Tag Archives: Fang

“Imaginary Ancestors”, restaging a famous Fang exhibition from 1933 at Almine Rech Gallery in New York, May-June 2017

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!

A Fang-Ntumu figure reveals its secrets


Four years ago I did a small study of the above Ntumu figure from Gabon; in my description I wrote: “Sometimes the eyes of byeri statues served as an opportunity for the integration of relics into the figure itself by embedding fragments of bone, often in the form of teeth, into deeply excaved cavities – which could be the case here.” A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by the current owner of this statue. He had taken the figure to his radiologist to test my hypothesis. A scan proved me right and revealed the presence of three human molars: 2 behind the eyes and 1 inserted in the forehead (which had not been spotted on the statue before) – a great discovery! Next time you have an appointment at your radiologist, don’t forget to bring an African statue 🙂

UPDATE: a reader writes that the third tooth is an upper premolar.





An interview with Tambaran Gallery’s Maureen Zarember

Maureen Zarember. Image courtesy of Tambaran Gallery.

Maureen Zarember. Image courtesy of Tambaran Gallery.

Click here for a nice interview with Maureen Zarember, who’s been running Tambaran Gallery since 1979. It includes a great story about the above Fang figure:

This figure lay on its back on the floor of a glass case in Sotheby’s auction house, approximately 25 years ago. Almost discarded, not worth standing upright, not attracting attention. Bidding was slow and uninteresting—almost boring—so I won the bid. Afterwards, I was told I had bought a fake, and not to pay for it. However, I was approached by a senior collector who congratulated me and stated, “It’s published,” but couldn’t remember where. I searched books on Fang and Gabon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, unfortunately without success.

Several years later, a Parisian dealer asked me if I still had that old thing, and enquired if it was for sale. I answered, “No, it is published, but I am still hunting for the book.” After several attempts, offering a very handsome profit, the dealer finally realized I would not part with it. I researched and traced the Fang to Pierre Loeb and Pierre Matisse, as it was photographed by Walker Evans for an exhibition at the MoMA in 1935. We have no record of its whereabouts after 1935 until it surfaced at Sotheby’s, a bit shabby for wear. It had traveled widely, as it was found in California, supposedly in the garbage. During my possession, it started to sweat—the libation palm oil was coming to the surface—and it acquired a wonderful dark patina. What tales we might hear if she could speak! Happily, the torso was loaned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the “Eternal Ancestors” in 2007, and published in their catalog (plate 29).

I did some research and Ms. Zarember paid $ 27,500 for the Fang in 1992 (Sotheby’s, New York, 18 May 1992. Lot 181); it was indeed sold without any provenance. Certainly an incredible story! Research always pays off.

Review Parcours des Mondes 2015

Yaure mask Olivier Castellano Ivory Coast Parcours des Mondes

The 14th edition of Parcours des Mondes again was a big success*. With a baby at home, I only spent 3 days in Paris, but I succeeded in visiting every gallery at least once. I had never seen the galleries so crowded on the opening day, and it was not uncommon to find more than a dozen collectors in one gallery at the same time, so I would say visitor numbers were higher than ever before. The dollar being in a better situation than last year (or should we say the euro in a weaker position) certainly helped attracting more US collectors than the previous years.

*at least for the visitors, I’m not aware of the number of sales on the dealer’s end..

My favorite object in Paris was a Yaure mask presented by Olivier Castellano that succeeded in giving me goosebumps. As so many top Ivory Coast objects, it came from the Bediat collection. Not surprisingly it was sold immediately on the day of the opening for a six-number figure. Of an outstanding refinement, yet so simple in its rendering of the human face, this mask still haunts me after two weeks – in a good way. Probably one of the most talked about objects was an exceptional Kongo figure presented by Philippe Ratton. Still with all its original adornments intact and with its head slightly turned to the right, this statue was of a quality one normally only encounters in museums.

Kongo figure Philippe Ratton Parcours des Mondes

As always, there were a lot of thematic exhibitions, although some dealers were honest enough to call their theme ‘Latest acquisitions’. As said in my review of last year’s edition (here), for most of us the fair is about discovery anyway. Still some dealers did the effort and succeeded in creating remarkable exhibitions. Personally, I was very charmed by Jean-Yves Coué’s Madagascar show, perhaps a bit too ethnographic for many, but with a selection of objects one rarely gets to see. Impressive as well, was the “Animals” show of Lucas Ratton, in both quantity as quality. Joshua Dimondstein was brave enough to show a selection of (nowadays not so popular) heddle pulleys from Ivory Coast, and, also from the US, Bruce Frank presented a collection of something what I guess only the specialists knew before: terracotta masks from Papua New Guinea. From Spain, David Serra had brought with him a collection of fascinating Lhoro bronzes.

Luba figure Warua Master Bernard Dulon Parcours des Mondes

Good to see back was the Luba figure from the Warua Master (sold by Sotheby’s NY earlier this year; info), on view at Bernard Dulon – now without the ugly restoration of the feet and its oily patina dust-free, an improvement. I did miss Arte Y Ritual, who were not participating this year and usually a must-see, but Martin Doustar filled the hole they left and put up an impressive mask show in their old space – unfortunately with one of the star pieces still stuck in customs. Across the street, Bernard de Grunne had brought a small but outstanding selection, including a blocky and powerful Northern Congolese statue, which was juxtaposed beautifully with a slim elongated Fang figure – a view I will not forget quickly.

Ngbaka Fang figure Bernard de Grunne Parcours de Mondes 2015

As said earlier here, this year was the first edition that included galleries specialized in Asian art; twenty renowned dealers with specialties in Chinese, Japanese, Himalayan, Indian, and, Southeast Asian art were exhibiting, so there was a lot extra to see. Most of what I saw was of an outstanding quality and especially the galleries of Marcel Nies and Jacques Barrere left a strong impression on me. I did see African art collectors going into the Asian art galleries so the interest definitely was there – but since I don’t recognize the Asian art aficionados, I don’t know the statement holds true the other way around. Anyway, a sign of the success of the fair’s enlargement might be the fact that yours truly brought home a 13th century Indian bronze purchased from Frederic Rond – who is based in Alain Lecomte’s old gallery (and thus on familiar territory).

Jina Parshvanatha Jain Bruno Claessens Parcours des Mondes

Parcours des Mondes (which means ‘Journeys through Worlds’) this year thus was truer to its name than ever before. It was, again, a flawless edition, so many compliments to its organizers for all the hard work behind the scenes. Parcours through the years has become much more than just an ‘open doors’-type event; it has become the start of our ‘season’ and the place where one sees one’s friends back in the beautiful Parisian quarter that is Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

A new museum exhibiting African art in Barcelona

The Museum of World Cultures Barcelona

If you need an excuses for a trip to Barcelona: this weekend the new Museu de Cultures del Mon (Museum of World Cultures) opened. It is located in the gothic palaces Nadal (which until 2012 contained the Barbier-Mueller Museum of pre-Columbian Art) and Marquès de Llió, in the historic Montcada Street of Barcelona (across the Picasso Museum). The museum displays around 700 objects from Asia, Africa and Oceania and is based on the 2,300 objects on loan for a period of 20 years to Barcelona City Council from the Folch Foundation, as well as a selection of objects from the non-European collections of the Ethnological Museum of Barcelona and other important collections from across Spain. Of its 2.100 square meters, 1.300 will be occupied by the permanent collection and 300 by the temporary exhibitions. Here you can see some highlights of their African holdings. Below some images of the installation – with thanks to Javier Lentini for the pictures.

Museu de Cultures del Mon

Museu de Cultures del Mon

Museu de Cultures del Mon

Museu de Cultures del Mon

Museu de Cultures del Mon

And a short video (in Catalan):

Two Fang objects under the CT-scan

Fang spoon. Height: 19 cm. Image courtesy of Sotheby's.

Fang spoon. Height: 19 cm. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Scantix‘s Marc Ghysels has just made two new CT-scans available to the public: one of Myron Kunin’s Fang head, viewable here and the other from the last lot in the upcoming Sotheby’s sale: the magnificent Fang spoon illustrated above. Thanks to this scan one gets a much better view on how the ‘hidden’ janus (!) figure behind the delicate grating looks like. Quite a tour de force by the artist.

Image courtesy of Scantix.

Image courtesy of Scantix.

The postcards of Jean Audema

Jean Audema postcard Vili diviner Kongo

The above postcard featuring a Vili diviner holding a statue and accompanied by two musicians is well known. It’s photographer, Jean François Audema (1864-1921), who joined the French colonial service in 1894, made numerous photos in Gabon, Congo and Tchad between 1894 and 1912. The National Museum of African Art’s Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives has made these precious time-documents available online here (ca. 150 images). If you wish to learn more about Audema and his photographs: Christraud Geary gives a short assessment of his work held by the Smithsonian in In and Out of Focus: Images from Central Africa, 1885-1960 (London, 2002) and David MacDougall dedicates a chapter to the man in The Corporeal Image: Film, Ethnography and the Senses (Princeton University Press, 2006).

Jean Audema postcard Fang woman choker

Jean Audema postcard Ubangi warriors

Jean Audema postcard Yakoma village Congo

“Embodiments” – African art from the Scheller collection at the de Young (2015)

Nkundu Figure. Collection Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, gift of Richard H. Scheller. (2013.78.5. ) & Fang Figure. Scheller collection (L13.34.1.) Pictures by Robert A. Kato.

Nkundu Figure. Collection Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, gift of Richard H. Scheller (2013.78.5) & Fang Figure. Scheller collection (L13.34.1). Ex Paul Guillaume. Pictures by Robert A. Kato.

Embodiments: Masterworks of African Figurative Sculpture, organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, will run from January 31, 2015 to July 5, 2015 and presents 120 pieces from the collection of Richard H. Scheller. It will be composed of classic and iconic sculptures as well as more unusual examples that challenge commonly held assumptions about African art; approximately 110 cultural groups will be represented. From this interview with Mr. Scheller we learn that he has already given certain pieces to the de Young (as the Nkundu figure above), and that it is his intent that the pieces of the exhibition will be given to the de Young in the future. The collection was assembled over nearly 30 years and many of the objects have never been exhibited before – so it’s certainly something to look forward too. Turns out that the Hemba figure on the front cover of Alisa LaGamma’s Heroic Ancestors is also in the Scheller collection.

Image courtesy of Richard Scheller.

Hemba figure. Image courtesy of Richard Scheller.

Günther Tessmann’s memoirs

Günther Tessmann Gabon Fang Lübeck The German Günther Tessmann was one of the first to seriously study the Fang, resulting in his magnus opus Die Pangwe from 1913. Although he was not a trained anthropologist, he nevertheless may be considered one of the pioneers of ethnographic field research. The Museum of Lübeck recently has digitalized his handwritten memoirs. You can read them here – especially band 2 and 3 are of interest; they are of course written in German. More bands are following later this year, read more about the project here. All the objects that Tessmann donated to the Ethnological Collections of the City of Lübeck unfortunately still aren’t available online.

Günter Tessmann was born in Lübeck in 1884. After finishing school he did an apprenticeship on tropical gardening at the colonial school in Witzenhausen. Eventually Tessman went to Cameron and Spanish-Guinea (now: Equatorial Guinea), where he did botanical and zoological research. Moreover, Tessman developed a growing interest in Anthropology and began to collect ethnographic material and data. Between 1907 and 1909 Tessman conducted field research in Cameron and Spanish-Guinea on behalf of his hometown Lübeck, to which he donated his complete ethnographic collection (now: Ethnological Collection of the City of Lübeck). Tessmann furthermore published a two-volume monograph on the Pangwe (Fang) people in 1913, including many aspects of their culture, history, religion and arts. Due to the success of his work, he started another field research the same year, this time in Eastern Cameron on behalf of the German Colonial Department. Due to the difficult circumstances during World War I Tessmann had to interrupt his field work several times. After 1918 he more and more shifted his focus on South America. Between 1921 and 1926 he did a number of researches on the ethnic groups in Peru. After his return to Germany completed his doctorate in 1928. In 1923 Tessman had published another monograph, this time on the Bubi people. This publications was followed by his work on the different people and languages of Cameron in 1932, his monograph on the Bafia in 1934 and his two-volume monograph on the Baja people in 1934/37. Tessmann´s intense long term stationary field work was at high standard for his time. After the Nazi regime banned him from teaching at the university in Halle, Tessmann migrated to Brazil in 1936. There he worked as a botanist at the Museu Paranaense and the Instituto de Biologia in Curitiba. Tessmann retired in 1958. Günter Tessmann died in Curibita in 1969.

UPDATE: a reader informed me that while Tessmann’s Pangwe book sells for more than € 1,000 these days, one can buy a fascimile for € 146 here (vol. 1) & here (vol. 2).

Fang: An Epic Journey (Susan Vogel, 2001)

fang an epic journey

I just discovered the trailer of a documentary I have been wanting to see for a long time*. You can watch it here. Fang: An Epic Journey, a film by Susan Vogel, recounts a Fang figure’s journey through a century of peril and adventure, and uses the film styles of each historical period to tell its story – a whole century of Western attitudes towards African culture packed into 8 minutes. A fantastic idea if you ask me. Much more information can be found in the illustrated dvd booklet, free to download here – which also features the notes of an interesting roundtable discussion on the subject.

* The DVD is still for sale here, but priced slightly above my budget.

ps the featured “Fang” figure is currently in the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery (info).