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Back at the office

Yombe maternity figure. Height: 28 cm. Image courtesy of Sotheby's.
Yombe maternity figure. Height: 28 cm. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

After a short holiday in Portugal, I’m back at my office. I wanted to visit the Museu de Ethnologia in Lissabon but learned the storage room with African art unfortunately isn’t visitable. In the meantime, the world did not stop turning; some African art related news stories below:

  • Kathryn Gunsch has been appointed as Teel Curator of African and Oceanic Art at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. She starts on Sept 22, 2014, and will oversee the MFA’s growing collection of art from Africa and Oceania, which is displayed in the new Benin Kingdom Gallery, as well as the recently re-installed Arts of Africa Gallery and the upcoming Arts of the Pacific Gallery, opening on Nov 12th. Gunsch comes to the MFA from the Baltimore Museum of Art, where she served as Department Head for the Arts of Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Pacific Islands. She completed her Ph.D. at New York University in 2012, with a dissertation on the bronze plaques from the ancient Kingdom of Benin – complementing the MFA’s recent acquisition of 32 Benin objects from the Robert Owen Lehman Collection (info). Gunsch replaces long-time curator Christraud Geary, who retired in 2013 after 10 very productive years at the Museum. Geary was the Museum’s first Curator of African and Oceanic Art, and is now Teel Senior Curator Emerita.
  • Sotheby’s New York announced that it will be selling the Myron Kunin collection this November (info, often listed as ‘Curtis Galleries’ in catalogues). This single owner sale will number approximately 190 lots, estimated to fetch $ 20-30 million – a record for an African art auction in the US! The collection includes several lots acquired fairly recent at Sotheby’s, for example the Yombe maternity figure from the Robert Rubin collection, bought by Kunin in 2011 for 1,874,500 $ (now estimated $ 1,5-2 million) and the cover lot from the 2009 Chaim Gross sale, a Ngbaka figure which sold for 1,258,500 $ (now estimated $ 1,2-1,8 million). Both objects were hammered down at record prices – I wonder if it’s not too soon to redo this incredible achievement. The same applies to a small Vili figure which Kunin acquired in 2008 for 289,000 $ (estimated $ 30-50,000) – will the underbidder be back for this little gem? A Fang head bought in 2002 for 449,500 $ and published in Carl Einstein’s groundbreaking publication Negerplastik in 1915, is estimated $ 600-900,000 and will certainly receive a lot of attention. Most recently this head was on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Yaëlle Biro’s exhibition African Art, New York, and the Avant-Garde. There are much more blue-chip artworks in the Kunin collection; the guy definitely had taste, and the means to pursue it. As always, the best budget is no budget – let’s hope for Sotheby’s the same will apply to their bidders. Highlights will be on view in Paris from 9-22 September.
  • Lastly, I was threatened with a lawsuit for posting a story about a fake mask – the first time I did that by the way. Last year, I had already written about the growing reluctance of art experts of expressing their opinion freely – read more about it here. I now experienced first hand how far people wish to go to silence somebody.