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Pierre Bergé auction Brussels

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  • Jan De Clerck
    Dear group, Most probably I ll still be attending the Pierre Bergé auction in Brussels this week. However, after their not answering my simple email request I
    Message 1 of 9 , Jun 2, 2008
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      Dear group,

      Most probably I'll still be attending the Pierre Bergé auction in
      Brussels this week.

      However, after their not answering my simple email request I must say
      my confidence in them is shaking a bit....

      Wrote them a note asking for the why's and what's on 3 lots I see
      published in this catalogue which were already in their sale of June
      2007 BUT.... with a drastically different estimate. Although I fully
      follow the reasoning of lowering your estimate towards the next
      auction if you want to re-auction any unsold lots, I remark these
      adaptations to be drastic to say the least:

      1023 Baulé monkey estimated NOW 3-4000€ in 2007 8-12000€
      1034 Baulé monkey estimated NOW 2500-3500€ in 2007 6-10000€
      1041 Lobi estimated NOW 3-4000€ in 2007 10-15000€

      Remarkable.... Especially because the auction house chooses not to
      answer a simple request for more info.

      What do you all think?

      Find the catalogue on
      www.pba-auctions.com

      Cheers,Jan
    • Paul DeLucco
      Jan, I was interested in your anecdote about the Pierre Berge auction. There is such a concentration in Belgium of experts in African art that it can be
      Message 2 of 9 , Jun 3, 2008
      • 0 Attachment
        Jan,
         
        I was interested in your anecdote about the Pierre Berge auction.  There is such a concentration in Belgium of experts in African art that it can be intimidating for an outsider to question how they do things.  I think this was the impetus behind the annual BRUNEAF exposition – to encourage foreign dealers and collectors to comme to Brussels to look and to deal in a cordial atmosphere.
         
        But, the Belgian dealers have never been good at establishing rules and procedures to deter insider-trading and other fraudulent practises among their members.  Neither have the French in Paris or the Americans in New York for that matter.  When rules are established in any city, one finds that they tend to be used to prevent foreign dealers from exhibiting – certainly the case in Paris during the Parcours du Monde in 2006 when American dealers were discouraged from participating.
         
        The only rule in collecting African art, be it in Europe, America, or Africa, is Caveat Emptor.  The starting point for being careful is the provenance.  Provenances can be faked (we have all seen and wondered about the note; “From an old Belgian collection” in the Sothebys catalogues) but they can also be researched.  Unless a bidder possesses great talent and expertise, no one should think of bidding at auction on a piece without solid provenance.
         
        My particular area of interest comprises the cultures of the Lualaba basin (i.e. eastern Congo River).  I have worked and collected in that area for several years and think I have a pretty good knowledge of the prevailing styles.  Most of the Belgian experts also have expertise in this area so I always follow the Brussels auctions and expositions with interest.  I noticed that Didier Claes is the African Art Expert listed at the beginning of the Berge catalogue.  Didier’s father, Patric, was born and raised in the Katanga Province of the DRC.  When he was quite young, in the early 1970’s, Patric began working for the National Museums as a collector of indigenous art for the national collection.  He developed a great eye for styles and cultures.  When he left the museum, he became a noted dealer.  His son was raised in this milieu and has opened a gallery of his own in Brussels.  (I understand Patric still lives and collects in the DRC.)  There is great depth of expertise in Brussels.
         
        I tend to judge an auction by the Hemba objects.  It was only in the early 1970’s that Hemba art became distinguished from the Luba.  The iconic pieces of Hemba art were collected by Patric Claes and others beginning in the late 1960’s.  This was the heyday of Pierre Dartevelle and other renowned Belgian gallery owners.  Hemba art became very popular very quickly.  In the mid-1970’s, a group of Senegalese diamond traders, who had been resident in Zaire for some years, traveled to northern Shaba (aka Katanga) and bought up everything.  Traditional carvers ramped up production.  A lot of pieces from this period, new but often well-carved, went unsold at first but began surfacing again in the 1980’s – aged and termite eaten - and were sold as “objects from the time of the Senegalese” (du temps Sénégalais).  The production of copies and blatant fakes has continued to the present although the quality has really fallen off lately.
         
        The most interesting Hemba piece in the Berge catalogue, for me, is Lot 1134, the half figure of a woman mounted on top of a calabash.  23 cm in height (about 9”), the Nyembo style figure, with fine facial features, is holding her breasts, her torso is elaborately scarified, her coiffure cannot be seen entirely but is obviously elaborate.  According to the provenance, this piece was published in the famous coffee table book:  The Bronson Collection, edited by Père Cornet, Director of the National Museum of Zaïre.  I am living in northern Uganda at the moment and do not have any books available and would appreciate it if someone would verify that the provenance is correct and that this object is indeed Fig. 172 in the Bronson Collection book.  If this is truly the piece from the book and not just a simlar piece, then this is one of the iconic pieces of Hemba art.  The estimated price range of Eur8,000 to 12,000 makes no sense;  its value on the market would be 5X that or more.
         
        Another Hemba piece, Lot 146, an ancestor, 68cm (about 27”), no provenance, has a pre-sale estimate of Eur10,000-15,000, i.e. more than that of the half figure on the calabash!  This is puzzling.  The piece is neither well carved nor polished.  I would be surprised if it made its low estimate.  But I have often been wrong about the sales of Hemba pieces.  In the 5 December 2007 Sothebys sale in Paris, two Hemba ancestor figures with weak provenance sold very well.  Lot 72, with a pre-sale estimate of Eur18,000 – 25,000, sold for Eur36,250 and Lot 74, with a pre-sale estimate of Eur8,000 – 12,000, sold for Eur17,050.  Both those pieces, however, were stronger sculpturally and generally more convincing than Berge Lot 146.
         
        There is also a Hemba stool, Lot 1159, 42.5cm (about 17”), no provenance but a cultural comment:  “Sign of royalty, this style of stool was exhibited during ceremones showing the power of the owner (p.142).”  This is nonsense and proof of the care that must be taken in reading auction catalogues.  The Hemba have no chiefs and certainly no royalty.  They are organized into several clans.  In this respect, and other ways, the Hemba differ from the Luba. Actually, the Berge stool looks more Luba than Hemba.  At Eur3,500 to 4,500, it seems priced to sell.
         
        Other comments:
         
        The two Bembe masks, Lots 1138 and 1140, are interesting.  The provenance for 1138 is; “Collected in Katanga 1949.”  Rather cryptic.  The Bembe settled the area in south Kivu around the towns of Fizi, Baraka, and Uvira.  They did not settle within Katanga although, obviously, this does not preclude the pruchase of a Bembe mask in Katanga in 1949.  The provenance does not mean anything at all.  The mask itself is curious.  A large plank mask, 61cm in height (app. 24”), it is very elaborately carved and issaid to represent an owl.  (A lovely Bembe plank mask with a double owl face sold at Sothebys on 9 May 2006, Lot 72, for $84,000.)  I am suspicious of this mask, however.  It does appear to have the features of an owl mask, but it also has a round mouth underneath the bill and this seems incorrect.  It is very elaborate.  The pre-sale estimate is Eur8,000 to 10,000.
         
        The second Bembe mask, Lot 1140, s an example of the Echawokaba, 42cm in height (app. 16.5”).  It is one of the photos that appear on the cover of the catalogue and it is a striking piece.  No provenance listed.  Surely, if it were real, it would be worth more than the pre-sale estimate of EUR10,000 – 12,000?  That’s reverse logic, I know.  We should not try to evaluate the value of a piece by its pre-sale estimate.  But, I have seen so few masks of this type.  I don’t believe the Bembe ever carved or possessed more than a dozen of them.  They have been often copied, and copied well.  This one certainly looks good.  It seems remarkably well-preserved.  Is it a bit small?  Caveat emptor.
         
        Kifwebe masks are another good indicator to follow in auctions.  There is always at least one Kifwebe in every auction.  There are three Songye Kifwebe masks in the Bergé auction:  Lot 1148, with a provenance – Léon Oscar Vandernoot, a Public Health Officer in the colonial service who collected it between 1923 and 1935.  It looks more to me like a Luba mask from the Nyunzu area of north Katanga than a Songye mas.  Not a mask of the dramatic volumes associated with Songye mask and not big – 35cm (app. 14”) - but probably not a copy.  Not over-priced at Eur2,900 – 3,500. 
         
        I do not like Lot 1149.  This male mask is ill-proportioned.  No provenance.  Pre-sale estimate of Eur2,900 – 3,500. 
         
        Lot 1158 is the most interesting of the three Kifwebe masks.  Not very big at 35cm, app. 14”, it is a well-proportioned female mask and looks well balanced with the bulbous forehead overarching the eye slits and finely carved Songye style nose and mouth.  It is the only Kifwebe I have seen without the fine lines carved into the surface.  The provenance is a name:  Philippe Konzett, of Austria.  Pre-sale estimate:  Eur16,000 – 18,000.
         
        The Teke mask, Lot 1112, looks great.  During the time I lived in Zaïre, I was never able to find a real one.  I guess they had all been collected by 1975.  Fakes abound but they are hardly ever convincing.  This one looks good to me.  It has a provenance:  “Collection Dubiner, Tel-Aviv.”  The pre-sale estimate is not astronomic:  Eur4,500 – 6,000.  I would not be surprised if it went for more than that.
         
        The Tabwa figure, Lot 1136, is very beautiful with a convincing provenance.  It is another iconic piece.
         
        The Tshokwe sceptre, Lot 1135, is also very beautiful.  The provenance mentions that a study by Marie Bastin, Tshokwe researcher, wll be provided to the purchaser.  And why not the potential purchaser?  If real, this is an iconic piece also.
         
        The Lega Iginga, Lot 1117, 21cm (app. 8”), has an interesting provenance:  Sothebys London 30 November 1981.  Pre-sale estimate of Eur18,000 – 22,000.  Notice the uneven patination and wear.  Notice how the ivory has long cracks with no cross-hatching.  These are all signs of  a genuine old ivory piece.  But, be careful.  The Lega have taken me with clever fakes more often than I care to remember. 
         
        I will take a pass on discussing the Lega masks inthis auction.       
         
        I also like Lot 1163, Ngombe figure, 51cm (app. 20”), pre-sale estimate of Eur40,000 – 50,000.  Peculiar provenance.  Supposedly collected in 1906 by an unnamed Belgian explorer.  Then, in the 1950’s, there was a Ngombe artist who carved figures.  Bergé just isn’t very good at provenance.
         
        Regards,
         
        Paul


        Jan De Clerck <jandeclerck@...> wrote:
        Dear group,

        Most probably I'll still be attending the Pierre Bergé auction in
        Brussels this week.

        However, after their not answering my simple email request I must say
        my confidence in them is shaking a bit....

        Wrote them a note asking for the why's and what's on 3 lots I see
        published in this catalogue which were already in their sale of June
        2007 BUT.... with a drastically different estimate. Although I fully
        follow the reasoning of lowering your estimate towards the next
        auction if you want to re-auction any unsold lots, I remark these
        adaptations to be drastic to say the least:

        1023 Baulé monkey estimated NOW 3-4000€ in 2007 8-12000€
        1034 Baulé monkey estimated NOW 2500-3500€ in 2007 6-10000€
        1041 Lobi estimated NOW 3-4000€ in 2007 10-15000€

        Remarkable.. .. Especially because the auction house chooses not to
        answer a simple request for more info.

        What do you all think?

        Find the catalogue on
        www.pba-auctions. com

        Cheers,Jan


      • Lee Rubinstein
        Paul: As always, your insights into the Congolese materials including both field and historical knowledge as well as market analysis are most valuable and
        Message 3 of 9 , Jun 3, 2008
        • 0 Attachment
          Paul:

          As always, your insights into the Congolese materials including both field and historical knowledge as well as market analysis are most valuable and appreciated.  

          In answer to your question regarding whether Bergé Lot 1134 is indeed the same as Figure 172 in Bronson:  Although the two images available for comparison are taken at different angles and it is not possible to cross-reference each small surface detail, a comparison of the forms depicted does suggest that it is one and the same object in both instances .  Here is the image from the Cornet book:
           

          With regard to the more general discussion on estimates and pricing strategies, I think there are numerous psychological and economic factors which come into play.  While on one hand it is plausible that valuations have been adjusted to reflect a diminishing middle market, it is also possible that some lower estimates are positioned as such with the intention of giving the bidding a running start.  More bidders are potentially drawn in through what appears to be a well-priced lot. Bidders engaged by a lower-priced lot who have given in to their desire -- i.e., bidders who may have not gotten involved in a higher-estimate offering -- are sometimes carried into a higher bid than they might have considered if they thought the piece was out of range at the start of the auction.   Also, the expanded interest and momentum initiated by a lower starting point can generate confidence in the desirability and suggest potential future interest and value.  There's a lot to be said for self-control, but I I myself am not too well-versed in that realm, which is why I generally absent myself from casinos and auction houses.  I can see the dollar signs in black but also in red...

          Lee




          On Jun 3, 2008, at 7:04 AM, Paul DeLucco wrote:


          Jan,
           
          I was interested in your anecdote about the Pierre Berge auction.  There is such a concentration in Belgium of experts in African art that it can be intimidating for an outsider to question how they do things.  I think this was the impetus behind the annual BRUNEAF exposition – to encourage foreign dealers and collectors to comme to Brussels to look and to deal in a cordial atmosphere.
           
          But, the Belgian dealers have never been good at establishing rules and procedures to deter insider-trading and other fraudulent practises among their members.  Neither have the French in Paris or the Americans in New York for that matter.  When rules are established in any city, one finds that they tend to be used to prevent foreign dealers from exhibiting – certainly the case in Paris during the Parcours du Monde in 2006 when American dealers were discouraged from participating.
           
          The only rule in collecting African art, be it in Europe, America, or Africa, is Caveat Emptor.  The starting point for being careful is the provenance. Provenances can be faked (we have all seen and wondered about the note; “From an old Belgian collection” in the Sothebys catalogues) but they can also be researched.  Unless a bidder possesses great talent and expertise, no one should think of bidding at auction on a piece without solid provenance.
           
          My particular area of interest comprises the cultures of the Lualaba basin (i.e. eastern Congo River).  I have worked and collected in that area for several years and think I have a pretty good knowledge of the prevailing styles.  Most of the Belgian experts also have expertise in this area so I always follow the Brussels auctions and expositions with interest.  I noticed that Didier Claes is the African Art Expert listed at the beginning of the Berge catalogue.  Didier’s father, Patric, was born and raised in the Katanga Province of the DRC.  When he was quite young, in the early 1970’s, Patric began working for the National Museums as a collector of indigenous art for the national collection.  He developed a great eye for styles and cultures.  When he left the museum, he became a noted dealer. His son was raised in this milieu and has opened a gallery of his own in Brussels.  (I understand Patric still lives and collects in the DRC.)  There is great depth of expertise in Brussels.
           
          I tend to judge an auction by the Hemba objects.  It was only in the early 1970’s that Hemba art became distinguished from the Luba.  The iconic pieces of Hemba art were collected by Patric Claes and others beginning in the late 1960’s.  This was the heyday of Pierre Dartevelle and other renowned Belgian gallery owners.  Hemba art became very popular very quickly.  In the mid-1970’s, a group of Senegalese diamond traders, who had been resident in Zaire for some years, traveled to northern Shaba (aka Katanga) and bought up everything.  Traditional carvers ramped up production.  A lot of pieces from this period, new but often well-carved, went unsold at first but began surfacing again in the 1980’s – aged and termite eaten - and were sold as “objects from the time of the Senegalese” (du temps Sénégalais).  The production of copies and blatant fakes has continued to the present although the quality has really fallen off lately.
           
          The most interesting Hemba piece in the Berge catalogue, for me, is Lot 1134, the half figure of a woman mounted on top of a calabash.  23 cm in height (about 9”), the Nyembo style figure, with fine facial features, is holding her breasts, her torso is elaborately scarified, her coiffure cannot be seen entirely but is obviously elaborate.  According to the provenance, this piece was published in the famous coffee table book:  The Bronson Collection, edited by Père Cornet, Director of the National Museum of Zaïre.  I am living in northern Uganda at the moment and do not have any books available and would appreciate it if someone would verify that the provenance is correct and that this object is indeed Fig. 172 in the Bronson Collection book.  If this is truly the piece from the book and not just a simlar piece, then this is one of the iconic pieces of Hemba art.  The estimated price range of Eur8,000 to 12,000 makes no sense;  its value on the market would be 5X that or more.
           
          Another Hemba piece, Lot 146, an ancestor, 68cm (about 27”), no provenance, has a pre-sale estimate of Eur10,000-15, 000, i.e. more than that of the half figure on the calabash!  This is puzzling.  The piece is neither well carved nor polished.  I would be surprised if it made its low estimate.  But I have often been wrong about the sales of Hemba pieces. In the 5 December 2007 Sothebys sale in Paris, two Hemba ancestor figures with weak provenance sold very well.  Lot 72, with a pre-sale estimate of Eur18,000 – 25,000, sold for Eur36,250 and Lot 74, with a pre-sale estimate of Eur8,000 – 12,000, sold for Eur17,050.  Both those pieces, however, were stronger sculpturally and generally more convincing than Berge Lot 146.
           
          There is also a Hemba stool, Lot 1159, 42.5cm (about 17”), no provenance but a cultural comment:  “Sign of royalty, this style of stool was exhibited durin! g ceremones showing the power of the owner (p.142).”  This is nonsense and proof of the care that must be taken in reading auction catalogues.  The Hemba have no chiefs and certainly no royalty.  They are organized into several clans.  In this respect, and other ways, the Hemba differ from the Luba. Actually, the Berge stool looks more Luba than Hemba.  At Eur3,500 to 4,500, it seems priced to sell.
           
          Other comments:
           
          The two Bembe m! asks, Lots 1138 and 1140, are interesting.  The provenance for 1138 is; “Collected in Katanga 1949.”  Rather cryptic. The Bembe settled the area in south Kivu around the towns of Fizi, Baraka, and Uvira.  They did not settle within Katanga although, obviously, this does not preclude the pruchase of a Bembe mask in Katanga in 1949.  The provenance does not mean anything at all.  The mask itself is curious.  A large plank mask, 61cm in height (app. 24”), it is very elaborately carved and issaid to represent an owl.  (A lovely Bembe plank mask with a double owl face sold at Sothebys on 9 May 2006, Lot 72, for $84,000.)  I am suspicious of this mask, however.  It does appear to have the features of an owl mask, but it also has a round mouth underneath the bill and this seems incorrect.  It is very elaborate.  The pre-sale estimate is Eur8,000 to 10,000.
           
          The second Bembe mask, Lot 1140, s an example of the Echawokaba, 42cm in height (app. 16.5”).  It is one of the photos that appear on the cover of the catalogue and it is a striking piece.  No provenance listed. Surely, if it were real, it would be worth more than the pre-sale estimate of EUR10,000 – 12,000?  That’s reverse logic, I know.  We should not try to evaluate the value of a piece by its pre-sale estimate.  But, I have seen so few masks of this type.  I don’t believe the Bembe ever carved or possessed more than a dozen of them.  They have been often copied, and copied well.  This one certainly looks good.  It seems remarkably well-preserved.  Is it a bit small?  Caveat emptor.
           
          Kifwebe masks are another good indicator to follow in auctions.  There is always at least one Kifwebe in every auction.  There are thre! e Songye Kifwebe masks in the Bergé auction:  Lot 1148, with a provenance – Léon Oscar Vandernoot, a Public Health Officer in the colonial service who collected it between 1923 and 1935.  It looks more to me like a Luba mask from the Nyunzu area of north Katanga than a Songye mas.  Not a mask of the dramatic volumes associated with Songye mask and not big – 35cm (app. 14”) - but probably not a copy.  Not over-priced at Eur2,900 – 3,500. 
           
          I do not like Lot 1149.  This male mask is ill-proportioned.  No provenance.  Pre-sale estimate of Eur2,900 – 3,500. 
           
          Lot 1158 is the most interesting of the three Kifwebe masks.  Not very big at 35cm, app. 14”, it is a well-proportioned female mask and looks well balanced with the bulbous forehead overarching the eye slits and finely carved Songye style nose and mouth.  It is the only Kifwebe I have seen without the fine lines carved into the surface.  The provenance is a name: Philippe Konzett, of Austria.  Pre-sale estimate:  Eur16,000 – 18,000.
           
          The Teke mask, Lot 1112, looks great.  During the time! I lived in Zaïre, I was never able to find a real one.  I guess they had all been collected by 1975.  Fakes abound but they are hardly ever convincing.  This one looks good to me.  It has a provenance:  “Collection Dubiner, Tel-Aviv.”  The pre-sale estimate is not astronomic:  Eur4,500 – 6,000.  I would not be surprised if it went for more than that.
           
          The Tabwa figure, Lot 1136, is very beautiful with a convincing provenance.  It is another iconic piece.
           
          The Tshokwe sceptre, Lot 1135, is also very beautiful.  The provenance mentions that a study by Marie Bastin, Tshokwe researcher, wll be provided to the purchaser.  And why not the potential purchaser?  If real, this is an iconic piece also.
           
          The Lega Iginga, Lot 1117, 21cm (app. 8”), has an interesting provenance:  Sothebys London 30 November 1981.  Pre-sale estimate of Eur18,000 – 22,000.  Notice the uneven patination and wear.  Notice how the ivory has long cracks with no cross-hatching.  These are all signs of  a genuine old ivory piece.  But, be careful.  The Lega have taken me with clever fakes more often than I care to remember. 
           
          I will take a pass on discussing the Lega masks inthis auction.       
           
          I also like Lot 1163, Ngombe figure, 51cm (app. 20”), pre-sale estimate of Eur40,000 – 50,000.  Peculiar provenance.  Supposedly collected in 1906 by an unnamed Belgian explorer.  Then, in the 1950’s, there was a Ngombe artist who carved figures.  Bergé just isn’t very good at provenance.
           
          Regards,
           
          Paul


          Jan De Clerck <jandeclerck@ yucom.be> wrote:
          Dear group,

          Most probably I'll still be attending the Pierre Bergé auction in 
          Brussels this week.

          However, after their not answering my simple email request I must say 
          my confidence in them is shaking a bit....

          Wrote them a note asking for the why's and what's on 3 lots I see 
          published in this catalogue which were already in their sale of June 
          2007 BUT.... with a drastically different estimate. Although I fully 
          follow the reasoning of lowering your estimate towards the next 
          auction if you want to re-auction any unsold lots, I remark these 
          adaptations to be drastic to say the least:

          1023 Baulé monkey estimated NOW 3-4000€ in 2007 8-12000€
          1034 Baulé monkey estimated NOW 2500-3500€ in 2007 6-10000€
          1041 Lobi estimated NOW 3-4000€ in 2007 10-15000€

          Remarkable.. .. Especially because the auction house chooses not to 
          answer a simple request for more info.

          What do you all think?

          Find the catalogue on 
          www.pba-auctions. com

          Cheers,Jan




        • Paul DeLucco
          Lee, Thanks for the confirmation. The Bronson Collection book was terribly influential on collectors when it came out. It was the bible for collectors of
          Message 4 of 9 , Jun 5, 2008
          • 0 Attachment
            Lee,
             
            Thanks for the confirmation.  The Bronson Collection book was terribly influential on collectors when it came out.  It was the bible for collectors of Congolese art in the 80's.  It is a pleasant surprise to see one of the objects up for sale in an auction. 
             
            Regards,
             
            Paul   
             


            Lee Rubinstein <LeeRubinstein@...> wrote:
            Paul:

            As always, your insights into the Congolese materials including both
            field and historical knowledge as well as market analysis are most
            valuable and appreciated.

            In answer to your question regarding whether Bergé Lot 1134 is indeed
            the same as Figure 172 in Bronson: Although the two images available
            for comparison are taken at different angles and it is not possible
            to cross-reference each small surface detail, a comparison of the
            forms depicted does suggest that it is one and the same object in
            both instances . Here is the image from the Cornet book:
            
            (Also uploaded to Photos at http://ph.groups.yahoo.com/group/
            African_Arts/photos/view/7865?b=1 .)

            With regard to the more general discussion on estimates and pricing
            strategies, I think there are numerous psychological and economic
            factors which come into play. While on one hand it is plausible that
            valuations have been adjusted to reflect a diminishing middle market,
            it is also possible that some lower estimates are positioned as such
            with the intention of giving the bidding a running start. More
            bidders are potentially drawn in through what appears to be a well-
            priced lot. Bidders engaged by a lower-priced lot who have given in
            to their desire -- i.e., bidders who may have not gotten involved in
            a higher-estimate offering -- are sometimes carried into a higher bid
            than they might have considered if they thought the piece was out of
            range at the start of the auction. Also, the expanded interest and
            momentum initiated by a lower starting point can generate confidence
            in the desirability and suggest potential future interest and value.
            There's a lot to be said for self-control, but I I myself am not too
            well-versed in that realm, which is why I generally absent myself
            from casinos and auction houses. I can see the dollar signs in black
            but also in red...

            Lee




            On Jun 3, 2008, at 7:04 AM, Paul DeLucco wrote:

            >
            > Jan,
            >
            > I was interested in your anecdote about the Pierre Berge auction.
            > There is such a concentration in Belgium of experts in African art
            > that it can be intimidating for an outsider to question how they do
            > things. I think this was the impetus behind the annual BRUNEAF
            > exposition – to encourage foreign dealers and collectors to comme
            > to Brussels to look and to deal in a cordial atmosphere.
            >
            > But, the Belgian dealers have never been good at establishing rules
            > and procedures to deter insider-trading and other fraudulent
            > practises among their members. Neither have the French in Paris or
            > the Americans in New York for that matter. When rules are
            > established in any city, one finds that they tend to be used to
            > prevent foreign dealers from exhibiting – certainly the case in
            > Paris during the Parcours du Monde in 2006 when American dealers
            > were discouraged from participating.
            >
            > The only rule in collecting African art, be it in Europe, America,
            > or Africa, is Caveat Emptor. The starting point for being careful
            > is the provenance. Provenances can be faked (we have all seen and
            > wondered about the note; “From an old Belgian collection” in the
            > Sothebys catalogues) but they can also be researched. Unless a
            > bidder possesses great talent and expertise, no one should think of
            > bidding at auction on a piece without solid provenance.
            >
            > My particular area of interest comprises the cultures of the
            > Lualaba basin (i.e. eastern Congo River). I have worked and
            > collected in that area for several years and think I have a pretty
            > good knowledge of the prevailing styles. Most of the Belgian
            > experts also have expertise in this area so I always follow the
            > Brussels auctions and expositions with interest. I noticed that
            > Didier Claes is the African Art Expert listed at the beginning of
            > the Berge catalogue. Didier’s father, Patric, was born and raised
            > in the Katanga Province of the DRC. When he was quite young, in
            > the early 1970’s, Patric began working for the National Museums as
            > a collector of indigenous art for the national collection. He
            > developed a great eye for styles and cultures. When he left the
            > museum, he became a noted dealer. His son was raised in this milieu
            > and has opened a gallery of his own in Brussels. (I understand
            > Patric still lives and collects in the DRC.) There is great depth
            > of expertise in Brussels.
            >
            > I tend to judge an auction by the Hemba objects. It was only in
            > the early 1970’s that Hemba art became distinguished from the
            > Luba. The iconic pieces of Hemba art were collected by Patric
            > Claes and others beginning in the late 1960’s. This was the
            > heyday of Pierre Dartevelle and other renowned Belgian gallery
            > owners. Hemba art became very popular very quickly. In the
            > mid-1970’s, a group of Senegalese diamond traders, who had been
            > resident in Zaire for some years, traveled to northern Shaba (aka
            > Katanga) and bought up everything. Traditional carvers ramped up
            > production. A lot of pieces from this period, new but often well-
            > carved, went unsold at first but began surfacing again in the
            > 1980’s – aged and termite eaten - and were sold as “objects
            > from the time of the Senegalese” (du temps Sénégalais). The
            > production of copies and blatant fakes has continued to the present
            > although the quality has really fallen off lately.
            >
            > The most interesting Hemba piece in the Berge catalogue, for me, is
            > Lot 1134, the half figure of a woman mounted on top of a calabash.
            > 23 cm in height (about 9”), the Nyembo style figure, with fine
            > facial features, is holding her breasts, her torso is elaborately
            > scarified, her coiffure cannot be seen entirely but is obviously
            > elaborate. According to the provenance, this piece was published
            > in the famous coffee table book: The Bronson Collection, edited by
            > Père Cornet, Director of the National Museum of Zaïre. I am
            > living in northern Uganda at the moment and do not have any books
            > available and would appreciate it if someone would verify that the
            > provenance is correct and that this object is indeed Fig. 172 in
            > the Bronson Collection book. If this is truly the piece from the
            > book and not just a simlar piece, then this is one of the iconic
            > pieces of Hemba art. The estimated price range of Eur8,000 to
            > 12,000 makes no sense; its value on the market would be 5X that or
            > more.
            >
            > Another Hemba piece, Lot 146, an ancestor, 68cm (about 27”), no
            > provenance, has a pre-sale estimate of Eur10,000-15,000, i.e. more
            > than that of the half figure on the calabash! This is puzzling.
            > The piece is neither well carved nor polished. I would be
            > surprised if it made its low estimate. But I have often been wrong
            > about the sales of Hemba pieces. In the 5 December 2007 Sothebys
            > sale in Paris, two Hemba ancestor figures with weak provenance sold
            > very well. Lot 72, with a pre-sale estimate of Eur18,000 –
            > 25,000, sold for Eur36,250 and Lot 74, with a pre-sale estimate of
            > Eur8,000 – 12,000, sold for Eur17,050. Both those pieces,
            > however, were stronger sculpturally and generally more convincing
            > than Berge Lot 146.
            >
            > There is also a Hemba stool, Lot 1159, 42.5cm (about 17”), no
            > provenance but a cultural comment: “Sign of royalty, this style
            > of stool was exhibited durin! g ceremones showing the power of the
            > owner (p.142).” This is nonsense and proof of the care that must
            > be taken in reading auction catalogues. The Hemba have no chiefs
            > and certainly no royalty. They are organized into several clans.
            > In this respect, and other ways, the Hemba differ from the Luba.
            > Actually, the Berge stool looks more Luba than Hemba. At Eur3,500
            > to 4,500, it seems priced to sell.
            >
            > Other comments:
            >
            > The two Bembe m! asks, Lots 1138 and 1140, are interesting. The
            > provenance for 1138 is; “Collected in Katanga 1949.” Rather
            > cryptic. The Bembe settled the area in south Kivu around the towns
            > of Fizi, Baraka, and Uvira. They did not settle within Katanga
            > although, obviously, this does not preclude the pruchase of a Bembe
            > mask in Katanga in 1949. The provenance does not mean anything at
            > all. The mask itself is curious. A large plank mask, 61cm in
            > height (app. 24”), it is very elaborately carved and issaid to
            > represent an owl. (A lovely Bembe plank mask with a double owl
            > face sold at Sothebys on 9 May 2006, Lot 72, for $84,000.) I am
            > suspicious of this mask, however. It does appear to have the
            > features of an owl mask, but it also has a round mouth underneath
            > the bill and this seems incorrect. It is very elaborate. The pre-
            > sale estimate is Eur8,000 to 10,000.
            >
            > The second Bembe mask, Lot 1140, s an example of the Echawokaba,
            > 42cm in height (app. 16.5”). It is one of the photos that appear
            > on the cover of the catalogue and it is a striking piece. No
            > provenance listed. Surely, if it were real, it would be worth more
            > than the pre-sale estimate of EUR10,000 – 12,000? That’s
            > reverse logic, I know. We should not try to evaluate the value of
            > a piece by its pre-sale estimate. But, I have seen so few masks of
            > this type. I don’t believe the Bembe ever carved or possessed
            > more than a dozen of them. They have been often copied, and copied
            > well. This one certainly looks good. It seems remarkably well-
            > preserved. Is it a bit small? Caveat emptor.
            >
            > Kifwebe masks are another good indicator to follow in auctions.
            > There is always at least one Kifwebe in every auction. There are
            > thre! e Songye Kifwebe masks in the Bergé auction: Lot 1148, with
            > a provenance – Léon Oscar Vandernoot, a Public Health Officer in
            > the colonial service who collected it between 1923 and 1935. It
            > looks more to me like a Luba mask from the Nyunzu area of north
            > Katanga than a Songye mas. Not a mask of the dramatic volumes
            > associated with Songye mask and not big – 35cm (app. 14”) - but
            > probably not a copy. Not over-priced at Eur2,900 – 3,500.
            >
            > I do not like Lot 1149. This male mask is ill-proportioned. No
            > provenance. Pre-sale estimate of Eur2,900 – 3,500.
            >
            > Lot 1158 is the most interesting of the three Kifwebe masks. Not
            > very big at 35cm, app. 14”, it is a well-proportioned female mask
            > and looks well balanced with the bulbous forehead overarching the
            > eye slits and finely carved Songye style nose and mouth. It is the
            > only Kifwebe I have seen without the fine lines carved into the
            > surface. The provenance is a name: Philippe Konzett, of Austria.
            > Pre-sale estimate: Eur16,000 – 18,000.
            >
            > The Teke mask, Lot 1112, looks great. During the time! I lived in
            > Zaïre, I was never able to find a real one. I guess they had all
            > been collected by 1975. Fakes abound but they are hardly ever
            > convincing. This one looks good to me. It has a provenance:
            > “Collection Dubiner, Tel-Aviv.” The pre-sale estimate is not
            > astronomic: Eur4,500 – 6,000. I would not be surprised if it
            > went for more than that.
            >
            > The Tabwa figure, Lot 1136, is very beautiful with a convincing
            > provenance. It is another iconic piece.
            >
            > The Tshokwe sceptre, Lot 1135, is also very beautiful. The
            > provenance mentions that a study by Marie Bastin, Tshokwe
            > researcher, wll be provided to the purchaser. And why not the
            > potential purchaser? If real, this is an iconic piece also.
            >
            > The Lega Iginga, Lot 1117, 21cm (app. 8”), has an interesting
            > provenance: Sothebys London 30 November 1981. Pre-sale estimate
            > of Eur18,000 – 22,000. Notice the uneven patination and wear.
            > Notice how the ivory has long cracks with no cross-hatching. These
            > are all signs of a genuine old ivory piece. But, be careful. The
            > Lega have taken me with clever fakes more often than I care to
            > remember.
            >
            > I will take a pass on discussing the Lega masks inthis auction.
            >
            > I also like Lot 1163, Ngombe figure, 51cm (app. 20”), pre-sale
            > estimate of Eur40,000 – 50,000. Peculiar provenance. Supposedly
            > collected in 1906 by an unnamed Belgian explorer. Then, in the
            > 1950’s, there was a Ngombe artist who carved figures. Bergé just
            > isn’t very good at provenance.
            >
            > Regards,
            >
            > Paul
            >
            >
            > Jan De Clerck wrote:
            > Dear group,
            >
            > Most probably I'll still be attending the Pierre Bergé auction in
            > Brussels this week.
            >
            > However, after their not answering my simple email request I must say
            > my confidence in them is shaking a bit....
            >
            > Wrote them a note asking for the why's and what's on 3 lots I see
            > published in this catalogue which were already in their sale of June
            > 2007 BUT.... with a drastically different estimate. Although I fully
            > follow the reasoning of lowering your estimate towards the next
            > auction if you want to re-auction any unsold lots, I remark these
            > adaptations to be drastic to say the least:
            >
            > 1023 Baulé monkey estimated NOW 3-4000€ in 2007 8-12000€
            > 1034 Baulé monkey estimated NOW 2500-3500€ in 2007 6-10000€
            > 1041 Lobi estimated NOW 3-4000€ in 2007 10-15000€
            >
            > Remarkable.... Especially because the auction house chooses not to
            > answer a simple request for more info.
            >
            > What do you all think?
            >
            > Find the catalogue on
            > www.pba-auctions.com
            >
            > Cheers,Jan
            >
            >
            >
            >


          • Jan De Clerck
            Hi Paul, Lee & others, I was at the Bergé auction yesterday. The Hemba Calebas piece in question here was sold. Only (?) at the low end of its estimate:
            Message 5 of 9 , Jun 6, 2008
            • 0 Attachment
              Hi Paul, Lee & others,

              I was at the Bergé auction yesterday. The Hemba Calebas piece in
              question here was sold. Only (?) at the low end of its estimate:
              8000€.

              Good bargain if I hear you?... Maybe a smart investor and we'll see
              it up for auction in the near future????

              Jan

              Moderator's Note:

              Thanks, Jan, for the follow-up.

              Also, relating to the auction house and your disappointment with their response to inquires prior to the event, I spoke with another person who made an inquiry prior to the auction who indicated that response received was timely and courteous. Perhaps as your questions were related to the theory of pricing rather than specific interest in acquisition, they were not within the purview of the personnel who received your inquiry...

              In any case, I note that only one of the three items (1023, 1024 and 1041) you queried achieved a selling price and that was below the low estimate: The Lobi figure sold for 2700 EUR (estimate 3-4,000). Lee


              --- In African_Arts@yahoogroups.com, Paul DeLucco <pauldelucco@...>
              wrote:
              >
              > Lee,
              >
              > Thanks for the confirmation. The Bronson Collection book was
              terribly influential on collectors when it came out. It was the
              bible for collectors of Congolese art in the 80's. It is a pleasant
              surprise to see one of the objects up for sale in an auction.
              >
              > Regards,
              >
              > Paul
              >
              >
              >
              > Lee Rubinstein <LeeRubinstein@...> wrote:
              > Paul:
              >
              > As always, your insights into the Congolese materials including
              both
              > field and historical knowledge as well as market analysis are most
              > valuable and appreciated.
              >
              > In answer to your question regarding whether Bergé Lot 1134 is
              indeed
              > the same as Figure 172 in Bronson: Although the two images
              available
              > for comparison are taken at different angles and it is not possible
              > to cross-reference each small surface detail, a comparison of the
              > forms depicted does suggest that it is one and the same object in
              > both instances . Here is the image from the Cornet book:
              > 
              > (Also uploaded to Photos at http://ph.groups.yahoo.com/group/
              > African_Arts/photos/view/7865?b=1 .)
              >
              > With regard to the more general discussion on estimates and pricing
              > strategies, I think there are numerous psychological and economic
              > factors which come into play. While on one hand it is plausible
              that
              > valuations have been adjusted to reflect a diminishing middle
              market,
              > it is also possible that some lower estimates are positioned as
              such
              > with the intention of giving the bidding a running start. More
              > bidders are potentially drawn in through what appears to be a well-
              > priced lot. Bidders engaged by a lower-priced lot who have given in
              > to their desire -- i.e., bidders who may have not gotten involved
              in
              > a higher-estimate offering -- are sometimes carried into a higher
              bid
              > than they might have considered if they thought the piece was out
              of
              > range at the start of the auction. Also, the expanded interest and
              > momentum initiated by a lower starting point can generate
              confidence
              > in the desirability and suggest potential future interest and
              value.
              > There's a lot to be said for self-control, but I I myself am not
              too
              > well-versed in that realm, which is why I generally absent myself
              > from casinos and auction houses. I can see the dollar signs in
              black
              > but also in red...
              >
              > Lee
              >
              >
              >
              >
              > On Jun 3, 2008, at 7:04 AM, Paul DeLucco wrote:
              >
              > >
              > > Jan,
              > >
              > > I was interested in your anecdote about the Pierre Berge auction.
              > > There is such a concentration in Belgium of experts in African
              art
              > > that it can be intimidating for an outsider to question how they
              do
              > > things. I think this was the impetus behind the annual BRUNEAF
              > > exposition â€" to encourage foreign dealers and collectors to
              comme
              > > to Brussels to look and to deal in a cordial atmosphere.
              > >
              > > But, the Belgian dealers have never been good at establishing
              rules
              > > and procedures to deter insider-trading and other fraudulent
              > > practises among their members. Neither have the French in Paris
              or
              > > the Americans in New York for that matter. When rules are
              > > established in any city, one finds that they tend to be used to
              > > prevent foreign dealers from exhibiting â€" certainly the case in
              > > Paris during the Parcours du Monde in 2006 when American dealers
              > > were discouraged from participating.
              > >
              > > The only rule in collecting African art, be it in Europe,
              America,
              > > or Africa, is Caveat Emptor. The starting point for being careful
              > > is the provenance. Provenances can be faked (we have all seen and
              > > wondered about the note; “From an old Belgian collection” in
              the
              > > Sothebys catalogues) but they can also be researched. Unless a
              > > bidder possesses great talent and expertise, no one should think
              of
              > > bidding at auction on a piece without solid provenance.
              > >
              > > My particular area of interest comprises the cultures of the
              > > Lualaba basin (i.e. eastern Congo River). I have worked and
              > > collected in that area for several years and think I have a
              pretty
              > > good knowledge of the prevailing styles. Most of the Belgian
              > > experts also have expertise in this area so I always follow the
              > > Brussels auctions and expositions with interest. I noticed that
              > > Didier Claes is the African Art Expert listed at the beginning of
              > > the Berge catalogue. Didier’s father, Patric, was born and
              raised
              > > in the Katanga Province of the DRC. When he was quite young, in
              > > the early 1970’s, Patric began working for the National Museums
              as
              > > a collector of indigenous art for the national collection. He
              > > developed a great eye for styles and cultures. When he left the
              > > museum, he became a noted dealer. His son was raised in this
              milieu
              > > and has opened a gallery of his own in Brussels. (I understand
              > > Patric still lives and collects in the DRC.) There is great depth
              > > of expertise in Brussels.
              > >
              > > I tend to judge an auction by the Hemba objects. It was only in
              > > the early 1970’s that Hemba art became distinguished from the
              > > Luba. The iconic pieces of Hemba art were collected by Patric
              > > Claes and others beginning in the late 1960’s. This was the
              > > heyday of Pierre Dartevelle and other renowned Belgian gallery
              > > owners. Hemba art became very popular very quickly. In the
              > > mid-1970’s, a group of Senegalese diamond traders, who had been
              > > resident in Zaire for some years, traveled to northern Shaba (aka
              > > Katanga) and bought up everything. Traditional carvers ramped up
              > > production. A lot of pieces from this period, new but often well-
              > > carved, went unsold at first but began surfacing again in the
              > > 1980’s â€" aged and termite eaten - and were sold as “objects
              > > from the time of the Senegalese” (du temps Sénégalais). The
              > > production of copies and blatant fakes has continued to the
              present
              > > although the quality has really fallen off lately.
              > >
              > > The most interesting Hemba piece in the Berge catalogue, for me,
              is
              > > Lot 1134, the half figure of a woman mounted on top of a
              calabash.
              > > 23 cm in height (about 9”), the Nyembo style figure, with fine
              > > facial features, is holding her breasts, her torso is elaborately
              > > scarified, her coiffure cannot be seen entirely but is obviously
              > > elaborate. According to the provenance, this piece was published
              > > in the famous coffee table book: The Bronson Collection, edited
              by
              > > Père Cornet, Director of the National Museum of Zaïre. I am
              > > living in northern Uganda at the moment and do not have any books
              > > available and would appreciate it if someone would verify that
              the
              > > provenance is correct and that this object is indeed Fig. 172 in
              > > the Bronson Collection book. If this is truly the piece from the
              > > book and not just a simlar piece, then this is one of the iconic
              > > pieces of Hemba art. The estimated price range of Eur8,000 to
              > > 12,000 makes no sense; its value on the market would be 5X that
              or
              > > more.
              > >
              > > Another Hemba piece, Lot 146, an ancestor, 68cm (about 27”), no
              > > provenance, has a pre-sale estimate of Eur10,000-15,000, i.e.
              more
              > > than that of the half figure on the calabash! This is puzzling.
              > > The piece is neither well carved nor polished. I would be
              > > surprised if it made its low estimate. But I have often been
              wrong
              > > about the sales of Hemba pieces. In the 5 December 2007 Sothebys
              > > sale in Paris, two Hemba ancestor figures with weak provenance
              sold
              > > very well. Lot 72, with a pre-sale estimate of Eur18,000 â€"
              > > 25,000, sold for Eur36,250 and Lot 74, with a pre-sale estimate
              of
              > > Eur8,000 â€" 12,000, sold for Eur17,050. Both those pieces,
              > > however, were stronger sculpturally and generally more convincing
              > > than Berge Lot 146.
              > >
              > > There is also a Hemba stool, Lot 1159, 42.5cm (about 17”), no
              > > provenance but a cultural comment: “Sign of royalty, this style
              > > of stool was exhibited durin! g ceremones showing the power of
              the
              > > owner (p.142).” This is nonsense and proof of the care that
              must
              > > be taken in reading auction catalogues. The Hemba have no chiefs
              > > and certainly no royalty. They are organized into several clans.
              > > In this respect, and other ways, the Hemba differ from the Luba.
              > > Actually, the Berge stool looks more Luba than Hemba. At Eur3,500
              > > to 4,500, it seems priced to sell.
              > >
              > > Other comments:
              > >
              > > The two Bembe m! asks, Lots 1138 and 1140, are interesting. The
              > > provenance for 1138 is; “Collected in Katanga 1949.” Rather
              > > cryptic. The Bembe settled the area in south Kivu around the
              towns
              > > of Fizi, Baraka, and Uvira. They did not settle within Katanga
              > > although, obviously, this does not preclude the pruchase of a
              Bembe
              > > mask in Katanga in 1949. The provenance does not mean anything at
              > > all. The mask itself is curious. A large plank mask, 61cm in
              > > height (app. 24”), it is very elaborately carved and issaid to
              > > represent an owl. (A lovely Bembe plank mask with a double owl
              > > face sold at Sothebys on 9 May 2006, Lot 72, for $84,000.) I am
              > > suspicious of this mask, however. It does appear to have the
              > > features of an owl mask, but it also has a round mouth underneath
              > > the bill and this seems incorrect. It is very elaborate. The pre-
              > > sale estimate is Eur8,000 to 10,000.
              > >
              > > The second Bembe mask, Lot 1140, s an example of the Echawokaba,
              > > 42cm in height (app. 16.5”). It is one of the photos that
              appear
              > > on the cover of the catalogue and it is a striking piece. No
              > > provenance listed. Surely, if it were real, it would be worth
              more
              > > than the pre-sale estimate of EUR10,000 â€" 12,000? That’s
              > > reverse logic, I know. We should not try to evaluate the value of
              > > a piece by its pre-sale estimate. But, I have seen so few masks
              of
              > > this type. I don’t believe the Bembe ever carved or possessed
              > > more than a dozen of them. They have been often copied, and
              copied
              > > well. This one certainly looks good. It seems remarkably well-
              > > preserved. Is it a bit small? Caveat emptor.
              > >
              > > Kifwebe masks are another good indicator to follow in auctions.
              > > There is always at least one Kifwebe in every auction. There are
              > > thre! e Songye Kifwebe masks in the Bergé auction: Lot 1148,
              with
              > > a provenance â€" Léon Oscar Vandernoot, a Public Health Officer
              in
              > > the colonial service who collected it between 1923 and 1935. It
              > > looks more to me like a Luba mask from the Nyunzu area of north
              > > Katanga than a Songye mas. Not a mask of the dramatic volumes
              > > associated with Songye mask and not big â€" 35cm (app. 14”) -
              but
              > > probably not a copy. Not over-priced at Eur2,900 â€" 3,500.
              > >
              > > I do not like Lot 1149. This male mask is ill-proportioned. No
              > > provenance. Pre-sale estimate of Eur2,900 â€" 3,500.
              > >
              > > Lot 1158 is the most interesting of the three Kifwebe masks. Not
              > > very big at 35cm, app. 14”, it is a well-proportioned female
              mask
              > > and looks well balanced with the bulbous forehead overarching the
              > > eye slits and finely carved Songye style nose and mouth. It is
              the
              > > only Kifwebe I have seen without the fine lines carved into the
              > > surface. The provenance is a name: Philippe Konzett, of Austria.
              > > Pre-sale estimate: Eur16,000 â€" 18,000.
              > >
              > > The Teke mask, Lot 1112, looks great. During the time! I lived in
              > > Zaïre, I was never able to find a real one. I guess they had all
              > > been collected by 1975. Fakes abound but they are hardly ever
              > > convincing. This one looks good to me. It has a provenance:
              > > “Collection Dubiner, Tel-Aviv.” The pre-sale estimate is not
              > > astronomic: Eur4,500 â€" 6,000. I would not be surprised if it
              > > went for more than that.
              > >
              > > The Tabwa figure, Lot 1136, is very beautiful with a convincing
              > > provenance. It is another iconic piece.
              > >
              > > The Tshokwe sceptre, Lot 1135, is also very beautiful. The
              > > provenance mentions that a study by Marie Bastin, Tshokwe
              > > researcher, wll be provided to the purchaser. And why not the
              > > potential purchaser? If real, this is an iconic piece also.
              > >
              > > The Lega Iginga, Lot 1117, 21cm (app. 8”), has an interesting
              > > provenance: Sothebys London 30 November 1981. Pre-sale estimate
              > > of Eur18,000 â€" 22,000. Notice the uneven patination and wear.
              > > Notice how the ivory has long cracks with no cross-hatching.
              These
              > > are all signs of a genuine old ivory piece. But, be careful. The
              > > Lega have taken me with clever fakes more often than I care to
              > > remember.
              > >
              > > I will take a pass on discussing the Lega masks inthis auction.
              > >
              > > I also like Lot 1163, Ngombe figure, 51cm (app. 20”), pre-sale
              > > estimate of Eur40,000 â€" 50,000. Peculiar provenance. Supposedly
              > > collected in 1906 by an unnamed Belgian explorer. Then, in the
              > > 1950’s, there was a Ngombe artist who carved figures. Bergé
              just
              > > isn’t very good at provenance.
              > >
              > > Regards,
              > >
              > > Paul
              > >
              > >
              > > Jan De Clerck wrote:
              > > Dear group,
              > >
              > > Most probably I'll still be attending the Pierre Bergé auction in
              > > Brussels this week.
              > >
              > > However, after their not answering my simple email request I must
              say
              > > my confidence in them is shaking a bit....
              > >
              > > Wrote them a note asking for the why's and what's on 3 lots I see
              > > published in this catalogue which were already in their sale of
              June
              > > 2007 BUT.... with a drastically different estimate. Although I
              fully
              > > follow the reasoning of lowering your estimate towards the next
              > > auction if you want to re-auction any unsold lots, I remark these
              > > adaptations to be drastic to say the least:
              > >
              > > 1023 Baulé monkey estimated NOW 3-4000€ in 2007 8-12000€
              > > 1034 Baulé monkey estimated NOW 2500-3500€ in 2007 6-10000€
              > > 1041 Lobi estimated NOW 3-4000€ in 2007 10-15000€
              > >
              > > Remarkable.... Especially because the auction house chooses not to
              > > answer a simple request for more info.
              > >
              > > What do you all think?
              > >
              > > Find the catalogue on
              > > www.pba-auctions.com
              > >
              > > Cheers,Jan
              > >
              > >
              > >
              > >
              >
            • Lee Rubinstein
              Relating to the sale of the Hemba Figure on Calabash at last week s Bergé auction and Paul s observation that this object appeared in Joseph Cornet s A Survey
              Message 6 of 9 , Jun 6, 2008
              • 0 Attachment
                Relating to the sale of the Hemba Figure on Calabash at last week's Bergé auction and Paul's observation that this object appeared in Joseph Cornet's A Survey of Zairian Art: The Bronson Collection, I thought it worthwhile to note that another work from the Bronson Collection featured in the book was sold last month as well at the Sotheby's-New York May 16 auction:

                Having appeared in Bronson in 1978 as "Tabwa ?" (Figure 185 -- pp. 324-327), this figure was offered last month as an example of Western Bembe figural sculpture based on Lehuard's scheme of classification.  (See notes on Lot 123 .)  This reclassification (and thus, significant geographical and cultural relocation of origin) appeared as early as 1989 when the figure was published as Figure 964 on page 377 of Warren M. Robbins and Nancy Ingram Nooter's  African Art in American Collections  and in Raoul Lehuard's Art Bakongo.  

                So, it is interesting to note that "bibles" of all "traditions" remain ever open to further study and re-interpretation!  It's always fruitful to trust one's eye for perception of anomalous features and to delve more deeply for the possibility of new and alternate identifications and classifications...

                Lee




                On Jun 6, 2008, at 7:44 AM, Jan De Clerck wrote:

                Hi Paul, Lee & others,

                I was at the Bergé auction yesterday. The Hemba Calebas piece in 
                question here was sold. Only (?) at the low end of its estimate: 
                8000€.

                Good bargain if I hear you?... Maybe a smart investor and we'll see 
                it up for auction in the near future????

                Jan

                Moderator's Note:

                Thanks, Jan, for the follow-up. 

                Also, relating to the auction house and your disappointment with their response to inquires prior to the event, I spoke with another person who made an inquiry prior to the auction who indicated that response received was timely and courteous. Perhaps as your questions were related to the theory of pricing rather than specific interest in acquisition, they were not within the purview of the personnel who received your inquiry...

                In any case, I note that only one of the three items (1023, 1024 and 1041) you queried achieved a selling price and that was below the low estimate: The Lobi figure sold for 2700 EUR (estimate 3-4,000). Lee

                --- In African_Arts@ yahoogroups. com, Paul DeLucco <pauldelucco@ ...> 
                wrote:
                >
                > Lee,
                > 
                > Thanks for the confirmation. The Bronson Collection book was 
                terribly influential on collectors when it came out. It was the 
                bible for collectors of Congolese art in the 80's. It is a pleasant 
                surprise to see one of the objects up for sale in an auction. 
                > 
                > Regards,
                > 
                > Paul 
                > 
                > 
                > 
                > Lee Rubinstein <LeeRubinstein@ ...> wrote:
                > Paul:
                > 
                > As always, your insights into the Congolese materials including 
                both 
                > field and historical knowledge as well as market analysis are most 
                > valuable and appreciated.
                > 
                > In answer to your question regarding whether Bergé Lot 1134 is 
                indeed 
                > the same as Figure 172 in Bronson: Although the two images 
                available 
                > for comparison are taken at different angles and it is not possible 
                > to cross-reference each small surface detail, a comparison of the 
                > forms depicted does suggest that it is one and the same object in 
                > both instances . Here is the image from the Cornet book:
                > 
                > (Also uploaded to Photos at http://ph.groups. yahoo.com/ group/ 
                > African_Arts/ photos/view/ 7865?b=1 .)
                > 
                > With regard to the more general discussion on estimates and pricing 
                > strategies, I think there are numerous psychological and economic 
                > factors which come into play. While on one hand it is plausible 
                that 
                > valuations have been adjusted to reflect a diminishing middle 
                market, 
                > it is also possible that some lower estimates are positioned as 
                such 
                > with the intention of giving the bidding a running start. More 
                > bidders are potentially drawn in through what appears to be a well- 
                > priced lot. Bidders engaged by a lower-priced lot who have given in 
                > to their desire -- i.e., bidders who may have not gotten involved 
                in 
                > a higher-estimate offering -- are sometimes carried into a higher 
                bid 
                > than they might have considered if they thought the piece was out 
                of 
                > range at the start of the auction. Also, the expanded interest and 
                > momentum initiated by a lower starting point can generate 
                confidence 
                > in the desirability and suggest potential future interest and 
                value. 
                > There's a lot to be said for self-control, but I I myself am not 
                too 
                > well-versed in that realm, which is why I generally absent myself 
                > from casinos and auction houses. I can see the dollar signs in 
                black 
                > but also in red...
                > 
                > Lee
                > 
                > 
                > 
                > 
                > On Jun 3, 2008, at 7:04 AM, Paul DeLucco wrote:
                > 
                > >
                > > Jan,
                > >
                > > I was interested in your anecdote about the Pierre Berge auction. 
                > > There is such a concentration in Belgium of experts in African 
                art 
                > > that it can be intimidating for an outsider to question how they 
                do 
                > > things. I think this was the impetus behind the annual BRUNEAF 
                > > exposition â€" to encourage foreign dealers and collectors to 
                comme 
                > > to Brussels to look and to deal in a cordial atmosphere.
                > >
                > > But, the Belgian dealers have never been good at establishing 
                rules 
                > > and procedures to deter insider-trading and other fraudulent 
                > > practises among their members. Neither have the French in Paris 
                or 
                > > the Americans in New York for that matter. When rules are 
                > > established in any city, one finds that they tend to be used to 
                > > prevent foreign dealers from exhibiting â€" certainly the case in 
                > > Paris during the Parcours du Monde in 2006 when American dealers 
                > > were discouraged from participating.
                > >
                > > The only rule in collecting African art, be it in Europe, 
                America, 
                > > or Africa, is Caveat Emptor. The starting point for being careful 
                > > is the provenance. Provenances can be faked (we have all seen and 
                > > wondered about the note; “From an old Belgian collection” in 
                the 
                > > Sothebys catalogues) but they can also be researched. Unless a 
                > > bidder possesses great talent and expertise, no one should think 
                of 
                > > bidding at auction on a piece without solid provenance.
                > >
                > > My particular area of interest comprises the cultures of the 
                > > Lualaba basin (i.e. eastern Congo River). I have worked and 
                > > collected in that area for several years and think I have a 
                pretty 
                > > good knowledge of the prevailing styles. Most of the Belgian 
                > > experts also have expertise in this area so I always follow the 
                > > Brussels auctions and expositions with interest. I noticed that 
                > > Didier Claes is the African Art Expert listed at the beginning of 
                > > the Berge catalogue. Didier’s father, Patric, was born and 
                raised 
                > > in the Katanga Province of the DRC. When he was quite young, in 
                > > the early 1970’s, Patric began working for the National Museums 
                as 
                > > a collector of indigenous art for the national collection. He 
                > > developed a great eye for styles and cultures. When he left the 
                > > museum, he became a noted dealer. His son was raised in this 
                milieu 
                > > and has opened a gallery of his own in Brussels. (I understand 
                > > Patric still lives and collects in the DRC.) There is great depth 
                > > of expertise in Brussels.
                > >
                > > I tend to judge an auction by the Hemba objects. It was only in 
                > > the early 1970’s that Hemba art became distinguished from the 
                > > Luba. The iconic pieces of Hemba art were collected by Patric 
                > > Claes and others beginning in the late 1960’s. This was the 
                > > heyday of Pierre Dartevelle and other renowned Belgian gallery 
                > > owners. Hemba art became very popular very quickly. In the 
                > > mid-1970’s, a group of Senegalese diamond traders, who had been 
                > > resident in Zaire for some years, traveled to northern Shaba (aka 
                > > Katanga) and bought up everything. Traditional carvers ramped up 
                > > production. A lot of pieces from this period, new but often well- 
                > > carved, went unsold at first but began surfacing again in the 
                > > 1980’s â€" aged and termite eaten - and were sold as “objects 
                > > from the time of the Senegalese” (du temps Sénégalais). The 
                > > production of copies and blatant fakes has continued to the 
                present 
                > > although the quality has really fallen off lately.
                > >
                > > The most interesting Hemba piece in the Berge catalogue, for me, 
                is 
                > > Lot 1134, the half figure of a woman mounted on top of a 
                calabash. 
                > > 23 cm in height (about 9”), the Nyembo style figure, with fine 
                > > facial features, is holding her breasts, her torso is elaborately 
                > > scarified, her coiffure cannot be seen entirely but is obviously 
                > > elaborate. According to the provenance, this piece was published 
                > > in the famous coffee table book: The Bronson Collection, edited 
                by 
                > > Père Cornet, Director of the National Museum of Zaïre. I am 
                > > living in northern Uganda at the moment and do not have any books 
                > > available and would appreciate it if someone would verify that 
                the 
                > > provenance is correct and that this object is indeed Fig. 172 in 
                > > the Bronson Collection book. If this is truly the piece from the 
                > > book and not just a simlar piece, then this is one of the iconic 
                > > pieces of Hemba art. The estimated price range of Eur8,000 to 
                > > 12,000 makes no sense; its value on the market would be 5X that 
                or 
                > > more.
                > >
                > > Another Hemba piece, Lot 146, an ancestor, 68cm (about 27”), no 
                > > provenance, has a pre-sale estimate of Eur10,000-15, 000, i.e. 
                more 
                > > than that of the half figure on the calabash! This is puzzling. 
                > > The piece is neither well carved nor polished. I would be 
                > > surprised if it made its low estimate. But I have often been 
                wrong 
                > > about the sales of Hemba pieces. In the 5 December 2007 Sothebys 
                > > sale in Paris, two Hemba ancestor figures with weak provenance 
                sold 
                > > very well. Lot 72, with a pre-sale estimate of Eur18,000 â€" 
                > > 25,000, sold for Eur36,250 and Lot 74, with a pre-sale estimate 
                of 
                > > Eur8,000 â€" 12,000, sold for Eur17,050. Both those pieces, 
                > > however, were stronger sculpturally and generally more convincing 
                > > than Berge Lot 146.
                > >
                > > There is also a Hemba stool, Lot 1159, 42.5cm (about 17”), no 
                > > provenance but a cultural comment: “Sign of royalty, this style 
                > > of stool was exhibited durin! g ceremones showing the power of 
                the 
                > > owner (p.142).” This is nonsense and proof of the care that 
                must 
                > > be taken in reading auction catalogues. The Hemba have no chiefs 
                > > and certainly no royalty. They are organized into several clans. 
                > > In this respect, and other ways, the Hemba differ from the Luba. 
                > > Actually, the Berge stool looks more Luba than Hemba. At Eur3,500 
                > > to 4,500, it seems priced to sell.
                > >
                > > Other comments:
                > >
                > > The two Bembe m! asks, Lots 1138 and 1140, are interesting. The 
                > > provenance for 1138 is; “Collected in Katanga 1949.” Rather 
                > > cryptic. The Bembe settled the area in south Kivu around the 
                towns 
                > > of Fizi, Baraka, and Uvira. They did not settle within Katanga 
                > > although, obviously, this does not preclude the pruchase of a 
                Bembe 
                > > mask in Katanga in 1949. The provenance does not mean anything at 
                > > all. The mask itself is curious. A large plank mask, 61cm in 
                > > height (app. 24”), it is very elaborately carved and issaid to 
                > > represent an owl. (A lovely Bembe plank mask with a double owl 
                > > face sold at Sothebys on 9 May 2006, Lot 72, for $84,000.) I am 
                > > suspicious of this mask, however. It does appear to have the 
                > > features of an owl mask, but it also has a round mouth underneath 
                > > the bill and this seems incorrect. It is very elaborate. The pre- 
                > > sale estimate is Eur8,000 to 10,000.
                > >
                > > The second Bembe mask, Lot 1140, s an example of the Echawokaba, 
                > > 42cm in height (app. 16.5”). It is one of the photos that 
                appear 
                > > on the cover of the catalogue and it is a striking piece. No 
                > > provenance listed. Surely, if it were real, it would be worth 
                more 
                > > than the pre-sale estimate of EUR10,000 â€" 12,000? That’s 
                > > reverse logic, I know. We should not try to evaluate the value of 
                > > a piece by its pre-sale estimate. But, I have seen so few masks 
                of 
                > > this type. I don’t believe the Bembe ever carved or possessed 
                > > more than a dozen of them. They have been often copied, and 
                copied 
                > > well. This one certainly looks good. It seems remarkably well- 
                > > preserved. Is it a bit small? Caveat emptor.
                > >
                > > Kifwebe masks are another good indicator to follow in auctions. 
                > > There is always at least one Kifwebe in every auction. There are 
                > > thre! e Songye Kifwebe masks in the Bergé auction: Lot 1148, 
                with 
                > > a provenance â€" Léon Oscar Vandernoot, a Public Health Officer 
                in 
                > > the colonial service who collected it between 1923 and 1935. It 
                > > looks more to me like a Luba mask from the Nyunzu area of north 
                > > Katanga than a Songye mas. Not a mask of the dramatic volumes 
                > > associated with Songye mask and not big â€" 35cm (app. 14”) - 
                but 
                > > probably not a copy. Not over-priced at Eur2,900 â€" 3,500.
                > >
                > > I do not like Lot 1149. This male mask is ill-proportioned. No 
                > > provenance. Pre-sale estimate of Eur2,900 â€" 3,500.
                > >
                > > Lot 1158 is the most interesting of the three Kifwebe masks. Not 
                > > very big at 35cm, app. 14”, it is a well-proportioned female 
                mask 
                > > and looks well balanced with the bulbous forehead overarching the 
                > > eye slits and finely carved Songye style nose and mouth. It is 
                the 
                > > only Kifwebe I have seen without the fine lines carved into the 
                > > surface. The provenance is a name: Philippe Konzett, of Austria. 
                > > Pre-sale estimate: Eur16,000 â€" 18,000.
                > >
                > > The Teke mask, Lot 1112, looks great. During the time! I lived in 
                > > Zaïre, I was never able to find a real one. I guess they had all 
                > > been collected by 1975. Fakes abound but they are hardly ever 
                > > convincing. This one looks good to me. It has a provenance: 
                > > “Collection Dubiner, Tel-Aviv.” The pre-sale estimate is not 
                > > astronomic: Eur4,500 â€" 6,000. I would not be surprised if it 
                > > went for more than that.
                > >
                > > The Tabwa figure, Lot 1136, is very beautiful with a convincing 
                > > provenance. It is another iconic piece.
                > >
                > > The Tshokwe sceptre, Lot 1135, is also very beautiful. The 
                > > provenance mentions that a study by Marie Bastin, Tshokwe 
                > > researcher, wll be provided to the purchaser. And why not the 
                > > potential purchaser? If real, this is an iconic piece also.
                > >
                > > The Lega Iginga, Lot 1117, 21cm (app. 8”), has an interesting 
                > > provenance: Sothebys London 30 November 1981. Pre-sale estimate 
                > > of Eur18,000 â€" 22,000. Notice the uneven patination and wear. 
                > > Notice how the ivory has long cracks with no cross-hatching. 
                These 
                > > are all signs of a genuine old ivory piece. But, be careful. The 
                > > Lega have taken me with clever fakes more often than I care to 
                > > remember.
                > >
                > > I will take a pass on discussing the Lega masks inthis auction.
                > >
                > > I also like Lot 1163, Ngombe figure, 51cm (app. 20”), pre-sale 
                > > estimate of Eur40,000 â€" 50,000. Peculiar provenance. Supposedly 
                > > collected in 1906 by an unnamed Belgian explorer. Then, in the 
                > > 1950’s, there was a Ngombe artist who carved figures. Bergé 
                just 
                > > isn’t very good at provenance.
                > >
                > > Regards,
                > >
                > > Paul
                > >
                > >
                > > Jan De Clerck wrote:
                > > Dear group,
                > >
                > > Most probably I'll still be attending the Pierre Bergé auction in
                > > Brussels this week.
                > >
                > > However, after their not answering my simple email request I must 
                say
                > > my confidence in them is shaking a bit....
                > >
                > > Wrote them a note asking for the why's and what's on 3 lots I see
                > > published in this catalogue which were already in their sale of 
                June
                > > 2007 BUT.... with a drastically different estimate. Although I 
                fully
                > > follow the reasoning of lowering your estimate towards the next
                > > auction if you want to re-auction any unsold lots, I remark these
                > > adaptations to be drastic to say the least:
                > >
                > > 1023 Baulé monkey estimated NOW 3-4000€ in 2007 8-12000€
                > > 1034 Baulé monkey estimated NOW 2500-3500€ in 2007 6-10000€
                > > 1041 Lobi estimated NOW 3-4000€ in 2007 10-15000€
                > >
                > > Remarkable.. .. Especially because the auction house chooses not to
                > > answer a simple request for more info.
                > >
                > > What do you all think?
                > >
                > > Find the catalogue on
                > > www.pba-auctions. com
                > >
                > > Cheers,Jan
                > >
                > >
                > >
                > >
                >


              • Paul DeLucco
                Lee,   It is interesting that 2 items fro the Bronson Collection coffee table book should show up at auction in the same period.  Very different
                Message 7 of 9 , Jun 14, 2008
                • 0 Attachment

                  Lee,

                   

                  It is interesting that 2 items fro the Bronson Collection coffee table book should show up at auction in the same period.  Very different results.  In the Berge auction, the Hemba calabash piece sold for Eur8,000 - at the low end of its estimate.  At the Sothebys 16 May auction, the Bembe, with a pre-sale estimate of US$50-70,000, sold for $109,000. 

                   

                  This brings up an old scandal and more questions about valuing art by provenance.  IN the 1980's, Pere Cornet, Director of the National Museums of Zaire, was a renowned art historian.  He produced several authoritative books on Congolese art, notably on the Kuba, that were, and are, used as solid reference books.  Since the directorship did not pay, Pere Cornet also did appraisal work and brokered private sales of Central African art. He not only wrote the book on the Bronson Collection, he also advised the Bronson family on a number of key purchases. 

                   

                  The story, only rumor, goes that he was consulted on several expensive purchases by a wealthy Belgian family.  Afterwards, the family was warned by other experts in the small - and intensely competitive - African art scene of Brussels that a number of the pieces brokered by Cornet were fakes.  Accusations went back and forth and I don't remember how it got sorted out, if it ever did. 

                   

                  But it may well be that a piece going on sale in Brussels today with a Bronson Collection provenance is not going to sell well.  While in New York, such a piece may still have celebrity status.  

                   

                  Regards,

                   

                  Paul

                   



                  --- On Fri, 6/6/08, Lee Rubinstein <LeeRubinstein@...> wrote:

                  From: Lee Rubinstein <LeeRubinstein@...>
                  Subject: [African_Arts] Re: Another Congolese/Zairian work from Bronson recently offered: Tabwa? Bembe?
                  To: African_Arts@yahoogroups.com
                  Date: Friday, June 6, 2008, 10:09 AM

                  Relating to the sale of the Hemba Figure on Calabash at last week's Bergé auction and Paul's observation that this object appeared in Joseph Cornet's A Survey of Zairian Art: The Bronson Collection, I thought it worthwhile to note that another work from the Bronson Collection featured in the book was sold last month as well at the Sotheby's-New York May 16 auction:

                  Having appeared in Bronson in 1978 as "Tabwa ?" (Figure 185 -- pp. 324-327), this figure was offered last month as an example of Western Bembe figural sculpture based on Lehuard's scheme of classification.  (See notes on Lot 123 .)  This reclassification (and thus, significant geographical and cultural relocation of origin) appeared as early as 1989 when the figure was published as Figure 964 on page 377 of Warren M. Robbins and Nancy Ingram Nooter's  African Art in American Collections  and in Raoul Lehuard's Art Bakongo.  

                  So, it is interesting to note that "bibles" of all "traditions" remain ever open to further study and re-interpretation!  It's always fruitful to trust one's eye for perception of anomalous features and to delve more deeply for the possibility of new and alternate identifications and classifications...

                  Lee




                  On Jun 6, 2008, at 7:44 AM, Jan De Clerck wrote:

                  Hi Paul, Lee & others,

                  I was at the Bergé auction yesterday. The Hemba Calebas piece in 
                  question here was sold. Only (?) at the low end of its estimate: 
                  8000€.

                  Good bargain if I hear you?... Maybe a smart investor and we'll see 
                  it up for auction in the near future????

                  Jan

                  Moderator's Note:

                  Thanks, Jan, for the follow-up. 

                  Also, relating to the auction house and your disappointment with their response to inquires prior to the event, I spoke with another person who made an inquiry prior to the auction who indicated that response received was timely and courteous. Perhaps as your questions were related to the theory of pricing rather than specific interest in acquisition, they were not within the purview of the personnel who received your inquiry...

                  In any case, I note that only one of the three items (1023, 1024 and 1041) you queried achieved a selling price and that was below the low estimate: The Lobi figure sold for 2700 EUR (estimate 3-4,000). Lee

                  --- In African_Arts@ yahoogroups. com, Paul DeLucco <pauldelucco@ ...> 
                  wrote:
                  >
                  > Lee,
                  > 
                  > Thanks for the confirmation. The Bronson Collection book was 
                  terribly influential on collectors when it came out. It was the 
                  bible for collectors of Congolese art in the 80's. It is a pleasant 
                  surprise to see one of the objects up for sale in an auction. 
                  > 
                  > Regards,
                  > 
                  > Paul 
                  > 
                  > 
                  > 
                  > Lee Rubinstein <LeeRubinstein@ ...> wrote:
                  > Paul:
                  > 
                  > As always, your insights into the Congolese materials including 
                  both 
                  > field and historical knowledge as well as market analysis are most 
                  > valuable and appreciated.
                  > 
                  > In answer to your question regarding whether Bergé Lot 1134 is 
                  indeed 
                  > the same as Figure 172 in Bronson: Although the two images 
                  available 
                  > for comparison are taken at different angles and it is not possible 
                  > to cross-reference each small surface detail, a comparison of the 
                  > forms depicted does suggest that it is one and the same object in 
                  > both instances . Here is the image from the Cornet book:
                  > 
                  > (Also uploaded to Photos at http://ph.groups. yahoo.com/ group/ 
                  > African_Arts/ photos/view/ 7865?b=1 .)
                  > 
                  > With regard to the more general discussion on estimates and pricing 
                  > strategies, I think there are numerous psychological and economic 
                  > factors which come into play. While on one hand it is plausible 
                  that 
                  > valuations have been adjusted to reflect a diminishing middle 
                  market, 
                  > it is also possible that some lower estimates are positioned as 
                  such 
                  > with the intention of giving the bidding a running start. More 
                  > bidders are potentially drawn in through what appears to be a well- 
                  > priced lot. Bidders engaged by a lower-priced lot who have given in 
                  > to their desire -- i.e., bidders who may have not gotten involved 
                  in 
                  > a higher-estimate offering -- are sometimes carried into a higher 
                  bid 
                  > than they might have considered if they thought the piece was out 
                  of 
                  > range at the start of the auction. Also, the expanded interest and 
                  > momentum initiated by a lower starting point can generate 
                  confidence 
                  > in the desirability and suggest potential future interest and 
                  value. 
                  > There's a lot to be said for self-control, but I I myself am not 
                  too 
                  > well-versed in that realm, which is why I generally absent myself 
                  > from casinos and auction houses. I can see the dollar signs in 
                  black 
                  > but also in red...
                  > 
                  > Lee
                  > 
                  > 
                  > 
                  > 
                  > On Jun 3, 2008, at 7:04 AM, Paul DeLucco wrote:
                  > 
                  > >
                  > > Jan,
                  > >
                  > > I was interested in your anecdote about the Pierre Berge auction. 
                  > > There is such a concentration in Belgium of experts in African 
                  art 
                  > > that it can be intimidating for an outsider to question how they 
                  do 
                  > > things. I think this was the impetus behind the annual BRUNEAF 
                  > > exposition â€" to encourage foreign dealers and collectors to 
                  comme 
                  > > to Brussels to look and to deal in a cordial atmosphere.
                  > >
                  > > But, the Belgian dealers have never been good at establishing 
                  rules 
                  > > and procedures to deter insider-trading and other fraudulent 
                  > > practises among their members. Neither have the French in Paris 
                  or 
                  > > the Americans in New York for that matter. When rules are 
                  > > established in any city, one finds that they tend to be used to 
                  > > prevent foreign dealers from exhibiting â€" certainly the case in 
                  > > Paris during the Parcours du Monde in 2006 when American dealers 
                  > > were discouraged from participating.
                  > >
                  > > The only rule in collecting African art, be it in Europe, 
                  America, 
                  > > or Africa, is Caveat Emptor. The starting point for being careful 
                  > > is the provenance. Provenances can be faked (we have all seen and 
                  > > wondered about the note; “From an old Belgian collection†in 
                  the 
                  > > Sothebys catalogues) but they can also be researched. Unless a 
                  > > bidder possesses great talent and expertise, no one should think 
                  of 
                  > > bidding at auction on a piece without solid provenance.
                  > >
                  > > My particular area of interest comprises the cultures of the 
                  > > Lualaba basin (i.e. eastern Congo River). I have worked and 
                  > > collected in that area for several years and think I have a 
                  pretty 
                  > > good knowledge of the prevailing styles. Most of the Belgian 
                  > > experts also have expertise in this area so I always follow the 
                  > > Brussels auctions and expositions with interest. I noticed that 
                  > > Didier Claes is the African Art Expert listed at the beginning of 
                  > > the Berge catalogue. Didier’s father, Patric, was born and 
                  raised 
                  > > in the Katanga Province of the DRC. When he was quite young, in 
                  > > the early 1970’s, Patric began working for the National Museums 
                  as 
                  > > a collector of indigenous art for the national collection. He 
                  > > developed a great eye for styles and cultures. When he left the 
                  > > museum, he became a noted dealer. His son was raised in this 
                  milieu 
                  > > and has opened a gallery of his own in Brussels. (I understand 
                  > > Patric still lives and collects in the DRC.) There is great depth 
                  > > of expertise in Brussels.
                  > >
                  > > I tend to judge an auction by the Hemba objects. It was only in 
                  > > the early 1970’s that Hemba art became distinguished from the 
                  > > Luba. The iconic pieces of Hemba art were collected by Patric 
                  > > Claes and others beginning in the late 1960’s. This was the 
                  > > heyday of Pierre Dartevelle and other renowned Belgian gallery 
                  > > owners. Hemba art became very popular very quickly. In the 
                  > > mid-1970’s, a group of Senegalese diamond traders, who had been 
                  > > resident in Zaire for some years, traveled to northern Shaba (aka 
                  > > Katanga) and bought up everything. Traditional carvers ramped up 
                  > > production. A lot of pieces from this period, new but often well- 
                  > > carved, went unsold at first but began surfacing again in the 
                  > > 1980’s â€" aged and termite eaten - and were sold as “objects 
                  > > from the time of the Senegalese†(du temps Sénégalais). The 
                  > > production of copies and blatant fakes has continued to the 
                  present 
                  > > although the quality has really fallen off lately.
                  > >
                  > > The most interesting Hemba piece in the Berge catalogue, for me, 
                  is 
                  > > Lot 1134, the half figure of a woman mounted on top of a 
                  calabash. 
                  > > 23 cm in height (about 9â€), the Nyembo style figure, with fine 
                  > > facial features, is holding her breasts, her torso is elaborately 
                  > > scarified, her coiffure cannot be seen entirely but is obviously 
                  > > elaborate. According to the provenance, this piece was published 
                  > > in the famous coffee table book: The Bronson Collection, edited 
                  by 
                  > > Père Cornet, Director of the National Museum of Zaïre. I am 
                  > > living in northern Uganda at the moment and do not have any books 
                  > > available and would appreciate it if someone would verify that 
                  the 
                  > > provenance is correct and that this object is indeed Fig. 172 in 
                  > > the Bronson Collection book. If this is truly the piece from the 
                  > > book and not just a simlar piece, then this is one of the iconic 
                  > > pieces of Hemba art. The estimated price range of Eur8,000 to 
                  > > 12,000 makes no sense; its value on the market would be 5X that 
                  or 
                  > > more.
                  > >
                  > > Another Hemba piece, Lot 146, an ancestor, 68cm (about 27â€), no 
                  > > provenance, has a pre-sale estimate of Eur10,000-15, 000, i.e. 
                  more 
                  > > than that of the half figure on the calabash! This is puzzling. 
                  > > The piece is neither well carved nor polished. I would be 
                  > > surprised if it made its low estimate. But I have often been 
                  wrong 
                  > > about the sales of Hemba pieces. In the 5 December 2007 Sothebys 
                  > > sale in Paris, two Hemba ancestor figures with weak provenance 
                  sold 
                  > > very well. Lot 72, with a pre-sale estimate of Eur18,000 â€" 
                  > > 25,000, sold for Eur36,250 and Lot 74, with a pre-sale estimate 
                  of 
                  > > Eur8,000 â€" 12,000, sold for Eur17,050. Both those pieces, 
                  > > however, were stronger sculpturally and generally more convincing 
                  > > than Berge Lot 146.
                  > >
                  > > There is also a Hemba stool, Lot 1159, 42.5cm (about 17â€), no 
                  > > provenance but a cultural comment: “Sign of royalty, this style 
                  > > of stool was exhibited durin! g ceremones showing the power of 
                  the 
                  > > owner (p.142).†This is nonsense and proof of the care that 
                  must 
                  > > be taken in reading auction catalogues. The Hemba have no chiefs 
                  > > and certainly no royalty. They are organized into several clans. 
                  > > In this respect, and other ways, the Hemba differ from the Luba. 
                  > > Actually, the Berge stool looks more Luba than Hemba. At Eur3,500 
                  > > to 4,500, it seems priced to sell.
                  > >
                  > > Other comments:
                  > >
                  > > The two Bembe m! asks, Lots 1138 and 1140, are interesting. The 
                  > > provenance for 1138 is; “Collected in Katanga 1949.†Rather 
                  > > cryptic. The Bembe settled the area in south Kivu around the 
                  towns 
                  > > of Fizi, Baraka, and Uvira. They did not settle within Katanga 
                  > > although, obviously, this does not preclude the pruchase of a 
                  Bembe 
                  > > mask in Katanga in 1949. The provenance does not mean anything at 
                  > > all. The mask itself is curious. A large plank mask, 61cm in 
                  > > height (app. 24â€), it is very elaborately carved and issaid to 
                  > > represent an owl. (A lovely Bembe plank mask with a double owl 
                  > > face sold at Sothebys on 9 May 2006, Lot 72, for $84,000.) I am 
                  > > suspicious of this mask, however. It does appear to have the 
                  > > features of an owl mask, but it also has a round mouth underneath 
                  > > the bill and this seems incorrect. It is very elaborate. The pre- 
                  > > sale estimate is Eur8,000 to 10,000.
                  > >
                  > > The second Bembe mask, Lot 1140, s an example of the Echawokaba, 
                  > > 42cm in height (app. 16.5â€). It is one of the photos that 
                  appear 
                  > > on the cover of the catalogue and it is a striking piece. No 
                  > > provenance listed. Surely, if it were real, it would be worth 
                  more 
                  > > than the pre-sale estimate of EUR10,000 â€" 12,000? That’s 
                  > > reverse logic, I know. We should not try to evaluate the value of 
                  > > a piece by its pre-sale estimate. But, I have seen so few masks 
                  of 
                  > > this type. I don’t believe the Bembe ever carved or possessed 
                  > > more than a dozen of them. They have been often copied, and 
                  copied 
                  > > well. This one certainly looks good. It seems remarkably well- 
                  > > preserved. Is it a bit small? Caveat emptor.
                  > >
                  > > Kifwebe masks are another good indicator to follow in auctions. 
                  > > There is always at least one Kifwebe in every auction. There are 
                  > > thre! e Songye Kifwebe masks in the Bergé auction: Lot 1148, 
                  with 
                  > > a provenance â€" Léon Oscar Vandernoot, a Public Health Officer 
                  in 
                  > > the colonial service who collected it between 1923 and 1935. It 
                  > > looks more to me like a Luba mask from the Nyunzu area of north 
                  > > Katanga than a Songye mas. Not a mask of the dramatic volumes 
                  > > associated with Songye mask and not big â€" 35cm (app. 14â€) - 
                  but 
                  > > probably not a copy. Not over-priced at Eur2,900 â€" 3,500.
                  > >
                  > > I do not like Lot 1149. This male mask is ill-proportioned. No 
                  > > provenance. Pre-sale estimate of Eur2,900 â€" 3,500.
                  > >
                  > > Lot 1158 is the most interesting of the three Kifwebe masks. Not 
                  > > very big at 35cm, app. 14â€, it is a well-proportioned female 
                  mask 
                  > > and looks well balanced with the bulbous forehead overarching the 
                  > > eye slits and finely carved Songye style nose and mouth. It is 
                  the 
                  > > only Kifwebe I have seen without the fine lines carved into the 
                  > > surface. The provenance is a name: Philippe Konzett, of Austria. 
                  > > Pre-sale estimate: Eur16,000 â€" 18,000.
                  > >
                  > > The Teke mask, Lot 1112, looks great. During the time! I lived in 
                  > > Zaïre, I was never able to find a real one. I guess they had all 
                  > > been collected by 1975. Fakes abound but they are hardly ever 
                  > > convincing. This one looks good to me. It has a provenance: 
                  > > “Collection Dubiner, Tel-Aviv.†The pre-sale estimate is not 
                  > > astronomic: Eur4,500 â€" 6,000. I would not be surprised if it 
                  > > went for more than that.
                  > >
                  > > The Tabwa figure, Lot 1136, is very beautiful with a convincing 
                  > > provenance. It is another iconic piece.
                  > >
                  > > The Tshokwe sceptre, Lot 1135, is also very beautiful. The 
                  > > provenance mentions that a study by Marie Bastin, Tshokwe 
                  > > researcher, wll be provided to the purchaser. And why not the 
                  > > potential purchaser? If real, this is an iconic piece also.
                  > >
                  > > The Lega Iginga, Lot 1117, 21cm (app. 8â€), has an interesting 
                  > > provenance: Sothebys London 30 November 1981. Pre-sale estimate 
                  > > of Eur18,000 â€" 22,000. Notice the uneven patination and wear. 
                  > > Notice how the ivory has long cracks with no cross-hatching. 
                  These 
                  > > are all signs of a genuine old ivory piece. But, be careful. The 
                  > > Lega have taken me with clever fakes more often than I care to 
                  > > remember.
                  > >
                  > > I will take a pass on discussing the Lega masks inthis auction.
                  > >
                  > > I also like Lot 1163, Ngombe figure, 51cm (app. 20â€), pre-sale 
                  > > estimate of Eur40,000 â€" 50,000. Peculiar provenance. Supposedly 
                  > > collected in 1906 by an unnamed Belgian explorer. Then, in the 
                  > > 1950’s, there was a Ngombe artist who carved figures. Bergé 
                  just 
                  > > isn’t very good at provenance.
                  > >
                  > > Regards,
                  > >
                  > > Paul
                  > >
                  > >
                  > > Jan De Clerck wrote:
                  > > Dear group,
                  > >
                  > > Most probably I'll still be attending the Pierre Bergé auction in
                  > > Brussels this week.
                  > >
                  > > However, after their not answering my simple email request I must 
                  say
                  > > my confidence in them is shaking a bit....
                  > >
                  > > Wrote them a note asking for the why's and what's on 3 lots I see
                  > > published in this catalogue which were already in their sale of 
                  June
                  > > 2007 BUT.... with a drastically different estimate. Although I 
                  fully
                  > > follow the reasoning of lowering your estimate towards the next
                  > > auction if you want to re-auction any unsold lots, I remark these
                  > > adaptations to be drastic to say the least:
                  > >
                  > > 1023 Baulé monkey estimated NOW 3-4000€ in 2007 8-12000€
                  > > 1034 Baulé monkey estimated NOW 2500-3500€ in 2007 6-10000€
                  > > 1041 Lobi estimated NOW 3-4000€ in 2007 10-15000€
                  > >
                  > > Remarkable.. .. Especially because the auction house chooses not to
                  > > answer a simple request for more info.
                  > >
                  > > What do you all think?
                  > >
                  > > Find the catalogue on
                  > > www.pba-auctions. com
                  > >
                  > > Cheers,Jan
                  > >
                  > >
                  > >
                  > >
                  >



                • Jan De Clerck
                  Could be of interest to the group: http://www.pba-auctions.com/html/index.jsp?id=2188&lng=fr Like the classic Baulé (47, the couple (54) and the 97 the Kuba
                  Message 8 of 9 , Oct 17, 2008
                  • 0 Attachment
                    Could be of interest to the group:
                    http://www.pba-auctions.com/html/index.jsp?id=2188&lng=fr
                    Like the classic Baulé (47, the couple (54) and the 97 the Kuba cup
                    (127), a good classic Hemba on 143, an interesting Zandé 168, the Kwere
                    244 and the Mangbetu harp 270.

                    Interested in knowing your opinions...

                    best to you
                  • Lee Rubinstein
                    Jan: There is a nice range of objects and some very interesting ones in this auction. I am always most intrigued by seemingly unique forms and unusual styles.
                    Message 9 of 9 , Oct 22, 2008
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                      Jan:

                      There is a nice range of objects and some very interesting ones in this auction.  I am always most intrigued by seemingly unique forms and unusual styles.  In the latter realm this Baule pair is particularly notable for its Lobi-esque body forms, neck scarification and coiffure:
                      Lot n°67  Couple Baoulé "of a very archaic and abstract style, the body simplified, the facial features minimalist, only the neck is scarified, navel absent."

                      In terms of uniqueness, this "exemplaire unique" caught my eye.  While the style of the head is consistent with that seen on Mumuye statuary, I am curious to know more about the free-standing head:
                      Lot n°53  Tête Mumuye "exemplaire unique... a tutelary spirit, probably intended for personal protection, it was coated with oil and has a large cavity in the rear neck containing a magic charge."

                      There are also a number of figures and masks with northern Nigerian origins;  among them are these figures:


                      Lots n°200  Statuette Wurkum Nigeria, n°269 Statue féminine Tiv Nigeria, n°276 Statuette Chamba Nigeria, Lot n°93  Statue Nigéria and Lot n°249  Statue Jukun Nigeria.


                      This pair of Bamana (Bambara) figures display rather beautiful forms and the reference to "the sacred tree of the Dondoli" used for their carving indicates a potential area for further research.  (According to Emile Sauvant's Grammaire Bambara, Dondoli is a wasp which lives in trees, and reference to a place called Dondoli appears in Dagaare oral lore, but I don't know the source of this reference which appears in the description...)
                      Lot n°78  Important Couple de Statue Bambara "The sacred tree of Dondoli is always chosen for carving statuettes."

                      An unusual element of these Lobi figures is the support post which allows the figures to balance.  I can't think of other examples of Lobi statuary which display this element.
                      Lot n°89  Couple Lobi   "statues are supported by a piece of wood carved in the back."

                      One additional West African statue which caught my eye with its pronouncedly stylized proportions and rich details is this one:
                      Lot n°95  Statue Mende


                      Other forms with which I am unfamiliar and which thus beg additional research are this vessel and shield from Chad:
                      Lot n°184  Récipient Baguirmi Tchad;  Lot n°204  Bouclier Tchad, Cameroun.

                      Also, in light of recent conversation pertaining to ibeji figures of the Yoruba, I thought I would point out these figures which interestingly all display similar surface features in spite of variations of form and details:
                      Lots n°104 and n°105 .

                      Another more canonical figure is this Kuba Ndop accompanied by documentation of its early 20th century collection history:
                      Lot n°119  Statue Kuba, Ndop..."Offered by the Bushongo Chief Nyima to Commander Dandoy, 1932, Mushenge. The object is accompanied by the photo album of former owner, including several taken during his trip during which the statue was acquired in 1932."

                      The fine carving and collection history of this Yombe Nkisi caught my attention as did the minute opening in the solar plexus presumably present for the insertion of magical substances in a manner far more delicate than the usual Nkisi construction:
                      Lot n°123  Statue Yombe Nkisi. "Collected by a Belgian military between 1900 and 1910. Photographed at the Belgian military academy in 1910."

                      I was also struck by the simplicity and the presence of raised elements on the cheeks of this cup and by this beautifully patinated whistle from the Kuba:
                      Lot n°127  Coupe Kuba;  Lot n°202  Sifflet Kuba R.D. Congo.

                      Other Congolese works that beckon further scrutiny include these figures and a mask pictured below:
                      Lot n°131 Statue Mbole;  Lot n°137  Couple Ngbaka; Lot n°138  Statue Yaka Congo; Lot n°185  Masque de buffle kiyundi Tabwa R.D. Congo

                      A selection of southern Central and Eastern African forms which really caught my interest were these pictured below -- particularly the Mbugu, Sengele and Nyaturu:
                      Lot n°219  Horn with sculpted stopper. Mbugu, Tanzania.; Lot n°240  Couteau Sengele avec un personnage féminin R.D. Congo;  Lot n°244 Staff finial. Kwere. By "Master of the Rotund [round?] Mother" Tanzania;  Lot n°251  Maternité Kamba Kenya;  Lot n°256 Masque Maravi. Malawi; and Lot n°259  Shield gula Nyaturu Tanzania

                      Lee

                      On Oct 17, 2008, at 6:27 AM, Jan De Clerck wrote:

                      Could be of interest to the group:
                      http://www.pba- auctions. com/html/ index.jsp? id=2188&lng= fr
                      Like the classic Baulé (47, the couple (54) and the 97 the Kuba cup 
                      (127), a good classic Hemba on 143, an interesting Zandé 168, the Kwere 
                      244 and the Mangbetu harp 270.

                      Interested in knowing your opinions...

                      best to you 


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