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!
ps In order to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into effect on May 25, 2018, I require your consent for me to get in touch via my newsletters. If you wish to continue receiving them you don’t have to do anything. You hereby authorize me to keep you informed about blog updates. If you wish to unsubscribe and stop receiving my news letters, please let me know – thanks.
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..
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.
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
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 (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.
In two weeks time Brussels will again be the epicenter of the African art circus, with BRAFA and the winter edition of Bruneaf taking place at more or less the same time. Didier Claes (president of Bruneaf and vice-chairman of Brafa), just send out the above (full version here), which I thought was not a bad idea – as a paucity of public relations has been hampering both events in the past. After a short hiatus, Claes is president again of Bruneaf and it’s up to him now to bring the organization into the 21th century. An anticlimax had been last summer’s exhibition Finalité sans Fin, which brought together a fantastic group of iconic masterpieces, accompanied by an excellent catalogue – but which did barely get any promotion and was therefor not really noticed outside the regular crowd. A shame, as a lot of effort had gone into it – but not in promoting it. However, this sad episode served as a wake-up call and now Bruneaf is even on Instagram. It’s my sincere hope this historical event can continue successfully and learns from previous mistakes.
The strengthened presence of African and Oceanic Art at the Brussels Art Fair (BRAFA), shown by 12 (!) dealers, certainly has heightened the effort put into the winter edition of Bruneaf (which originally used to be the less exciting brother of the summer edition, now branded Cultures, confusing isn’t it). While the non-European presence used to be very small, BRAFA truly has become a not to be missed event in our field. Participating galleries are: Didier Claes, Dartevelle, Yann Ferrandin, Jacques Germain, Bernard de Grunne, Grusenmyer-Woliner, Monbrison, Ratton (both father and son!), Guilhem Montagut (for the first time!), Serge Schoffel, and Galerie Schoffel de Fabry – all of them combined, that’s a lot of great art!
Talking about insufficient public relations, no. 3 in Claes’ list, the Oceania exhibition at the Cinquantenaire Museum in Brussels deserves a special mention, as it must be the least publicized exhibition of Oceanic art ever. A shame as it is, although not very big, a great introduction to the art of this region, and, extra points from a young father here, very kid friendly! Fingers crossed that the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, reopening in June after years of renovation, is taking note and preparing a serious media campaign! Anyway, apologies for the rambling – as Didier Claes, I just wanted to invite you to Brussels this month, it’s worth the trip!
Great news on the book front: Kathryn Wysocki Gunsch, Department Head for the Arts of Africa and Oceania at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, just published her eagerly awaited research on Benin plaques as a book. As her academic publisher is not really making any promotion for it (which it rightfully deserves), I thought I gave a little feature here. The blurb reads:
The 16th century bronze plaques from the kingdom of Benin are among the most recognized masterpieces of African art, and yet many details of their commission and installation in the palace in Benin City, Nigeria, are little understood. The Benin Plaques, A 16th Century Imperial Monument is a detailed analysis of a corpus of nearly 850 bronze plaques that were installed in the court of the Benin kingdom at the moment of its greatest political power and geographic reach. By examining European accounts, Benin oral histories, and the physical evidence of the extant plaques, Gunsch is the first to propose an installation pattern for the series.
Gunsch spend more than four years on the subject, traveling the world to handle as many plaques as possible. If you are as obsessed as me with these, this is a must-read. I thought I’d do a small interview with her to tell us more about this research project.
What brought you to Benin plaques ?
I began studying Renaissance art history when I began my masters/PhD program at the Institute of Fine Arts, at NYU. I thought I would minor in African art history, because I had spent a lot of time in Nigeria, Kenya and Rwanda in my former career in international development. I was surprised at how anthropological the discourse in African art history was, especially compared to Renaissance art, and I realized I had more to contribute in this field, so I made African art history my main subject in my second year and never looked back. I have always loved 16th century bronzes — first in Italy and then in Nigeria — and so the Benin bronzes were a natural fit for a topic.
There’s already a lot of literature of the art of the Benin Kingdom, when did you realize you could add something to the existing scholarship?
I had a pit in my stomach when I walked into my first meeting about the project with Susan Vogel, who supervised my dissertation with Jonathan Hay. I had done a preliminary literature survey and couldn’t find the installation proposal for the plaques — I was sure I had somehow missed a major publication. When Susan said there hadn’t been any installation proposal, I knew I had something to offer. It still boggles my mind that no one has tried to reconstruct the 16th century audience hall before — but then again, it is a lot easier to do now that I can organize images of this 850+ corpus on Flickr!
What do you see as the biggest revelation in your book ?
My biggest revelation in the research was that when you look at the entire series, there are overlooked clues to dating and workshop method, as well as the original installation plan. I saw more than 640 plaques in person and another 100 by photograph, and looking at so many helped me find new insights. For example, all of the wide plaques have one of three patterns on their flanges, the small collar of brass perpendicular to the left and right sides of the plaque surface. In the book, I explain how these flange patterns are likely a signature of the head of the brass-casting guild, and that they certainly mark a progression in time. You can see how plaques with one pattern are in lower relief and show less daring use of the medium than the plaques with other patterns, a sign that the brass-casting guild is learning as it completes the commission. Looking at the reverse of the plaques, and the way the river-leaf pattern is applied to the front, I believe we have evidence for a guild production method that shrinks the dating of the corpus to less than 60 years. This is the more objective ‘new news’.
I’m curious to see what readers have to say about my more hypothetical proposal, that pairs and near-identical series can support a theory of which plaques were installed on the same pillar as each other, and why. It turns out that 36% of the known plaques have a near-identical pair. That’s not easy to achieve in lost-wax casting, where the clay mold is destroyed in the casting process. My installation proposal argues that the pairs and sets structure the corpus, giving the installation a framework within the enormous architectural space of the court. I’m trying to explain why the brass-casters would have gone to the extreme effort to make these pairs and sets, and what the Obas reigning at the time — Esigie and Orhogbua — could have achieved with this monumental commission.
Did you get to answer all the questions you had ?
No! We never get to answer all our questions, right? I am still not sure why the first set of plaques has a strict width of 30cm, and the narrow plaques are nearly all 19cm wide, but the later sets are more variable in their width. But if I had answered all my questions, what would I do next?
How was the experience of going to Benin City yourself ?
I loved visiting Benin City. I had spent a lot of time in Abuja and had visited Lagos before, but coming back to Nigeria and spending time in Benin City made me appreciate the importance of the kingdom’s art history today. This isn’t a dead subject — Oba Ewuare II reigns over a thriving court, with all the politics that entails. Seeing his father, Oba Erediauwa, during a title ceremony really brought that home. Thinking about Oba Erediauwa’s commissions in the Ring Road at the city center helped me focus on what kings achieve with the art works they sponsor. I didn’t have an audience with the Oba, but his brothers and other high court officials were gracious and patient with my questions, as was the then-new head of the brass-casting guild, Kingsley Inneh, and his uncle Daniel Inneh. I wish I could go back more often.
What are your future plans ? Is there already another book/project in the pipeline ?
I’m currently working on a theory that the altar figures are paired, just as the plaques are — and I mean paired to the centimeter, not just having similar iconography. It seems that triadic symmetry is a main feature of Benin aesthetics, and I wonder what we can learn about the heads and the altar figures if we apply that idea. I’m not sure it will be enough material for a book, but we’ll see!
I’m looking forward to that; thanks for the interview Kathryn.
If you want to learn more, you have to buy the book; you can can order it here !
I wanted to share some pictures of this unbelievable exhibition currently on view at Berlin’s Bode Museum. This beautiful museum, known for its outstanding collection of European sculpture, now temporarily houses 70 masterpieces from the Ethnologishes Museum (which closed last year) until they will relocate to the newly build Humboldt Forum (to open at the end of 2019).
The African works are placed in smart juxtapositions with the permanent collection creating fascinating dialogues across time, place and religions. Unexpected similarities and differences become apparent: Michel Erhart’s late Gothic Virgin of Mercy appears next to the famous Kongo power figure, which, like the Madonna, was also created to protect a community. Mythical heroes from central Africa take their place among late Gothic Christian figures and open up new perspectives on both collections. The show address major themes of human experience, such as power, death, beauty, memory, aesthetics, and identity. For each of them, the curators (Julien Chapuis, Jonathan Fine and Paola Ivanov) were able to find great object pairings.
Beyond Compare is just one spectacular view after the other. One room downstairs contains the majority of works, but the remainder is spread across the museum, so it is sometimes a bit of treasure hunt (which cleverly makes you explore the whole building). I must say it is one of the most beautiful exhibitions I have ever seen in our field. I’ve become somewhat tired of seeing African art juxtaposed with modern and contemporary Western art, making up links which are not necarilly there. This show merely endeavors to find common themes and for once it is not about who inspired who (although links between St. Sebastian, Madonna-and-child statues and Kongo figures are vaguely suggested).
The installation as well is top-notch; it is clear the Bode Museum has a lot of experience presenting three-dimensional wooden works of art, and many objects can be walked around. It was amazing, as well, to see the standing statue of the Buli Master all by itself, without a case. The Benin leopard in the big staircase is a view I will never forget and the Benin queen (famous from the front cover of Tom Phillips’ Art of a Continent) paired with a Donatello sculpture, as well in bronze, is just genius.
Another plus is the excellent selection, it truly gives you a new perspective of the scope and importance of the Ethnologisches Museum’s collection, showing many masterpieces that hadn’t been on view at the Dahlem for a very long time (the Hemba ancestor figure, for example). This ‘conversation of continents’ is a big success and I would highly recommend a visit. I dream of seeing the Louvre or the Metropolitan doing something like this one day.. but Berlin did it first!
Kuddos to the museum as well for publishing an English version of the catalogue (Musée du quai Branly, please take note!). You can out more about Beyond Compare on the Bode-Museum’s website here. I’ll just let my snapshots do the talking (click to magnify), as you’ll see Beyond Compare truly lives up to its title.
Update: a reader comments, the primitive art indeed pairs very well with the African art 🙂
The year coming to a close and all action behind us, I’m very proud to report that Christie’s in 2017 has been the market leader in the African and Oceanic Art market. Our four sales combined (three in Paris and one in New York), we sold for a total sum of about € 30 million (against € 27 million at our closest competitor). Furthermore, we had the most successful sale of a single-owner collection sale in a decade in Paris with the sale of the Vérité collection, which achieved € 16,7 million, and broke the world record for the most expensive Oceanic art object ever sold at auction: the Hawaiian God statue from the Vérité collection selling for € 6,3 million. Our innovative new sale calendar, our strengthened team, our concept of tightly curated sales, and our top notch catalogues, all were pivotal for this unparalleled success – and there’s still a lot room for growth! We have already been working hard on our next sale in Paris, on April 10th, which will include two exciting fresh-to-the market collections. And there’s much more in the pipeline, not yet to be revealed…
I want to thank you all for the continued support and hope to see you again at Christie’s in the new year. But for now, let me wish you some magical holidays and a great 2018!
ps above my favorite view of the year, with four of the Oceanic masterpieces of the Vérité collection in one picture; I’m very grateful to have had the chance to work with these objects. The success at work unfortunately has come at one small price; it has never been so quiet on this blog before, for which I apologies – although you know to what I’ve been up to 🙂
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.