konietzko provenance! Thanks to this picture of the figure at its time of collection, we now know it was originally dressed with an animal skin and partly wrapped in a cotton cloth. The attached smaller figures were also original to the figure. Both field-photo and figure are published in Frederick J. Lamp’s catalogue of the Benenson collection, Accumulating Histories (p. 149).

Songye figure. Height: 124,5 cm. Image courtesy of the  Yale University Art Gallery (#2006.51.148).

Songye figure. Height: 124,5 cm. Image courtesy of the Yale University Art Gallery (#2006.51.148). (info)

A Luba mboko from the Colin Sayers collection of African art

A Luba Shankadi mboko figure. Ca. 1930. Height: 59 cm.

A Luba Shankadi mboko figure. Ca. 1930. Height: 59 cm.

Earlier this month the Colin Sayers collection of African art was auctioned by Stephan Welz & Co. in Cape Town. You can read a tribute to the man here. The above Luba bowl bearer was the top lot of the sale and sold for € 18,000 (including premium). Most likely it was carved by by Kitwa Biseke, official carver to the Nkulu chieftainship (Mwanzi region). Many mboko from this workshop are known, but this one was a new addition to the corpus. More info can be found in an article by A. Nettleton: Burton’s Luba Mboko: Reflections of Reality, The Collection of WFP Burton (University of the Witwatersrand Art Galleries, Johannesburg, 1992, pp 51-67).

Below another mboko from this workshop published in African Fetishes and Ancestral Objects, together with a field-photo of the carver in action by Burton – click on the picture to zoom.

African fetisches and ancestral objects 5