Saturday, April 17, 2010

April 2010 - The Tribal Art Market - Where Are We Now

At the end of the first quarter of 2010 as we head into the late spring early summer auction season, we are beginning to see further indicators of a deteriorating market . The San Francisco Tribal & Textile Arts Show hosted by Caskey Lees has in the past been considered one of the top venues for Tribal Art. The show was held this year in mid February and was regarded by many as flat with many dealers walking away with losses. The comment I heard repeatedly was that the players were there but people weren't buying. At the same time Kim Martindale organized and hosted the 25th annual Marin Indian art show just up the road in San Rafel, California. The thinking was that the two shows would have a stronge enough draw to bring out of state collectors, dealers, curators, and enthusiasts to the the venues. Martindale reported that the dealers reported doing better than expected while direct quotes from dealers described sales as lackluster. The New York International Tribal and Textile Arts Show to be held in March was cancelled due to a lack of sufficient response from the exhibitors. To be honest not all of this can be attributed to the market, for there has been some serious dissension and complaints about the changing venues for this show. I do believe that formerly successful venues that are now struggling is a market indicator to be considered.

So as a collector or dealer what should your strategy be? Should you pull back your best pieces for better days. As a collector should you be entering the marketplace as a seller? Should you be buying? Clearly one man's problem is another man's opportunity. As I have said in this forum for more than six months your success or failure is going to be part strategy and part luck. I see the auctions right now as a crap shoot. You may do well but you could also be burned. Check out the reserves for Sothebys May 14th sale in Paris. The reserves certainly appear lower to me .. which would be smart to try to entice me into bidding.

The past few auctions have also been indicative of a slowing market for middle level material in particular. Bonhams held a tribal art auction on February 12 to coincide with the two tribal shows held at the same time. Out of 280 lots 130 failed to sell. Nothing sold over $50,000. Certainly objects in the $50,000 and below will feel any economic impact before the great works that tend to hold their value longer. The Milton Rosenthal collection of Oceanic art (March 24, 2010) auctioned in Paris illustrates that point with only 7 of 37 lots failing to sell. The Maori tiki illustrated above as lot 11 sold for 372,750 euros ($503,749) and was documented by the curator of the Auckland Museum in a 1974 letter to be pre-contact. The provenance quoted the well known dealer Charles Ratton. " 'It truly is a magnificent piece' enthused Charles Ratton in a letter of 26 May 1956 to the collector, archaeologist, and historian Bernard Bottet, who had just acquired this pendant from the collection of the Countess Martine de Béhague (1869 – 1939)." To my recollection this is the highest price ever paid for a Maori tiki. Please correct me if I am in error. But the point is that great things normally hold their value in bad times.

Certainly many interested parties will hold their collective breaths over the the auction sales scheduled for May and June. Among them are the following:

June 7, 2010, San Francisco, California Bonhams'
Native American andPre-Columbian Art Auction

June 19, 2010 Würzburg, ‎Germany
61st tribal art auction: African Zemanek-Munster

Fri, 14 May 10, 10:00 AM, Lots 1 - 158, New York, New York
Sothebys, New York

Fri, 14 May 10, 2:00 PM, New York, New York
Sothebys, New York

8 Jun 10, 10:00 AM, New York, New York

15 Jun 2010, 3 PM Paris
Art Africain et Océanien Art
Christies, Paris

7 Jul 2010, 3 PM Paris
Collection de Madame Darthéa Speyer, Paris
Christies, Paris

16 Dec 2010, Paris
Art Africain et Océanien
Christies, Paris

It is significant to note that there is no summer sale scheduled in Paris by Sothebys. Clearly the prestige for any sale at this point in time is Paris. Pragmatism and the very lopsided exchange rate dictates New York as the only reasonable site for a sale. The Europeans with their euros get a 30% discount while the US collectors avoid paying a premium for buying in Paris. So for the moment the market comes back to New York. Christies has adopted precisely the opposite strategy for reasons that don't make a great deal of financial sense. If I were an owner in that sale, I would be even more nervous about where this is going. Maybe the material is good enough for a buyer to look beyond the purchase price. I remain skeptical but we will let you know what happens.

1 comment:

Lester said...

Hello John, I have been searching Maori Tiki's via the Internet and have come across your blog/post and for me is a very interesting read, I live in Australia and have an interest in many things one of which is Tribal. I look forward too your next post. Kind regards Lester Devere