... .Message 1 of 4 , Sep 6, 2007View Source
While the September 23 Skinner Ethnographic Auction in Boston focuses on North American material more than on African, there are some very interesting piecesMessage 1 of 4 , Sep 6, 2007View SourceWhile the September 23 Skinner Ethnographic Auction in Boston focuses on North American material more than on African, there are some very interesting pieces among the 62 African works offered.As have appeared in quite a few recent auctions, there are two objects "sold to benefit the Brooklyn Museum" -- Lots 43 and 78 -- an unidentified mask of fair quality displaying diverse characteristics which defy classification and a respectable Hemba singiti, respectively. I mention these simply as an excuse to mention the ambiguous value of provenance based on museum de-acquisition. In these instances, it would be helpful to know prior history of collection and custody as well as the assessments that resulted in a museum's choice to de-accession. While I understand that such a choice often hinges on fiscal considerations and/or the limited space available for storage of non-exhibited works, it would be illuminating to know the process by which such previous "museum holdings" are offered for resale.A limited number of objects bear provenance of recognizable significance. Perhaps most intriguing among them is Lot 74 -- a 11-inch [28 cm] Bembe standing female figure with inlaid eyes "Purchased from Jacques Kerchache Gallery, Paris, by Merton Simpson." Its pre-auction estimate of US$10-15K is among the highest. A "pyro-blackened" Ekoi Janus Head with bone teeth, Lot 51 -- bears the same pre-auction estimate, an estimate exceeded only by that of US$20-30K for a classic Urhobo figure (edjo re akare) -- complete with all of the symbolic elements mentioned by Perkins Foss in describing a similar figure in Where Gods and Mortals Meet: Continuity and Renewal in Urhobo Art (Cat. 51, page 88 -- also see edjo re akare link).The on-line catalogue descriptions are quite brief, and I do not know whether there is a print version or other means to gather additional information, but -- from what I can see -- none of the objects bear a field collection history in the accessible listings -- with the possible exception of an unconfirmed indigenous provenance indicated for Lot 82 -- a Nigerian kola-nut bowl in the shape of an antelope-head which "purportedly belonged to Chief Oboweiti" (for whom I can find no reference. Anyone????). Other recognizable Western provenances include:-Two object listings -- -- a Guro mask (Lot 47) and a Warega object (Lot 50) -- indicating previous custodianship of Julius Carlebach (in whose gallery, incidentally, Merton Simpson "hung around" while studying at NYU -- see http://www.usca.edu/aasc/simpson.htm);-Lot 49 -- a "Bobo (?)" -- I think Mossi -- Helmet Mask from Harrison Eiteljorg (whose collection serves as the core of the African collection of the Indianapolis Museum of Art where the Hats of Africa exhibition begins Saturday, September 8);-Lot 60 -- a Songye Male Figure from Ladislas Segy -- painter, designer, author, collector, art historian as well owner of Gallery Segy in New York. Segy's first writing -- the first of 60 papers and 4 books -- on African art was published in 1930 before Segy moving on to Paris and then to New York where he opened one of the first exclusively African art galleries in New York in 1950.-Lot 62 -- a Yoruba Equestrian Figure from Hurst Gallery in Cambridge, MA as well as Lot 67 -- a Dan Adze, and Lot 80 -- an Ivory and Horn Scepter -- both from Norman Hurst.There are also numerous figures, containers, weapons and implements with reasonable estimates suggesting that interested collectors might enjoy an opportunity to preview and/or acquire potentially desirable and affordable works. Among the objects I find most intriguing is Lot 70 -- Kongo Janus Figure Rattle (Ntafu Maluangu) and Lot 83: a Yoruba Carved Bowl (possibly by Areogun). A Kongo figure and two Yombe figures offered are particularly alluring for their resemblance more to figures found in older ethnographic collections than those found in more recently composed art collections: Lot 58: A Yombe Seated Female Figure; Lot 59: A Kongo (Nkondi?) figure; and Lot 63: A Yombe Kneeling Female Figure.There are four Baule standing figures (54-57) -- which includes Lot 55 on an Inagaki stand -- as well as a seated Baule figure (Lot 65) with headdress and hand positions that beckon a closer look!!!! (I wasn't going to cut and paste any images but this one insisted!)Another eye-catching figure (the provenance of which is indicated as "Nash to B. Goodman" (perhaps Ralph Nash, London?) is Lot 64 -- a uniquely formed and "honey-colored" Fang statuette... also worthy of a glance:Other lots not previously noted which include various containers, weapons, swords, tools, Nigerian bells and scepters are:Swords:Ashanti : Lot 101.Unattributed: Lot 104.Tools:Adzes:Chokwe: Lot 53 (with whistles).**Zulu: Lot 99.Unattributed: Lot 100.Axes:Pende: 97."Dahomey" (A Fon Recade): Lot 103.Yoruba Scepters:A number of East and Southern African works are also included in this sale:Lot 48: A Makonde Mapiko MaskLot 61: A Tanzanian Female FigureLot 87: A Zulu ClubLot 102: A Zulu KnifeAlso see the Tanzanian* and Zulu** adzes above.Lee
Lee, Concerning the Skinner auction, I would like to draw the group s attention to an interesting but misattributed piece in the catalogue: 50. African CarvedMessage 1 of 4 , Sep 16, 2007View Source
Concerning the Skinner auction, I would like to draw the groups's attention to an interesting but misattributed piece in the catalogue:
African Carved Wood Head, Warega, with round base and long faceted neck, the stylized head with heart-shaped face, traces of red pigment on one side and white on the opposite, pyro-engraved detail, ht. 21 +� in. Provenance: Julius Carlbach. $4,000 - 6,000 (p. 16).
The Skinner piece has been photographed under lighting conditions which make it difficult to make out the divisions of white and red coloration. The head is not heart-shaped as it is radically squared-off at the chin. The piece is not Warega but Jonga.
In his recent book, L'Intelligence des Formes, the Belgian artist, Willy Mestach, discusses his collection of African art from different perspectives related to the synthesis and abstraction of forms. Of his Jonga piece, similar to the Skinner piece but with arms, he says:
Ancestor or funerary figure. We possess little information on such statuary, very limited in examples, and of the ethnic group which produced it (p.221).
Mestach is clearly interested in the segregation of the colors as well as the faceting of the base, which he compares to cubist sculpture.
In the anthology put together as a tribute to the great Belgian art historian Frans M. Olbrechts, In Search of Art in Africa, in the section, Art of the Congo , there is another Jonga figure, catalogue no. 68; the text description reads:
In the nineteen-fifties the Djonga, who belong to the Mongo ethnic group, used red and white coloured male sculptures, phallic in shape, in the context of the initiation society of the Masters of the Forest (nkum okunda). In the village of Bayaya a figure like this was placed in the house of a man who refused to submit himself to the sentence of the nkum okunda court. The unexpected encounter with the figure in his house resulted in the terrified malefactor immediately paying the fine the court had imposed.
The Skinner example is a fine example of this little-known style. I wonder if the sales estimate would increase or decrease if the correct attribution were made. I have never seen a Jonga piece in a sale before.
The Jonga, as a Mongo group, are related to the Tetela linguistically and are very close to the Tetela area geographically, being just north and east. I don't see any Tetela influence in this piece but those group members with a particular interest in the Tetela might see something.
Thanks, Paul, for noting the indicated misattribution. Of course, such misattributions, or questionable ones, are the symptom of an overly narrow field ofMessage 1 of 4 , Sep 16, 2007View SourceThanks, Paul, for noting the indicated misattribution. Of course, such misattributions, or questionable ones, are the symptom of an overly narrow field of possible attributions wherein certain recognizable characteristics and styles are used to group objects within too limited range of recognized cultural and artistic traditions. There are a number of corollary issues that arise from these overly narrow (and conversely, overly broad) tendencies in classification that tend to obscure and confuse the possible identification and elucidation of meaningful symbolic, historical and aesthetic data that could ideally be inferred from individual works. On one hand, we have the disqualification (i.e., de-authentication or exclusion) of unique examples within a broad and varied cultural complex (say, for example, instances possibly arising from the broad range of Luba regional styles) that don't correspond to predominantly recognized stylistic features associated with a particular culture's body of production. On the other hand, there is the frequent suggestion that a work attributed to a specific culture is stylistically and culturally representative for all of the communities which are subsumed by that culture, or by a group of cultures that are united by a common language. Here I am thinking about, as one example, the classification of works simply as Yoruba, when indeed specific traditions (such as Gelede masquerade) are not actually practiced by all groups identified as Yoruba. Thus, I think, above and beyond grappling with the challenges of recognition and identification, it is important always to be thinking about ways in which to refine and re-define the systems of classification we apply to the identification, classification and description of cultural objects.On a simpler plane, I would be negligent if I failed to make group members aware of another imminent auction of considerable diversity and exceptional quality -- the September 22, 2007 Zemanek auction, for which the catalogue can be viewed on-line at http://www.tribal-art-auktion.de/katalog_pdf/Katalog-51-Inhalt.pdf. I can't even begin to create a list of highlights: To do so would likely consist of merely re-listing nearly the entire catalogue. Suffice it to say that this particular auction, to my eye, is of one of the most notably fine and varied groupings of African works offered in recent memory.Lee