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.
Begun nearly a century ago, the Vérité Collection astounded the world and shattered records when these treasures of African and Oceanic art came to market in 2006, and created a new benchmark at auction (selling more than 500 objects for almost € 44,000,000!). Imagine the amazing surprise today, 11 years later, that more masterpieces, the ones they kept, could emerge again as the last secrets of Ali Baba’s cave! It has been a fantastic journey to be able to work on this catalogue, which is now available online here.
Pierre Vérité (1900-1993) began collecting in the 1920s, at the dawn of French art market and a time when someone with a knowledgeable eye and a sharp sense could secure unimaginable masterpieces of African and Oceanic art. Like magicians, together with his son, Claude (b. 1928), they quietly ‘hid in plain sight’ and continued their collecting endeavours into the golden age of the 1950s and 1960s, with no one fully knowing the extent of their treasures.
At the heart of this momentous strand of last pearls is the Hawaiian god figure (lot 153). A work that Claude Vérité always remembers from his childhood and amongst the most coveted. As with most of the Vérité works, its origin is unknown. Possibly found in the English countryside, or brought to the gallery in exchange for another ‘piece of wood’. What we know today is that is can now be appreciated amongst the greatest works of art ever created – equal on the great world stage to any other iconic sculpture to which it could possibly be compared. It was created at the apogee of Hawaiian sculpture during the late 18th century and the sovereignty of Kamehameha I, who associated himself with the great god of war – Ku ka ‘ili moku – whom this figure surely represents. His name means – land snatcher – and his power and purpose was fully aligned with the mission of Kamehameha I to so-called ‘unite’ the islands under his reign. This is what we now call the famous Kona style – a hallmark being the broad, figure-eight mouth, nearly extended tongue inside a prognathous jaw- also called ‘the mouth of disrespect’ – distended eyes and the posture of a wrestler. It is surely the same masterhand as another famous sculpture in the British Museum (LMS 223) collected by Tyerman and Bennett in 1823. Important to note that they are each carved from the same wood – metrosideros – or ohi lehua. A symbolic tree found only in the high mountains with red flowers and once cut the core looks like raw flesh.
Another major sculpture is the Walden-Kraemer-Loeb Ancestral Figure called Uli for the Malangaan in New Ireland (lot 145). With its deep, black patina and tight posture and carving details, it is an archaic style of one of the most celebrated sculptural figures of the South Pacific – the ancestral Uli. As with most Vérité objects, it had a secret life. It was only in recent months that we unlocked its font of history and provenance – from its collection in a New Ireland village in 1909 to its home in the famous collection of Pierre Loeb – the important avant-garde modern art gallerist, scholar, voyager and collector of les ‘arts premiers’ – by 1929 to the last time it was seen in public in 1930. It was seen at the landmark exhibition at Galerie Pigalle, and as one of the few Oceanic works of art presented, it was featured in an editorial review of the show penned by Carl Einstein, another luminary of the early 20th century, a critic and historian who championed both modern and African and Oceanic art.
The magnificent range of Kota reliquary figures is of a level not seen together in public in many years – apart from what we can see at the current major exhibition at the Musée du Quai Branly Jacques Chirac and featuring works of art from Gabon, ‘Les Forêts Natales’ – here in the Vérité collection we see 11 (!) variations on this classical, evergreen form appreciated for its abstract form, astonishing range of variation on a theme and the assembly of materials in wood and precious metals. From a Kota by a masterhand we could call the ‘Stieglitz Master’ for being the same atelier as another formerly in the collection of Alfred Stieglitz and now at the Musée Dapper – to a delicate Shamaye and Sango type – and a rare Mahongwe. The most important piece from this group is a Kota of the N’Dassa, which is estimated at €200,000-300,000 (lot 94).
Another amazing discovery is a beautiful and classical Hemba figure from the Democratic Republic of Congo (lot 115), representing a heroic ancestor among his clan. Apart from the famous Hemba in the Antwerp museum, very few of these sculptures made their way to Europe before the 1970s. It was clearly created by an important Hemba artist who thoughtfully made a signature style with diamond-shaped eyes, which are echoed in the shape of the navel – the center of the life and portal to the supernatural realm. In a chance discovery, we found that it was part of the landmark 1935 exhibition – African Negro Art – at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), when at the time it was part of the collection of Pierre Loeb. The catalogue entry demonstrates it was still an unknown style and he is simply referred to as being from Tanganiyka in the Congo.
Some history of the Vérité Collection:
In 1934, Pierre and Suzanne Vérité opened their first shop called – Arnod, Art Nègre – on the Rue Huyghens, in Montparnasse. The address, suggested to them by their friend and neighbour, the American artist John Graham, was illustrative of those early years and synergistic time when in 1916, the Lyre et Palette gallery, located a little further down the street, held the first Parisian exhibition that combined Modern art (Matisse, Picasso and Modigliani) with African art. Art dealers and collectors such as Paul Guillaume, Charles Ratton, Pierre Loeb and André Portier met and mingled at the Vérités’ gallery, alongside members of the Parisian avant-garde – the Surrealists Paul Eluard, André Breton and Tristan Tzara – and the international avant-garde, including Helena Rubinstein and James J. Sweeney, to whom Graham introduced the Vérités.
In 1937, they moved to the heart of Montparnasse on boulevard Raspail, and there Galerie Carrefour was born. More than ever, the Vérités were at the nexus of haute- Parisian cultural life in their salon. ‘Welcome to my forest’ – Pierre’s affectionate gallery greeting to his gallery and its inhabitants from Africa and Oceania – was likely spoken to the virtual constellation of 20th century modernists – Matisse, Picasso, André Lhote, Marcoussis, Breton, Eluard, Ernst, Derain, Lipchitz, Magnelli, Léger &c.
Pierre and Suzanne Vérité acquired most of the masterpieces of their personal collection during the 1930s, however their collection was not revealed to the public until 1950s when a few exhibitions came to light with works from their collection: 1951 at Galerie La Geintilhommerie, ‘Arts de l’Océanie’, 1952 and 1955 at Galerie Leleu, ‘Chefs-d’Oeuvre de l’Afrique Noire’ and ‘Magie du Décor dans le Pacifique’; ‘Art Afrique Noire’ 1954 at the Musée Réatu in Arles organized by such luminaries as Michel Leiris, Pierre Guerre, Charles Ratton, Pierre Vérité himself, and LeCourneur and Roudillon – here it was the last time that objects from the collection would be named as such. Later, though they remained generous in their loans and contribution to the academic knowledge of African and Oceanic art, their names only appear episodically, or not at all for instance the loan of the great Fang Ngil to the Museum of Modern Art’s ‘Primitivism’ in 1984 – anonymous.
The sale of the collection is on 21 November 2017 at 3pm and promises to be the event of the year; you are more than welcome to come preview the final treasures from this collection on:
15 Nov, 10am – 6pm
16 Nov, 10am – 6pm
17 Nov, 10am – 6pm
18 Nov, 10am – 6pm
19 Nov, 2pm – 6pm
20 Nov, 10am – 6pm
21 Nov, 10am – 2pm
I hope to see you there! Don’t hesitate to get in touch if I can be of any assistance.
I’m proud to announce the catalogue for our African and Oceanic Art sale of 22 November in Pars is now online; you can find it here. As the appetite for Oceanic art has never been so strong, we actively sourced top material to be included in this sale. We’re very proud of the result, with more than half of the sale being Oceanic in nature and many exceptional objects one rarely encounters at auction (for example the Fiji statue, the Tahiti statue, the Hawaiian game board, and especially the Hawaiian god staf). The African art section is also very strong, including one of the most iconic Dan masks known (shown during African Negro Art at the MOMA in 1935), a top-notch Songye kifwebe mask (never on public view before), and of course the cover lot: an ancient Northern Hemba statue once owned by Jacques Kerchache – an exceptional masterpiece in an amazing condition for its age. There are much more goodies in the sale of course, but I’ll let you discover them yourselves. Now that this catalogue is ready, it is finally time for this blog to come out of hibernation mode! It’s my hope to be able to post more frequently again and I regret not having more time to spend writing for the blog. I hope to see you in Paris for the preview, the dates:
15 Nov, 10am – 6pm
16 Nov, 10am – 6pm
17 Nov, 10am – 6pm
18 Nov, 10am – 6pm
19 Nov, 2pm – 6pm
20 Nov, 10am – 6pm
21 Nov, 10am – 2pm
Sale 22 Nov, 4 pm
Don’t hesitate to get in touch if I can be of any assistance.
just a short message to inform you about the dates of our upcoming fall sales so you can mark them in your agenda. On Tuesday 21 November, Christie’s will be selling an exceptional private collection of African, Oceanic and Northern American Art. I can’t reveal much just yet, but this evening sale of around 180 fresh-to-the-market objects will be a not to be missed event. The next day, on Wednesday 22 November, we’re having a day sale with 60 carefully selected objects sourced from different private collections. So now you can imagine what I’ve been up to lately, hence the silence on the blog..
The preview of both sales starts on Wednesday 15 November at 10 am and closes on Monday 20 November at 6 pm. We’re open daily from 10 am to 6 pm, except on Sunday 19 November, only between 2 pm and 6 pm. An invitation to the cocktail will accompany the catalogue once it is ready around early October.
Our next sales of African, Oceanic and North American Art thus will already take place in Paris in November instead of the traditional mid-December date, just as the Laprugne sale was moved ahead to a more favorable April instead of June date. Our main, dedicated collecting base, which is strongly European, as well as our top collectors from the United States and around the world, have responded favorably to our new agenda which is more in line with the current market’s rhythm. This spring in Paris we saw exceptional prices among which two new world records at auction, for a Kota Sango figure from the Laprugne Collection (€938,500) and for the iconic Rasmussen-DeHavenon Dogon mask (€2,370,500). As previously reported, these strong results made us market leaders for African and Oceanic art in Paris for the first half of 2017. Furthermore, in April, an archaic Sepik mask from Papua New Guinea sold for seven times its low estimate (€290,500), confirming the growing appetite for quality works from Melanesia. Our day-sale on 22 November will therefor again present a strong selection of fresh-to-the market Oceanic art; this time with a focus on the art of New Ireland and New Britain. The below archaic Hemba figure, once sold by the famous taste-maker Jacques Kerchache, is one more of the many objects to look forward to.
We’ll hope to see you in Paris for Parcours de Mondes, starting on Tuesday 12 September, during which we will also show a small selection of highlights of both sales at our Paris headquarters. Should you be in Paris on any other moment before or after, don’t hesitate to get in touch for a private viewing.
But for now, let me just wish you a fantastic summer, full of joy, good company and great art.
With the first half of 2017 behind us, I’m proud to announce that Christie’s is now the market leader for African and Oceanic art in Paris. As the above graph shows we sold for more than 1 million euro worth of art more than our nearest competitor. Our innovative new auction calendar, the strengthening of our team (enter Victor Teodorescu), the company-wide support, the tightly curated selection, the experienced directorship of Susan Kloman and the presence of ‘the legend’ Pierre Amrouche in our team all steered us towards this goal. And, it is our intention and strong ambition to maintain this position onwards. For now, I can’t reveal much about the second half of the year, but I promise you even more fireworks. As we say in our office, team work makes the dream work!
But for now, happy holidays everybody*!! I hope to see you in Paris for Parcours des Mondes during which we will already preview some masterpieces of our fall sales at our Paris headquarters.
*not for us obviously as such auctions don’t make themselves 🙂
Sad tidings from Paris, the Musée Dapper will be closing its doors permanently on 18 June 2017 🙁 You can find the official press release here (French only). The brainchild of Michel Leveau (who passed away in 2012) and Christiane Falgayrettes-Leveau, the museum was founded in 1986 to stimulate the interest in African culture. It moved to its current location in 2000. The Dapper foundation will continue its mission, but without having a permanent exhibition space (which had become too expensive to run).
The best private African and Oceanic art museum in the world, the Musée Dapper set up over 40 (!) groundbreaking shows over the years – without any public funding. All its excellent exhibition catalogues easily take up a full shelf in one’s library. It’s current exhibition, Masterpieces of Africa (which was already prolonged) will be its last. So don’t sleep if you want to say goodbye to all these treasures. The museum’s presence will be sorely missed; it’s a huge loss for our field.
ps this October, the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac will include some of the masterpieces of the Dapper collection in their big upcoming Gabon exhibition.
Last week Artnet, one of the most important and widely read websites about the art market, interviewed this years honorary president of Parcours des Mondes about his passion for African art. The interview took place ahead of Frieze New York, which was showing tribal art for the first time (with Galerie Meyer, Entwistle and Donald Ellis participating). At the same time as TEFAF NY (with the presence of Jacques Germain, Tambaran Gallery and Galerie Meyer), the Almine Rech Imaginary Ancestors exhibition, and coinciding with the preview of Christie’s African art sale TIMELESS, there definitely was a momentum going on in New York city, which elicited the interest of Artnet. You can read the full interview here. An excerpt:
How does the tribal art market compare to the contemporary art market in terms of price points?
I think the record for an African tribal art work at auction is $12 million—that is the pinnacle. You can still get masterpieces depending on the type of object. And there are incredible objects that can be bought for under $100,000. Recently, Christie’s in Paris sold a really iconic Dogon mask with a figure on top that was in all the important museum shows for $2,5 million. It’s a chunk of change, but if you compare it to contemporary artists where we don’t even know if they’re going to be around in 20 years, then it’s not that much. So relatively speaking, the high end is in the low millions—maybe between $1-6 million—whilst in the modern and contemporary market, an edition by Koons can cost more.
I couldn’t have said it better. And that’s why we are so proud of our upcoming sale, bringing together a selective group of top notch African art – below two teaser installation views of the preview. As you can see, African art does get its rightful place at Christie’s (amidst works of Brancusi, Braque and Basquiat).
Kuddos to François Boulanger, who’s Sanza blog just passed its 10th year – after more than 1500 blog posts and 50,000 pictures! Early on, Boulanger understood the importance of the internet and created several websites documenting his adventures in the African art scene. In fact, I think he probably created the first blog dedicated to African art! It’s a perfect site for the armchair traveller far away 🙂
Boulangers has photographed hundreds of ephemeral exhibitions, mostly in galleries in Brussels and Paris, thereby generating lasting visual documents for us to enjoy. It’s quite an archive. Apart from the Sanza page, he also has a website documenting his acquisitions of traditional African instruments (here), of which he has one of the largest private collections in the world – a wonderful selection his thumb pianos (known as sanza, hence the blog’s name) was exhibited in Brussels in 2011, images here.
PS some adventures of yours truly (in his pre-Christie’s days) are as well documented on the site: click here to see pictures of the exhibition on African weapons (“Vlijmscherp” – Razor Sharp) I organized at Ghent University seven years ago, or here for pictures of the exhibition I organized in 2013 to celebrate the launch of my Ibeji book.
I’m proud to announce our May sale in New York, “Timeless: Masterworks of African Art“; you can browse the catalogue online here. This exceptional sale features only twelve masterworks of African Art. As the exhibition and auction will coincide with Christie’s major 20th Century Week sales, which always attract huge crowds to our Rockefeller Center viewing rooms, we wish to confront these new audiences with only the best of the best. As last year’s curated sale, Evolution of Form, the twelve works will be in good company and spread throughout the viewing rooms.
A celebration the diversity of form and innovation of African artistry, from the West coast, to Central and to South Africa, these rare works are fresh to the market and maintain distinguished provenance, which is further enhanced by their exhibition histories and published literature. From incarnations of gods, supreme beings and oracles to works of virtuosity and idealized beauty this presentation is highly rich and was brought together not only to present classical examples, in addition to the Dogon maternity, such as the Bédiat-Huston Baule mask and Matisse Fang Figure, but foremost works of innovation rarely seen on the market – such as the Grebo mask, the Pindi dancing fgure, the Mfumte fgure and the Tsonga female fgure from South Africa. Although these masterworks have only become ‘art’ rather recently upon their arrival in Europe and the United States in the 20th century, Timeless aspires to reveal their universal qualities and demonstrate their rightful place on the great world stage of art throughout time and space.
The sale is on Friday 19 May at 10AM. The viewing days are:
6 May, 10am – 5pm
7 May, 1pm – 5pm
8 May, 10am – 5pm
9 May, 10am – 5pm
10 May, 10am – 5pm
11 May, 10am – 5pm
12 May, 10am – 5pm
13 May, 10am – 5pm
14 May, 1pm – 5pm
15 May, 10am – 5pm
16 May, 10am – 5pm
17 May, 10am – 5pm
18 May, 10am – 5pm
I hope to see you there!
ps If you were wondering.. the sale’s theme was partly inspired by a text by André Malraux, Promenades imaginaires dans Florence, from 1975:
On this earth of ours where everything is subject to the passing of time, one thing only is both subject to time and yet victorious over it: the work of art.
After Adam Lindemann (info) and Javier Peres (info), a third major contemporary art gallery is staging an African art show. Imaginary Ancestors is an exhibition organized and hosted by Almine Rech Gallery in New York with Bernard de Grunne as guest curator for the Arts of Africa. The press release reads:
Imaginary Ancestors is a group exhibition looking at Primitivism in modern and contemporary art, which comprises two parts: One room will be dedicated to works by André Derain and Max Pechstein together with a restaging of the exhibition Early African Heads and Statues from the Gabon Pahouin Tribes. That landmark show was originally realized by Paul Guillaume at the Durand- Ruel Gallery on 57th Street in New York, from February 15 to March 10, 1933. This exhibition was the first show to be devoted to a single African art style, with a large group of Fang sculptures presented on a table alongside Derain paintings made at the time. For Imaginary Ancestors, Bernard de Grunne sourced the majority of the sculptures included in the original exhibition, which will be reunited for the first time since 1933 at Almine Rech Gallery New York. A second room of this exhibition will present modern and contemporary artworks inspired by primitive art including primitive pieces from the personal collections of Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder and David Smith.
You can find more info here. Almine Rech, married to Bernard Picasso, has access to Picasso’s African art collection still in the family’s possession, so the second part surely will be a treat as well. The opening is on May 2, 2017, and the exhibition runs until June 15, 2017. Kuddos to Amine Rech and Bernard de Grunne for making this happen; this surely will be a historical show. Below additional, less known, installation shots of the original exhibition at Durand-Ruel Galleries in 1933. I’m curious how the new installation will look!