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A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden

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Sotheby's New York Spring Sale 2008 of African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art Achieves $10,165,325

NEW YORK.- The spring sale of African, Oceanic & Pre-Columbian Art, featuring several distinguished private collections, achieved a total of $10,165,325 (est. $4.7/6.7 million). Today’s sales room was full, with active bidding from clients both in the room and on the telephone.

Heinrich Schweizer, Department Head of African and Oceanic Art in New York, said, “We are extremely pleased with today’s total of over $10 million, repeated for the second consecutive year for our various-owners sale of African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art in New York. The results of today’s auction showed many works achieving prices that are many multiple times their high estimates.”

Jean Fritts, Worldwide Director of African and Oceanic Art said, “Following the record results for this category in New York in May of 2007, today’s sale shows that New York is an exceptional marketplace in which traditional buyers of African and Oceanic Art compete with collectors of other categories of art. In today’s sale, we saw significant crossover interest from collectors of Impressionist and Modern and Contemporary Art who entering the field at the very highest levels of quality, seeking to collect great masterpieces.”

sotheby's african art resultsThe outstanding highlight of today’s sale was A Magnificent and Highly Important Baga Serpent, an impressive sculptural object from The Republic of Guinea from The Dinhofer Collection. Bidding for the Baga Serpent continued for several minutes, with competition from multiple clients before selling to applause for $3,289,000 (lot 58, est. $1.5/2 million), setting a record for a Baga sculpture at auction. This monumental clan insignia was collected in 1957, just prior to the country’s independence, by art dealers Henri and Hélène Kamer. By 1961, the serpent was sold by the Kamers to the gallery of one of the most important dealers of 20th century art: Pierre Matisse, the son of Henri Matisse. In Matisse’s gallery on East 57th Street in New York, the Baga Serpent was exhibited alongside works by Joan Miró and various group shows of contemporary artists including Wifredo Lam, Jean Dubuffet and Alberto Giacometti. Specifically, the exhibition of the Baga Serpent in Matisse’s gallery may have had an influence on the creation of Alexander Calder’s Short Lipped Snake from 1973. An additional highlight from The Dinhofer Collection was A Superb Teke Male Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo, which sold to a bidder in the room for $301,000 (lot 57, est. $100/150,000), setting a record for a Teke sculpture at auction. The Dinhofer Collection, which consisted of lots 44 -75, totaled $3,950,000.

From The Walter and Molly Bareiss Collection of African Art, A Superb and Important Songye Community Power Figure, collected in situ by Gaston Heenen, Governor of Katanga, before 1937, brought bids from at least four interested clients in the room and on the phone, selling for $451,000 (lot 170, est. $250/350,000). Walter and Molly Bareiss, who passed away in 2007 and 2006, respectively, viewed African Art as an aesthetic of the highest accomplishment and complexity. They concentrated their collection on pieces from Central Africa and Southeastern Africa, an area largely ignored by other collectors and museums at the time that they purchased the works. Recognition in the marketplace for works of great quality and age from East Africa was demonstrated by A Tanzanian, Possibly Kerewe, Female Figure, Tanzania, which sold for many times above its high estimate for $205,000 (lot 184, est. $15/25,000), setting a record for an East African sculpture at auction. Another highlight from this region was A Kamba Male Power Figure, Kenya, which brought $61,000 (lot 187, est. $7/10,000). Works from The Walter and Molly Bareiss Collection of African Art (lots 157-187) brought a total of $1,629,875.

From a Private Collection, a Punu Mask, Gabon (lot 139, est. $60/90,000), fetched a price of $337,000. This lost treasure was published in 1915 in a seminal book entitled Negerplastik by Carl Einstein, which had great influence on artists of the 20th century who bought the book and studied its objects. Also from a Private Collection, A Superb Luba Hermaphrodite Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo, a masterful example of Luba artistry, was highly sought after, bringing $511,000 (lot 142, est. $80/120,000).

A Rare Dogon Cliff Painting, Mali from An American Private Collection more than doubled its high estimate, bringing $91,000 (lot 81, est. $25/35,000). Also from an American Private Collection, A Fine Sherbo Female Figure,Sierra Leone fetched $46,000 (lot 95, est. $15/25,000). From A British Private Collection, A Toma Mask, Liberia, lot 97, exceeded its estimate of $30/50,000 to sell for $67,000.

Works from Nigeria were highly sought after and brought great prices. Two lots which came from A German Private Collection demonstrated the American market’s appreciation for works with strength in their sculptural quality: A Superb Ijo Fish Headcrest, Nigeria, realized $79,000 (lot 104, est. $40/60,000); and A Magnificent Ishtan Mask, Nigeria sold for $103,000 (lot 105, est. $30/50,000).

Smaller objects with great attention to fine quality were present in The Bohlen Collection and achieved strong prices. A highlight was A Magnificent Vili Kneeling Figure, Democratic Republic of Congo, lot 134, which surpassed its estimate of $30/50,000 many times to realize a price of $289,000. Also from The Bohlen Collection, An Important Bembe Male Ancestor Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo, sold for $109,000 (lot 123, est. $50/70,000).

OCEANIC ART
From the Oceanic offerings, A Fine Nias Male Ancestor Figure, Republic of Indonesia, lot 32, more than tripled its estimate of $40/60,000 to achieve a price of $157,000 and was purchased by an American Institution. A Marshall Islands Pounder, made from the shell of a Tridacna Gigas (giant clam), brought $73,000 (lot 42, est. $20/30,000). Only a very small number of these pounders, whose delicate shapes mirror the curves of Constantin Brancusi’s Bird in Space, are known to exist. Another highlight from the Oceanic section was A Hawaiian Bowl, Hawaii, featuring a fine lustrous dark brown patina, which sold for $85,000 (lot 36, est. $7/10,000).

PRE-COLUMBIAN ART
The selection of 30 Pre-Columbian objects was highlighted by a Large Olmec Jade Mask, Middle Preclassic, ca. 900-300 BC, which sold for $481,000 (lot 14, est. $400/600,000), setting a record for an Olmec mask at auction. From The Dinhofer Collection, a Tiwanaku Wood Beaker, ca. AD 500-1000 fetched $43,000 (lot 9, est. $35/45,000), purchased for an American museum

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The Tribal Arts of Africa
Author: Jean-Baptiste Bacquart

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