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Re: [African_Arts] Art Authenticity

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  • Ed Jones
    Lee. ... I echo Ron s sentiments. Outstanding dissertation (as usual). Thank You, Ed __________________________________________________ Do You Yahoo!? Tired
    Message 1 of 8 , Jun 9, 2006
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      Lee.
       
      ... I echo Ron's sentiments.  Outstanding dissertation (as usual).
       
      Thank You,
      Ed

      __________________________________________________
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    • John Monroe
      As usual, Lee s produced some very insightful and important observations. I ve always been intrigued by the way in which a particular dealer s name can serve
      Message 2 of 8 , Jun 9, 2006
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        As usual, Lee's produced some very insightful and important observations.

        I've always been intrigued by the way in which a particular dealer's name can
        serve as a kind of "artist's signature" for African objects offered at major
        auction houses -- like "Picasso," the name functions not just as a way of
        creating scarcity, but also as a kind of guarantor of esthetic value. It's
        almost as if Ratton's, Guillaume's or Simpson's "eye" created the object in
        the first place: in this respect, high-end African sculptures bear a strange
        resemblance to Duchamp's ready-mades. If it hadn't been for Duchamp's
        decision to single it out, we all probably would have been blind to the formal
        beauty of the bottle drying-rack (see "Bottle Rack," his first "pure"
        readymade). Admittedly, an African sculpture is not a mass-produced
        industrial item, but nevertheless in both cases the object derives some of its
        meaning and esthetic presence from the gap between the circumstances of its
        original creation and its "discovery" by a person with a particularly
        distinguished "eye."

        On a related note, Lee's remarks make me think of a striking development in
        the field of African art history. Increasingly, at least in
        the United States, the practices of object-selection used by auction houses
        are at odds with the ones used by the curators and professors who study,
        acquire and display African art in a museum or university context. What
        auction houses see as the normal rules of their business, academics
        increasingly see as a vestige of an outmoded, indeed repugnant imperialistic
        world-view. I don't know of any other field of art history where the split
        between academia and commerce is so pronounced.

        The radical disjunction between articles and advertisements in the latest
        issue of African Arts serves to hammer this point home. It will be intriguing
        to see how long this state of affairs can last. It seems inevitable to me
        that the tensions will eventually escalate to a breaking point, though I am
        not sure how the break will occur -- with money on one side and institutional
        authority on the other, you have a powerful set of adversaries.

        John Monroe
      • Paul De Lucco
        As Lee writes in his short essay on selling African art there are many factors beyond authenticity that inform auction houses and other such institutions with
        Message 3 of 8 , Jun 11, 2006
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          As Lee writes in his short essay on selling African art there are many factors beyond authenticity that inform auction houses and other such institutions with regard to the value of pieces.  Unfortunately, the value of a piece may have more to do with provenance than with authenticity.

           

          This situation is not unique to tribal art and is due to the serious difficulty even experts encounter in authenticating pieces.  John Monroe comments that the dealer’s name serves as a kind of “signature” for African art offered at auction.  In other words, the name of a reputable dealer serves as a guarantee that the object is “real”.

           

          Say a man finds a Picasso in a junk shop, buys it, takes it home, displays it, and then tries to sell it through Sotheby’s.  He will get turned down flat.  The painting may be authentic but it has no provenance to reassure a high-end buyer.

           

          Good provenance may mean an object comes from a respected dealer.  It may also mean the object comes from the collection of a celebrity, or that of a well-to-do society person who has mixed in the milieu of collectors. 

           

          Next week, Sotheby’s will offer at auction in Paris 57 pieces from the collection of John and Nicole Ditenfass.  John Ditenfass, a socially prominent psychiatrist, has been collecting African art for 40 years and is well known to prominent galleries and collectors.

           

          David Norden, who owns an African art gallery in Antwerp , comments on his website:

           

          Are these 40 very high estimated pieces to be considered as the Dintenfass collection when everyone knows that in fact is a collection with 1500 pieces?  Some of you interested in this nice but small Luba at 150.000?

           

          It is interesting to see that even professionals such as Norden can be taken aback by auction house strategies.  The point is, Dintenfass  has become a brand.  “Branding” is where much of an object’s value comes from in a value chain.  Coca-Cola, Toyota , Steuben Glass, etc, Dintenfass!

           

          If you examine the pieces on the Sotheby’s website, there certainly are surprises in the size of the pre-sale estimates.  (I limit my observations to some of the 23 pieces of Congolese origin because that is my area of expertise.)

           

          Lot 39, Lengola Figure,15.5cm, Est : 6,000 – 9,000 Eur.  Although it is nice to see an object from a Congolese culture that has not generally been highlighted in Sotheby’s catalogues in the past (with the notable exception of the Lengola Ubanga Nyami, Lot #108 in the Britt Family Collection auctioned in November 2005), this piece is quite small and unremarkable for the estimated price of approx. $9,000 - $12,000.

           

           Lengola, Lot 39

           

          Nor, is there anything extraordinary about the Luba piece ( Lot 41, 20cm, Est:  7,000 -10,000 Eur).  I do not think this piece is Luba.  The arms, shoulders, and upper torso are reminiscent more of the pre-Bembe groups but I would tentatively assign the piece to one of the groups neighboring the Luba in the area around Nyunzu in the north Katanga , perhaps Bakalanga.  The art is not particularly strong and the piece does not appear to be particularly old.  The pre-auction estimate of approx. $9,500 to $13,500 seems way too high.

           

           

           Luba, Lot 41

           

          Another Luba piece, very striking in its apparent age and authenticity ( Lot 44, 27cm, Est: 150,000 – 180,000 Eur) raises interesting issues related to aesthetics.  The piece is an old Luba power object, an object that was often carved in the past by the owner/practitioner and not by a professional sculptor working inside the court.

           

            Luba, Lot 44

           

          It certainly is a striking piece and I believe it is authentic but I just do not like it very much.  I would expect to acquire something rather extraordinary for $200,000 - $240,000 and I simply do not find this piece, evidently of matchless provenance, to be artistically extraordinary.  According to Sotheby’s, it was collected in 1932 and belonged to the Ernst and Ruth Anspach collection in the 1960’s – another impressive brand.   The catalogue goes on to describe the piece as having a superbe monumentalité, but I do not see it - and wonder if a 10” figure can ever be described as monumental.

           

          The Luba stool ( Lot 51, 45cm, Est:  150,000 – 200,000 Eur), on the other hand, is certainly an aesthetically pleasing piece.  It is unlike any other Luba stool I have ever seen.  Extraordinary.  According to the Sotheby’s catalogue, the piece is discussed by Neyt (1993 : 89-90) in his book on the Luba in which he attributes it to one “atelier Samba” in the north of Luba territory near the town of Kasongo .  It seems to have no strong provenance, except for Helène et Philippe Leloup, which is a good brand.  Whether it is a good buy for a quarter of a million dollars, I cannot say.  It is, after all, a masterpiece of Luba art for sale in a world where a Picasso is worth more than $10 million.

           

           

            Luba, Lot 51

           

           

           

          But, take a look at the Mangbetu chaise-longue (Lot25, Est:  35,000 – 50,000 Eur).  The absurd description in the Sotheby’s catalogue describes the exceptional raffia weaving.  Well, I have two chaises-longues of exactly the same style on my front terrace.  I paid $10.00 for the two of them.  They are found all over Central Africa .  Anyone who thinks the 4 stylized Mangbetu heads add $50,000 to the value of this very unremarkable chair is welcome to contact me for a real deal, (although my night watchman will not want to give his up.)

           

           Mangbetu, Lot 25

           

           

          I have drifted off the subject of auctions and values and brands.  But, before I leave the Dintenfass Collection, I would like to mention the beautiful Manyanga Fly Whisk ( Lot 54, 23cm, Est:  20,000 – 30,000 Eur).  Dr. Dintenfass is to be congratulated for venturing to collect such an object from an almost unknown Kuba subgroup.  The good Doctor may be trying to make a quick killing in this Paris sale, but as a collector, he has a pretty good eye.

           

           

           Manyanga, Lot 54

           

          In conclusion, if you are not in high society and wish to sell your collection, what do you do?  You have to carry out research and create a file on each of your pieces, documenting similar pieces from other collections.  Visit your local libraries, museums, and websites.  Try to create a local interest in your collection.  Offer to lend pieces for exhibitions.  It will take time but, little by little, you can create your own brand and buzz.  If the pieces are good enough to pass muster with larger audiences, they will become desirable to an auction house like Sotheby’s or to a big city gallery.

           

          But, this can take a lot of time and at the end you may find yourself with a collection of pieces no one else is interested in.  That’s why you should only buy pieces you like.  So you can enjoy them for a lifetime.

           

           

        • Paul De Lucco
          Greetings: I note that for some reason the Lengola thumbnail photo did not reproduce below. It should be: Lengola, Lot 39: Regards, Paul ... From: Paul De
          Message 4 of 8 , Jun 12, 2006
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            Greetings:
             
            I note that for some reason the Lengola thumbnail photo did not reproduce below.  It should be:
             
            Lengola, Lot 39:
             
             
            Regards,
             
            Paul
             
             
             
             
            ----- Original Message -----
            Sent: Sunday, June 11, 2006 9:57 PM
            Subject: Re: [African_Arts] Art Authenticity

            As Lee writes in his short essay on selling African art there are many factors beyond authenticity that inform auction houses and other such institutions with regard to the value of pieces.  Unfortunately, the value of a piece may have more to do with provenance than with authenticity.

             

            This situation is not unique to tribal art and is due to the serious difficulty even experts encounter in authenticating pieces.  John Monroe comments that the dealer’s name serves as a kind of “signature” for African art offered at auction.  In other words, the name of a reputable dealer serves as a guarantee that the object is “real”.

             

            Say a man finds a Picasso in a junk shop, buys it, takes it home, displays it, and then tries to sell it through Sotheby’s.  He will get turned down flat.  The painting may be authentic but it has no provenance to reassure a high-end buyer.

             

            Good provenance may mean an object comes from a respected dealer.  It may also mean the object comes from the collection of a celebrity, or that of a well-to-do society person who has mixed in the milieu of collectors. 

             

            Next week, Sotheby’s will offer at auction in Paris 57 pieces from the collection of John and Nicole Ditenfass.  John Ditenfass, a socially prominent psychiatrist, has been collecting African art for 40 years and is well known to prominent galleries and collectors.

             

            David Norden, who owns an African art gallery in Antwerp , comments on his website:

             

            Are these 40 very high estimated pieces to be considered as the Dintenfass collection when everyone knows that in fact is a collection with 1500 pieces?  Some of you interested in this nice but small Luba at 150.000?

             

            It is interesting to see that even professionals such as Norden can be taken aback by auction house strategies.  The point is, Dintenfass  has become a brand.  “Branding” is where much of an object’s value comes from in a value chain.  Coca-Cola, Toyota , Steuben Glass, etc, Dintenfass!

             

            If you examine the pieces on the Sotheby’s website, there certainly are surprises in the size of the pre-sale estimates.  (I limit my observations to some of the 23 pieces of Congolese origin because that is my area of expertise.)

             

            Lot 39, Lengola Figure,15.5cm, Est : 6,000 – 9,000 Eur.  Although it is nice to see an object from a Congolese culture that has not generally been highlighted in Sotheby’s catalogues in the past (with the notable exception of the Lengola Ubanga Nyami, Lot #108 in the Britt Family Collection auctioned in November 2005), this piece is quite small and unremarkable for the estimated price of approx. $9,000 - $12,000.

             

             Lengola, Lot 39

             

            Nor, is there anything extraordinary about the Luba piece ( Lot 41, 20cm, Est:  7,000 -10,000 Eur).  I do not think this piece is Luba.  The arms, shoulders, and upper torso are reminiscent more of the pre-Bembe groups but I would tentatively assign the piece to one of the groups neighboring the Luba in the area around Nyunzu in the north Katanga , perhaps Bakalanga.  The art is not particularly strong and the piece does not appear to be particularly old.  The pre-auction estimate of approx. $9,500 to $13,500 seems way too high.

             

             

             Luba, Lot 41

             

            Another Luba piece, very striking in its apparent age and authenticity ( Lot 44, 27cm, Est: 150,000 – 180,000 Eur) raises interesting issues related to aesthetics.  The piece is an old Luba power object, an object that was often carved in the past by the owner/practitioner and not by a professional sculptor working inside the court.

             

              Luba, Lot 44

             

            It certainly is a striking piece and I believe it is authentic but I just do not like it very much.  I would expect to acquire something rather extraordinary for $200,000 - $240,000 and I simply do not find this piece, evidently of matchless provenance, to be artistically extraordinary.  According to Sotheby’s, it was collected in 1932 and belonged to the Ernst and Ruth Anspach collection in the 1960’s – another impressive brand.   The catalogue goes on to describe the piece as having a superbe monumentalité, but I do not see it - and wonder if a 10” figure can ever be described as monumental.

             

            The Luba stool ( Lot 51, 45cm, Est:  150,000 – 200,000 Eur), on the other hand, is certainly an aesthetically pleasing piece.  It is unlike any other Luba stool I have ever seen.  Extraordinary.  According to the Sotheby’s catalogue, the piece is discussed by Neyt (1993 : 89-90) in his book on the Luba in which he attributes it to one “atelier Samba” in the north of Luba territory near the town of Kasongo .  It seems to have no strong provenance, except for Helène et Philippe Leloup, which is a good brand.  Whether it is a good buy for a quarter of a million dollars, I cannot say.  It is, after all, a masterpiece of Luba art for sale in a world where a Picasso is worth more than $10 million.

             

             

              Luba, Lot 51

             

             

             

            But, take a look at the Mangbetu chaise-longue (Lot25, Est:  35,000 – 50,000 Eur).  The absurd description in the Sotheby’s catalogue describes the exceptional raffia weaving.  Well, I have two chaises-longues of exactly the same style on my front terrace.  I paid $10.00 for the two of them.  They are found all over Central Africa .  Anyone who thinks the 4 stylized Mangbetu heads add $50,000 to the value of this very unremarkable chair is welcome to contact me for a real deal, (although my night watchman will not want to give his up.)

             

             Mangbetu, Lot 25

             

             

            I have drifted off the subject of auctions and values and brands.  But, before I leave the Dintenfass Collection, I would like to mention the beautiful Manyanga Fly Whisk ( Lot 54, 23cm, Est:  20,000 – 30,000 Eur).  Dr. Dintenfass is to be congratulated for venturing to collect such an object from an almost unknown Kuba subgroup.  The good Doctor may be trying to make a quick killing in this Paris sale, but as a collector, he has a pretty good eye.

             

             

             Manyanga, Lot 54

             

            In conclusion, if you are not in high society and wish to sell your collection, what do you do?  You have to carry out research and create a file on each of your pieces, documenting similar pieces from other collections.  Visit your local libraries, museums, and websites.  Try to create a local interest in your collection.  Offer to lend pieces for exhibitions.  It will take time but, little by little, you can create your own brand and buzz.  If the pieces are good enough to pass muster with larger audiences, they will become desirable to an auction house like Sotheby’s or to a big city gallery.

             

            But, this can take a lot of time and at the end you may find yourself with a collection of pieces no one else is interested in.  That’s why you should only buy pieces you like.  So you can enjoy them for a lifetime.

             

             

          • leerubinstein
            John: My apologies for taking so long to reply to your previous message, a delay precipitated by a technical problem that kept me off-line for the better
            Message 5 of 8 , Jun 15, 2006
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              John:

              My apologies for taking so long to reply to your previous message, a
              delay precipitated by a technical problem that kept me off-line for
              the "better" part of six days. Nonetheless, I would be very interested
              to hear more of your thoughts about the current disjunction you observe
              between the academic and commercial treatments of African works as
              indicated in your previous posting if and when you are able and
              inclined to provide more detail. Your observation provides an
              excellent example to consider regarding the diverse perspectives that
              can be brought to bear upon the consideration, classification and
              presentation of "meaningful," "significant" and "important" African
              works.

              Forthcoming...some detailed analysis of the June 23 offerings via
              Sotheby's apropos of our earlier discussion.

              Lee
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