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.
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.
A rare video documenting the famed collection of William Oldman (1879-1949) in London. This film, uploaded on Youtube by Kevin Conru, was edited using Oldman’s personal 16mm print copy and shows rooms packed with carvings, weapons and other art objects squeezed into every available space.
The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, best known for its French modernist paintings, also houses one of the earliestcollections of African art in the US. Its founder, Albert C. Barnes, regarded African sculpture as the purest example of three-dimensional form, acquiring over 100 works during an intense three-year period leading up to the opening of the Foundation in 1925. Most of the African art was acquired from the Paris dealer Paul Guillaume; who also introduced Barnes to the work of Amedeo Modigliani, Giorgio de Chirico and many others.
You can browse the collection here.
Further reading: Representing Africa in American Art Museums -A Century of Collecting and Display, edited by Kathleen Bickford Berzock and Christa Clarke, which features an essay on The Barnes Foundation & Paul Guillaume and African art, by Solveig Pigearias and Michèle Hornn, Tribal Art Magazine, no. 59, Spring 2011: pp. 78-91.
George Ortiz, born May 10 1927, died October 8 2013. Read his obituary here.
It was two brilliant dealers who introduced Ortiz to the other great theme of the collection: African art — Charles Ratton in Paris and John Hewett in London . Hewett enjoyed what he called “George moments”, when the collector’s passion burst forth with the force of a hurricane. One such moment was in 1967, when Hewett invited Ortiz to dinner and put a Benin bronze head on the table. The price was a then astronomical £20,000 — but Ortiz bought it and named it “Bulgy Eyes”. He believed that it was the strongest work of art he owned.
For Ortiz, art was the answer to Gauguin’s question: ‘Who are we, where have we come from, and where are we going?’
An online presentation of a NY private collection which is worth a visit; you can find the website here.
The Tomkins Collection is a website of the arts of pre-modern cultures. The Collection focuses on objects that represent ancestors, guardians and idols, abstract or surreal. Information about the objects in this private collection has been made available to encourage others to share their collections online in an accessible format.