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

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Christie’s Closes American Indian Art Department

by Lita Solis-Cohen found at © 2007 by Maine Antique Digest

Christie’s has closed its American Indian art department, and as a result Delia Sullivan, department head since 1999, has left Christie’s. “Christie’s has canceled their May sale at Rockefeller Center, and we are discontinuing sale plans in this category for the foreseeable future,” said Sara Fox, a Christie’s spokesperson. “Christie’s remains committed to the middle market in all locations,” Fox added. She said Christie’s will continue to sell pre-Columbian art in New York City, and tribal art will be sold in Paris.

Apparently, if a department does not bring in multimillion-dollar totals, Christie’s considers it redundant. In the past few years Sotheby’s has taken the major share of the American Indian art auction market in New York City with the consignment of sales of historic material from Scottish collections that came down in families from 19th-century travelers. Bonhams & Butterfields in San Francisco, Skinner in Boston, and Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas have also been holding special sales of American Indian material, and other auctioneers, such as Cowan’s in Cincinnati and Pook & Pook in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, regularly sell some American Indian material.

Jim Haas, who heads the Native American, pre-Columbian, and tribal art department at Bonhams & Butterfields in San Francisco, said he has received calls from a number of Christie’s consignors hoping to get things into an auction this spring as planned. “Luckily, the deadline for our June fourth sale was a few weeks after Christie’s, and we could accommodate them,” he said. “Christie’s business manager, who was fielding the calls from clients, named a number of auction houses, and we were one of them.” Haas said that this year and in the previous several years his department has grown exponentially. “We have established a number of world-record prices at auction for pottery, baskets, and Southwest textiles, and we have landed some major collections competitively. I already had a strong auction for June, and the addition of more material makes it all the better. I am only too pleased to work in behalf of new clients.”

Haas also pointed out that Bonhams & Butterfields has split up his department and now has a tribal art specialist in New York City. “Tribal sales will be held in New York, but American Indian and pre-Columbian sales remain in San Francisco,” said Haas. Sotheby’s does not have a full-time head of American Indian art sales. David Roche, a partner in Grimmer Roche, a Santa Fe gallery, serves as a consultant. He cataloged Sotheby’s American Indian art sale scheduled for May 18 that includes property from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York, as well as the Leede collection of Pueblo pottery, and baskets from the Charlotte Butler Skinner collection from Reno, Nevada. The highlight of the sale is an early Cree costume, consisting of a painted coat, leggings, and mittens, from the John Painter collection, estimated at $250,000/ 350,000.

Roche said, “Sotheby’s is committed to selling American Indian material.” He said 2006 was a record year for Sotheby’s; two sales totaled a little over $12 million. Dundas, Ontario, dealer Donald Ellis, who now has a pied-à-terre in New York, said he was not surprised that Christie’s closed its American Indian art department. “The auctions are just one part of the American Indian market,” he said. “In fact, all the price records are held in the private market, not at public auction.” He pointed out that it is getting harder and harder to find early material, and the auction houses have had to widen their parameters and take in contemporary material in order to fill out their sales. Contemporary American Indian art is a hot corner of the market.


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Origine S. Reynes
Artcurial Paris
Christies Paris
Slotin auction
Suppan auction Vienna
Bonhams San Francisco
Pierre Berge
Paris Auction
Gaia auction
Belgium Art Auctions
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The Tribal Arts of Africa
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