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

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Fanf ''Ngil'' Vérité. (AP)

found at June 20, 2006

But despite the interest, experts agree that prices in African art are relatively stable, except for " very important, rare or antique pieces as few exist, " said de Sabran.


PARIS, June 18, 2006 (AFP) - For several years Paris has been the world capital of auctions in tribal arts due partly to its colonial heritage and partly to artists such as Picasso and Matisse who were greatly influenced by African culture.

The opening here this week of a museum dedicated to tribal arts and cultures has led to a flurry of auctions around the French capital, including an exceptional collection going under the hammer on Saturday and Sunday at the Drouot auction house.

"Paris is the place where there are the most galleries specialising in tribal arts. France has the largest number of collectors of tribal arts, it has the most important auctions of tribal arts, and it is in France that we will have the most important museum," expert Pierre Amrouche told AFP.

The French capital has indeed brought together all the cultural and commercial elements once spread between Brussels, New York and France, agreed Marguerite de Sabran, head of African and Oceanic art at Sotheby's Paris.

Pinpointing precise figures is impossible because as many objects are sold through private galleries or collectors as at auction, she said.

But some "50 to 60 percent of world sales in African and Oceanic art takes place in Paris," said de Sabran, adding that in the main pre-Colombian art was still sold largely in the United States.

"The first important sales of African art took place in Paris in the 1930s," said an expert for the Artcurial house in Paris, Bernard de Grunne.

"One particularly active trader was Paul Guillaume," he added, referring to one of the leading art dealers in Paris in the early 20th century.

"For every Cezanne Guillaume sold to the collector Dr Barnes, he added at least two masks from the Ivory Coast. Later things calmed down and nothing happened for 25 to 30 years," he said, adding the market then moved to New York and London.

The reversal came in around 2001-2002 when foreign auction houses were authorised to sell in France. "Purely in commercial terms, everyone realised that it would be better to reconcentrate everything" in Paris, said Amrouche.

As proof Sotheby's on Friday will be auctioning an American collection, the Dintenfass collection, in Paris for the first time.

But despite the interest, experts agree that prices in African art are relatively stable, except for "very important, rare or antique pieces as few exist," said de Sabran.

One such piece, a Gabonese tribal mask, was sold at the Drouot auction here Saturday for 5.9 million euros (7.5 million dollars, including fees), a record price for tribal art.

It smashed the old record, held by a statue from Cameroon of the Queen Bangwa, which fetched 3.4 million dollars at Sotheby's in 1990.

"Prices have gone up in the past 25 years, but it's not a speculative market. There are not enough important works for that," said Amrouche.

"My clients are not the type to say 'Good, I'll buy that and wait two years, wow, the cost of Punu (Gabon masks) has gone up 30 percent so I'll sell'," added de Grunne, who also has a gallery in Brussels.

"They buy the works because they love them. They take the objects home and they are not put back on the market for 10, 20 or even 30 years."

Friday's opening of the Musee du Quai Branly will not really change things. "The opening of the museum will boost public interest, but that doesn't mean they will all become buyers," added Amrouche. 

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The Tribal Arts of Africa

The Tribal Arts of Africa
Author: Jean-Baptiste Bacquart

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