At small Paris auctions, some extraordinary works
€2.24 million, hailed a hardwood carving of the "nimba" deity from the Baga people in
By Souren Melikian found at International Herald Tribune
Published: July 28, 2006
PARIS There is a lure you simply cannot resist about the last place in the world where unforgettable masterpieces still turn up out of the blue in downmarket contexts.
The €280 million, or $336 million, worth of art sold at Drouot during the first six months of 2006 may not have Sotheby's and Christie's shaking in their boots, but its auctioneers did come up with some of the most wonderful discoveries seen this year.(...)
This is not to suggest that Drouot auctioneers cannot sell brilliantly if they set about it seriously. Au contraire.
One of the most extraordinary art market events during the first six months of 2006 was the auction of the collection of art from Black Africa and the South Seas handled by Enchères Rive Gauche, a Lilliputian outfit few had heard of before.
Pulling the strings behind the scenes was Guy Loudmer. The former auctioneer, suspended for a period of time following a row about fees charged by him to a consignor, is renowned for his interest in what used to be called Primitive Art. Not least, Loudmer was a friend of the late dealer Pierre Vérité and his son Claude, who built up the collection over 60 years. Claude's children were selling.
The catalogue compiled by Alain de Monbrison and Pierre Amrouche, who have as vast a knowledge of the countless facets of African art as anyone can hope to muster, will long stand as a record of the art and the history of collecting.
Virtually timed with the opening of the Musée du Quai Branly devoted to the "Arts Premiers," the auction received maximum world attention. The quality of the works on offer, and the total sold, €44 million, make it the most important auction ever in the field.
World records were set at a level unimaginable until this year. A Fang mask exhibited in the 1984 Museum of Modern Art show "Affinity in the Tribal and the Modern" shot up to €5.9 million, five times the high estimate. True, the price was reputedly paid by a nonspecialist who wished to make a major African art donation to a French museum and is rumored to have taken advice from the sale organizers.
Another extraordinary price, €2.24 million, hailed a hardwood carving of the "nimba" deity from the Baga people in Guinea, while one of the most beautiful masks from the Punu people in Gabon rose to €950,000.
Yet, astonishing as the historic Vérité sale was, the greater if less glamorous feat commonly repeated at Drouot is the sale of more modest, sometimes even inferior, objects at prices vastly exceeding those they might realize in London or New York.
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