A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden
The police follows the track of 35 African sculptures robbed in the Foundation Folch
JACINTH ANTÓN - Barcelona EL PAÍS- 10-09-2005
"Very mysterious". That's how the robbery is described by a person near the case at the Foundation Folch of Barcelona where 35 valuable wood sculptures of African art, in its majority of the ethnic group fang, are stolen.
The thieves entered very easily during a weekend in the building where the impressive collection keeps more than 4,000 objects of ethnic art worldwide, from Eastern sculptures and fetiches to carved canoes, posts, boomerangs, shields, relief's and lances. The removed works could reach in the market a value of several million euros.
The collection, reunited specially during the Sixties and the seventy on the land by the industrial and chemical disappeared Catalan Albert Folches-Rusiñol (1922-1988), is not open to the public and until now - all the visits only could be seen with previous appointment. The thieves acted without causing destructions and with an exact idea of their objective. They opened the display cabinets of African art and selected with exquisite taste of connaisseurs the most beautiful and valuable statues, leaving back good part of the collection and without touching pieces of other civilizations, like the precious golden tibetan statuettes in the adjacent display cabinets.
The robbery took place in the afternoon between last hour of of Friday 8 of April and the morning of Monday 11 2005, but neither the foundation nor the police, that investigates the case , have made it public, although antique dealers and curators have been warned. The local museum where the collection is kept, in the low part of the great familiar house in the avenue of Pearson, in Pedralbes, lacks great safety measures: like a guard dedicated specifically to his protection or monitoring cameras . Some sources assure that the collection, that provides pieces for exhibitions regularly, is not assured.
For the removed fang pieces, the best ones of the set, any collector would give a million euros, has explained to this newspaper a specialist. Nowadays most wanted of African art, in Europe and the U.S.A., is the fang sculpture : a quarter of million euros or more can be paid for a statue The total amount can surpass million euros. The robbed statues have no more market outside, without a doubt, when there is so much control outside; it is possible that the robbery has been the order of a private collector.
The investigation, according to the police, remains open. Sources of the case maintain that the thieves "knew perfectly what they wanted and they knew the space perfectly, where the pieces were and also the alarms and the lights".
Consulted by this newspaper, Stella Folch-Coracha'n, president of the foundation, daughter of Albert Folch and heiress of the collection, did not want to make declarations on the robbery. Sources of the foundation indicated that the president had received warnings on the vulnerability of the extraordinary collection, and that the robbery has been a blow for her.
The foundation does not consider that it is the moment to open a debate on if the public institutions have to become public in the conservation and exhibition of such a rich patrimony, as some voices have suggested in the past.
The robbed pieces are to a large extent fang, of Equatorial Guinea, wood sculptures related to the rituals of byéri, the cult to the ancestors, and that representing the ancestor in meditation generally. They are works of high value, specially two or three of them. One, masculine but emasculated - surely by the prude Christian missionaries -, is the most outstanding of its type in all the collection Folch and one of the emblematic pieces of the same one. This sculpture illustrates the cover of the art book fang of Equatorial Guinea (1991) and Stella Folch appeared portrayed with her in a recent journalistic news article on collectors.
Aside from the statues fang, the thieves also removed to statuettes of the baule culture of the Ivory Coast and Zaire. The theft would not be too much bulky - the pieces fang measure around 50 centimeters and the others are smaller and not very fragile, because the statues are of hard wood, so the thieves could taken it in a big bag. The thieves decided not to take to a gorgeous HARPE of eight cords (ñgomi) of fang ntumu, because discovery of the robbery was fast. According to sources of the case, possibly stopped out by the conservator of the foundation Folch, and only employee of the museum, when arriving at that same Monday. 11 of April 2005. The thieves had stopped the alarm but they did not returne to put in back on. The conservator observed the lack of African statues although initially, at sight there was no disorder, she thought that the one who retired them was the president of the Foundation Folch and owner of the collection, Stella Folch-Coracha'n, daughter of the creator of the collection and that inherited the main part of it. When the robbery was discovered , the police was called, that initiated the investigation, and the same day announced.
The robbery, besides putting in evidence the lack of security of the the Foundation Folch, in whom there is a worthy image of the broken ear, of Tintín, and wonderful objects of the denominated primitive art worldwide, has a specially sad note: Albert Folch indeed began its fabulous collection with fang art .
While he did his military service in the Canary Islands, Folch traveled frequently to the African continent to collaborate in the construction of a drink water plant and one day returned to its house in Barcelona with a fang sculpture that would be the seed of its collection.
Son of Joaquin Folch Girona, the famous geologist and engineer of the Priorato Mines, and Rita Rusiñol, niece of Santiago Rusiñol, Albert Folch initiated a series of trips with his woman, Corachán Daisy - daughter of republicans exilated in Venezuela -, with which he shared the curiosity for distant continents and cultures. The collection grew with items he brought from his trips and with acquisitions at French antique dealers. An important influence in the beginnings had an Hungarian antique dealer installed in the Barcelonian gothic district who advised Folch.
A little more decisive in the collection and the life of Albert Folch was the encounter with the sculptor Eudald Serra (Barcelona 1911-2002), that began to work for him selecting and harvesting objects and became narrow friends.
With Serra, Folch shared trips to the most remote places of the world - Borneo, New Guinea, Papúa, Ladak, Upper Volta , Sikkim- joining in adventurous expeditions to obtain pieces Indiana Jones worthy . Serra that was able to engage in a dialog with cannibals to obtain a work that according to its artistic criterion had to be in the collection, was the soul of the Foundation Folch and their director, in addition to collaborator of the Etnológico Museum of Barcelona.
The sculptor and traveler explained that he did not go to distant places looking for concrete things but that what he saw had to seduce him. The collection largely demonstrates the clean eye without apriories of the artist .
In 1975 the Folch Foundation was created , in whom part of the collection of the industrialist was integrated. At the death of Albert Folch, the heart of the collection, the etnological part was inherited by her daughter Stella, whereas the other brothers, Joaquin and Elena, respectively received the Chinese porcelain collection and the one of Spanish ceramics and musical instruments
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