Sunday, November 24, 2013

Tribal Art Exhibitions and Auctions

1. WELLINGTON.- An exhibition telling the glorious, dramatic and ultimately tragic story of the Aztec empire, opened at Te Papa this weekend. More than 200 treasured artefacts have been collected from museums throughout Mexico to go on show in New Zealand for the first time. Te Papa Curator Lynette Townsend says Aztecs: Conquest and glory provides a fascinating insight into the ways of life, beliefs and sacrifical rituals of the Aztecs. “This is a rare opportunity to view the Aztecs’ most sacred and treasured objects first-hand. One of my favourite objects is a large ceramic sculpture of Mictlantecuhtli, god of death and lord of the underworld. “He stands bent over with his liver hanging out, grinning manically. This fearsome looking sculpture stands guard at the entrance to our inner temple experience. Here visitors will learn about life after death and the journey to Mictlan – the place most Aztecs journeyed to when they died.”
“Another feature of the exhibition is a gold pendant depicting Xochipilli (Flower Prince) – the god of
2.  LONDON.- For centuries Europeans were dazzled by the legend of a lost city of gold in South America. The truth behind this myth is even more fascinating. El Dorado – literally “the golden one” – actually refers to the ritual that took place at Lake Guatavita, near modern Bogotá. The newly elected leader, covered in powdered gold, dived into the lake and emerged as the new chief of the Muisca people who lived in the central highlands of present-day Colombia's Eastern Range. This stunning exhibition, sponsored by Julius Baer, will display some of the fascinating objects excavated from the lake in the early 20th century including ceramics and stone necklaces. In ancient Colombia gold was used to fashion some of the most visually dramatic and sophisticated works of art found anywhere in the Americas before European contact. This exhibition features over 300 exquisite objects drawn from the Museo del Oro in Bogotá, one of the best and most extensive collections of
Pre-Hispanic gold in the world, as well as from the British Museum’s own unique collections. Through these exceptional objects the exhibition explore the complex network of societies in ancient Colombia – a hidden world of distinct and vibrant cultures spanning 1600 BC to AD 1700 – with particular focus on the Muisca, Quimbaya, Calima, Tairona, Tolima and Zenú chiefdoms. This important but little understood subject is explored in this unique exhibition following on from shows in Room 35 such as Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind, Grayson Perry: Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World and Kingdom of Ife: sculptures from West Africa in shining a light on world cultures through their craftsmanship.
dance, song, art, flowers and beauty. He was a god associated with spring and a patron god of artisans who crafted precious metals. It’s a beautiful and skillfully made decorative piece, as many of the exhibits are,” said Lynette Townsend. A similar exhibition in London more than ten years ago was described as ‘powerful and macabre’. The centre piece of the Te Papa exhibition is a walk-in Aztec Temple. The exterior is a replica of the Templo Mayor, one of the main Aztec temples. “Religion was central to the Aztecs’ way of life. Their Great Temple dominated Tenochtitlán, the capital of the Aztec empire. This incredible structure was a grand and magnificent sight, and a major feat of engineering. “It was considered to be the physical and spiritual centre of the universe and was an important site for ritual sacrifice. The structure was created in seven stages by successive emperors, each asserting the growing power of the Aztec empire, beginning with the founding of Tenochtitlán in 1325. The temple was destroyed after the Spanish conquistadors overthrew the empire in 1521. “The Te Papa replica is a scale model, about one-tenth the size of the Mexican temple,” said Lynette Townsend. It has taken several years to plan Aztecs: Conquest and glory. Te Papa has been working closely in partnership with the National Council for Culture and the Arts and the National Institute of Anthropology and History (CONACULTA-INAH) in Mexico, along with the Australian Museum and Museum Victoria. “INAH, the Mexican regulatory body which has national oversight of all historical, archaeological and ethnological museums, excavations, research and international lending, has been coordinating the loan and collection effort. Mexican curator Raúl Barrera who is head of the INAH Urban Archaeology Program, has selected an incredible and fascinating range of objects from a number of different Mexican museums. “It’s been an ambitious and complex project so it’s exciting to be at the point now where we are about to open this once in a life-time exhibition to the public,” said Lynette Townsend.
Although gold was not valued as currency in pre-Hispanic Colombia, it had great symbolic meaning. It was one way the elite could publicly assert their rank and semi-divine status, both in life and in death. The remarkable objects displayed across the exhibition reveal glimpses of these cultures’ spiritual lives including engagement with animal spirits though the use of gold objects, music, dancing, sunlight and hallucinogenic substances that all lead to a physical and spiritual transformation enabling communication with the supernatural. Animal iconography is used to express this transformation in powerful pieces demonstrating a wide range of imaginative works of art, showcasing avian pectorals, necklaces with feline claws or representations of men transforming into spectacular bats though the use of profuse body adornment.
The exhibition further explores the sophisticated gold working techniques, including the use of tumbaga, an alloy composed of gold and copper, used in the crafting the most spectacular masterworks of ancient Colombia. Extraordinary poporos (lime powder containers) showcase the technical skills achieved both in the casting and hammering techniques of metals by ancient Colombian artists. Other fascinating objects include an exceptional painted Muisca textile and one of the few San Agustín stone sculptures held outside Colombia. Those, together with spectacular large scale gold masks and other materials were part of the objects that accompanied funerary rituals in ancient Colombia.
Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum said “Ancient Colombia has long represented a great fascination to the outside world and yet there is very little understood about these unique and varied cultures. As part of the Museum’s series of exhibitions that shine a light on little known and complex ancient societies this exhibition will give our visitors a glimpse into these fascinating cultures of pre-hispanic South America and a chance to explore the legend of El Dorado through these stunning objects.”
3. DENVER, PA.- A buzz filled the room at Morphy’s November 9 auction after the hammer fell on Lot 57, a 9¾-inch sea-green obsidian artifact known as the Rutz Clovis point. The star of Morphy’s 159-lot Prehistoric American Artifact & Arrowhead debut auction, the point discovered on a mountain in Washington state in the early 1950s is known to collectors far and wide as one of the great treasures of its type. Entered with a $200,000-$400,000 estimate, the Rutz Clovis did not disappoint, selling to a Texas collector for $276,000. All prices quoted are inclusive of 20% buyer’s premium. “How famous is the Rutz Clovis point? Ask the floor bidder who had an image of it tattooed on his calf!” said an amused John Mark Clark, who heads Morphy’s Prehistoric American Artifact & Arrowhead department. “Unfortunately for him, he’ll have to be satisfied with the tattoo, because he wasn’t the winning bidder.” With the sale of the Rutz Clovis, Morphy’s has established what experts believe is a world-record price for a North American flaked stone artifact at auction.
“Top lots in the sale attracted fantastic prices, and many collectors around the country were paying close attention,” said Morphy Auctions CEO Dan Morphy. “There was a lot of positive feedback after the sale, and we had several phone calls regarding the potential consignment of important collections. It’s an exciting new category for Morphy’s, and we’re definitely well guided with Mark Clark as head of our department. All of the collectors know how incredibly knowledgeable and honest he is.” Commenting on the success of Morphy’s debut in the category of prehistoric American artifacts and arrowheads, Clark remarked: “I think buyers had confidence in our authentication process and with our introduction of scientific procedures to that process. Right out of the gate, Morphy’s has established itself as the place to buy and consign top-quality artifacts.” Morphy’s next specialty auction in this category, slated for June or July of next year, will be considerably larger than
the Nov. 9 Prehistoric premiere and will continue to focus on the upper end of the market. Premium-quality artifacts have already been consigned, including a one-of-a-kind proto-historic pottery pipe, blades and projectile points from a three-generation northern Ohio family’s collection.     
Many other lots in the sale achieved strong prices. A ferruginous quartz bottle bannerstone found on the Bell Farm in Davidson County, Tennessee, in 1910, handily surpassed its estimate at $38,400. Another unusual figural piece, a rat-tail spud of polished metamorphic material, described in the auction catalog as “one of the rarest spud forms within the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex,” was bid beyond its estimate range to $31,200. Also attracting an impressive price was the lot of 20 points from the grouping known as the Motley Cache, of Todd County, Kentucky. It concluded its bidding run at $28,800.
4. NEW YORK, NY.- Bonhams New York announced that the auction of African, Oceanic & Pre-Columbian Art on November 14 achieved more than $1.4 million. Leading the auction was a Baga headdress from the Guinea Coast of Africa, representing a d'mba, or "idea" of a beautiful mother, that was purchased by an important European dealer for $305,000. This auction room was packed with domestic and international collectors and dealers in town for the many Tribal Art events taking place in New York. African artworks that stood out in the sale, in addition to the Baga headdress, included a Bamana or Mandinka forehead mask from Mali that sold for $23,750, soaring past a pre-sale estimate of $4,000-6,000, and two wooden Luba female figures from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, that brought $22,500 and $20,000, respectively. Luba artists have historically celebrated and honored the female figure in their art. A very successful category in the auction that included many
Bonhams next sale of Oceanic Art will take place in San Francisco in early February. Bonhams next sale of African, Oceanic & Pre-Columbian Art will take place in New York in mid-May of 2014.
top-selling lots was Oceanic Art. Among the highest-selling of Oceanic works was an ironwood u'u (warrior's club) from the Marquesas Islands that achieved $93,750, surpassing a pre-sale estimate of $40,000-60,000. The u'u club was a Marquesan warrior's most prized possession during times of warfare in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The clubs served as both a weapon in close combat and as a mark of high status within society. Another remarkable Oceanic work of note was a rare bird-shaped pestle pommel from the Central Highlands of Papua, New Guinea, made between circa 4000-1000 BC, that achieved $27,500, exceeding an estimate of $15,000-20,000. The bird, that was the subject of fierce bidding by two tenured Oceanic art collectors, was confirmed by petrographic study as one of the earliest works of Oceanic art ever to come to auction. Also from Papua, New Guinea, was a large, wooden Sawos male ancestral figure from the East Sepik Province of the Middle Sepik River that sold for $81,250, ahead of a $40,000-60,000 estimate, and a Mangan mask from the Lower Sepik River, that brought $32,500, past a $10,000-15,000 estimate. Additional notable Oceanic works - that shot past their $12,000-18,000 estimates - included a rare pahu heiau or patu hula from the Hawaiian Islands that sold for $68,750, and a rare fish shaped pectoral from Easter Island that achieved $43,750. Pre-Columbian artworks in the auction also performed well with brisk bidding both inside the auction room and on the telephones. A monumental, earthenware Colima seated dog from the Protoclassic period, circa 100 BC-AD 250, appealed to numerous bidders, achieving $37,500, while a large Nayarit standing male figure of the same period brought an impressive $23,750. The sale also featured the Evan M. Maurer Headrest Collection, which included a variety of exceptional African headrests, carefully assembled by Maurer, the current Director Emeritus of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Notable examples included a rare, figural wood Twa headrest of Rwanda/Burundi that brought $5,000; a wood, Yaka headrest of the Democratic Republic of the Congo that brought $2,000, past an estimate of $1,200-1,800; and two wooden Kuba headrests from the Democratic Republic of the Congo that exceeded their pre-sale estimates, bringing $2,125 and $2,000, respectively. According to Bonhams Director of African, Oceanic & Pre-Colombian Art, Fredric Backlar, 30 percent of this sale’s buyers were first-time buyers, indicating the continued growing demand for tribal art; especially Oceanic art, for which there was brisk competition. He commented, “This sale's strong results indicate that the middle market for tribal art, which has suffered in recent years, is finally back.”
5.   NEW YORK - Sothebys "The Collection of Allan Stone: African, Oceanic  and Indonesian Art - Volume I November 15, 2013 - The City Review: "The cover illustration of the auction's catalogue is Lot 114, a Songye "Four Horn" Community Power figure from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  It is 21 7/8 inches high.  Three of the horns atop the figure's head at Common Waterbuck  Antelope and the fourth is Domestic Goat.  The figure has a civet skin draped from its waist.  The lot
was once in the collection of Merton D. Simpson of New York.
 The catalogue entry notes "the serene expression of the figure's face, where time stands still,"  adding that "through this juxtaposition of opposing qualities, the unknown artist created one of the most arresting works of all figurative sculpture - a universal masterpiece." It added that "widely published and exhibited, the "Four Horn" statue from the Allan Stone Collection is an icon of African art." It has an estimate of $600,000 to $900,000.  It sold for $2,165,000 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.  The sale total was $11,489,750 and more than 93 percent of the offered 154 lots sold.  Lot 28, a Dayak reliquary guardian figure from Borneo, Indonesia that is dated circa 1280-1400 A.D is 35 inches high and was once in the collecion of Maureen Zarember.  Primitive works of art are very rarely so old.  The catalogue entry said that such figures were "incorporated into richly-adorned ancestral ossuary -shrines which were placed incaves, on cliff ledges, or under rocky overhangs.  The lot has a very modest estimate of $60,000 to $90,000 and was the back-cover illustration of the catalogue.  It sold for $185,000. Lot 64 and 63 are superb Senufo Oracle Figures (Kafigeledjo) from the Ivory Coast.  They are 35 and 41 inches high, respectively.  Lot 64 was once in the collection of Allan Frumkin of New York.  Its featureless head is surmounted by hornbill feathers.  It has an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000.  It sold for $75,000.  One of the most imposing works in the auction is Lot 73, a large Ibgo male  shrine figure (Ikenga) from Nigeria.  It is 52 1/2 inches tall.  In one hand, the figure holds a large knife and in the other a severed  human head,.  The catalogue entry observes that the work has a "particularly lively, expressively sculpture style," add that "with its fleshly features, an impressive set of horns and a mischievously confident toothy grin, it is a superb image of the strength and prosperity ikenga expresses."  It has a modest estimate of $15,000 to $25,000.  It sold for $52,500. One of the most dramatic  works in the auction is Lot 80, an Ejagham headdress from the Cross River Region in Nigeria.  It is 27 inches high.  The catalogue entry quotes commentary on a similar work in the Musee Barbier-Mueller in Geneva that observes  that"the monumental hairstyle is composed of five coiled plaits or braids unusually large in African statuary and masterful in the perfection and symmetry of their coils. Ethographic accounts report that this hairstyle was worn by young women during initiation and the period of reclusion prior to marriage  The lot was formerly in the Merton D. Simpson collection.  It has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000.  It sold for $305,000. Lot 103 is a Kongo Community Power Figure of the name "Chingung N" from the Loango Kingdom in the Republic of Congo.  It is 22 1/2 inches high and has considerable traces of kaolin.  It  was collected by Robert Visser between 1882 and 1903 and was once in the collection of Merton D. Simpson of New York.  It has an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000.  It sold for $293,000. Lot 100 is a Kongo-Yorribe Nail Power Figure from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  It is 28 inches high and was once in the collection of Merton D. Simpson of NewYork.  It has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000.  It sold for $1,805,000. A very striking Songye Community Power Figure from the Democratic Republic of the Congo is Lot 131.  It is 36 inches high and is adorned with metal headdress and facial decorations and magical substances (bishima) and metal elements (bishishi).  It has a modest estimate of $150,000 to $250,000.  It sold for $137,000.  Lot 118 is a great Songye Community Power Figure from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  It is 35 inches tall and was once in the collection of Charles Ratton of Paris and Merton D. Simpson of New York.  The head is decorated with feathers of the female Congo Peafowl, streips of the Common Waterbuck Antelope and covered with White-Throated Monitor and Ringed water cobra skin.  With its ribbed neck and square-shaped torso and various attachments and studs, this is a spectacular work.  The lot has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000.  It sold for only $605,000.  Another impressive Songye Community Power Figure is Lot 134, which is 32 1/2 inches high.  It was formerly in the collections of John J. Klejman of New York,Leslie and Peter Schlumberger of
Houston, and Merton D.Simpson of New York.  It has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000.  It sold for $341,000."
6. BOSTON - Skinners American Indian November 9, 2013 - Out of 400 total lots 54 failed to sell. There were quite a few medium quality lots; however, there were some highlights of not. The Easter Island figure Lot 101 estimated at $4,000 - $6,000 sold for $39,000. The Maori lintel in lot 102 was estimated at $20,000 - $30,000 sold for $72,000. In lot 196 the pony beaded bowcase and scabbord  sold for $60,000 more than doubling the estimate of $25,000 - $35,000. The Woodl
ands belt cup lot 245 sold for $31,200. The Derby Sioux shirt lot 199 failed to sell with an estimate of $150,000 - $250,000. A great pictorial Plains buffalo hide blanket strip lot 205 sold for $39,000.
7. DALLAS - Heritage America Indian and Pre-Columbian Auction November 15, 2013 -  The total hammer price plus the sales commission for the sale for 678 lots was $1,009,128 with 83 lots failing to sell. The cover piece which was offered in lot 50265 was a Sioux boy's pictoial vest with an inked inscription in the interior saying that it was captured at the Custer battlefield sold $75,000. The only other important object in the sale was an 18th century superb Wood lands belt cup in lot 50330 that sold for $37,500. The Southeast beaded mocs in  lot 503345 were estimated at $20,000 to $30,000 but only reached $12,500

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