By Carter B. Horsley
This American Indian Art
auction at Sotheby’s
is highlighted by two very powerful and important masks from the
Northwest Coast and Alaska from the collection of Adolf Hoffmeister
in Prague, who had acquired them from Charles Ratton in Paris.
Hoffmeister, the catalogue
points out, was
a "key participant in the Surrealist movement of pre-World
War II Europe. In 1935, André Breton wrote an article with
Paul Eluard for the Cahier d’Art that featured both
masks. Breton was the author of an important Surrealist manifesto
and the catalogue provides the following interesting commentary:
"As a subscriber and active
in the surrealist Movement, Hoffmeister, along with his colleagues,
were among the first of the European artistic intelligentsia to
recognize the beauty and artistry of American Indian objects.
Of course, it was their understanding of the context from which
these objects came and the principles of their manufacture, man
of which echoed those of the Surrealists, that ignited their interest.
Until that point, ‘art negre,’ or primitive art from
Africa, had been the vogue, influencing major artists such as
Picasso, Matisse and Braque. But the Surrealist made objects from
the Americas an unique part of their own pioneering efforts and
took great pride in their ‘discovery.’ Proving a new
context for these pieces, in addition to their ethnographic
raised the visibility of American Indian art worldwide. The validation
by the world’s leading artists at the time also helped to
give it a new level of importance."
The catalogue includes the
by Steve Brown on this lot:
"The underside of the lower lip
covered by a piece of cotton print fabric, connecting the lower
lip to the chin, representing a skin-like appearance in the mechanical
feature. Only a small fragment of this fabric now remains. The
original lower lip may have been connected by a piece of tanned
animal skin. The shiny graphite-laden paint and minimal vermilion
details, particularly in conjunction with the central crest-ridge,
impart an otherworldly appearance to the mask. With respect to
the identity of the representation, one can relate this mask to
another one with very similar features that is now in the Canadian
Museum of Civilization.…The CMC mask is carved with the same
peculiar features as this representation, though with a lesser
degree of finish and refinement."
Lot 259, shown above, is a rare
Tsimshian wood face mask, Nishga, 10 ľ inches high. The
work was also formerly in the collection of the Heye Foundation.
It is said to represents a women’s spirit that lives at the
base of the cliff where the Nass River current meets the tide.
It is of unusually deep and rounded form with a sharp bifurcating
ridge and an articulating labret forming the extended lower lip
above the slightly truncated chin line. The lot has an estimate
of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold to a European dealer for
including the buyer's premium as do as all the sales prices in
The price set an
auction record for a work
of American Indian art, eclipsing the previous $525,000 record
set in 1997. The auction's total of $4.5-million also set a new
record for this category, eclipsing the previous high of more
than $3.9-million at Sotheby's in June, 1997. "We were thrilled
with the high level of interest in today's sale. It's most gratifying
to have American Indian art received by such a large and diverse
group of collectors," declared David Roche, the head of the
department at Sotheby's.
The other mask, Lot 260, shown
below, is a
Kwakwaka’wakw face mask, Dzunukwa image, circa 1840-1870,
that is 12 ľ inches high and has an estimate of $100,000
to $150,000. It sold for $244,500.
The catalogue provides
commentary by Steve
Brown on this lot:
"The bold and straightforward
of the facial features, made up of closely integrated hollows
and ridges, closely replicates the features of an emaciated, skull-like
appearance that is the heart of the Dzunukwa representation. The
Dzunukwa image is related to other beach and forest-dwelling creatures
from various Northwest Coast cultures that represent the spirits
of those drowned or lost in the forest….Dzunukwa images frequently
have large and thick eyebrows (and sometimes a beard and mustache)
often represented by pieces of black bear hide and fur attached
to the face. In this example, large sections of bearskin (representing
the brows) are attached with wooden pegs to the forehead, while
a much large piece of hide was attached to the top and sides of
the mask, forming a covering for the head of the wearer. On later
masks, these hide attachments are more often fastened to the carving
with metal tacks or nails. The tool marks and general finish of
this mask appear concurrent with a nineteenth century attribution,
and suggest that the carving was done with larger, more sophisticated
tools than those available to carvers it he eighteenth
the tip of the nose and the projections of the lips on this mask
are made of added-on sections of wood, each nailed in place with
very old-looking fasteners. In form and finish, these added pieces
appear to have been part of the original carving, rather than
ones attached later as repairs or replacements."
Lot 261 is a nice, large
Northwest Coast wood
feast bowl, probably Haida, 34 ˝ inches long, carved in
the form of a squatting quadruped, possible a wolf or bear, with
long curving tail. The work has a conservative high estimate of
$15,000. It sold for $11,500.
The auction has several nice
wood kachina dolls, the nicest of which is Lot 326, shown above,
which represents Shalako Mana, the "Corn Maiden," wearing
red boots, traditional manta, embroidered with triangular rain-cloud
and butterfly symbols, over a painted feather dress, and coral
bead necklace around her neck, the classic sack mask painted with
red chevrons and a hatched rainbow on the chin, a symbolic ear
of corn attached across the forehead…The 17-inch-high lot
has an ambitious estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. It was
The other kachina lots have much lower estimates, none higher
than $5,000. One of the nicer ones, Lot 330, sold for $6,900.
There are many excellent and
from the Robert Whiteside Collection in the auction leading off
the afternoon session that begins at 2 P.M., including Lot 255,
an unusual Tubatulabl coiled jar that is 9 inches in diameter
and has an estimate of $4,000 to $6,000 and sold for $3,450,
and Lot 254, a Tulare polychrome pictorial coiled jar with red
yarn trim around the periphery and an estimate of $3,000 to $4,000,
and sold for $12,650.
Also, Lot 245 is a Pima
Geometric coiled storage
jar that is 21 inches high and has a conservative estimate of
$3,500 to $4,500, and sold for $6,900, and Lot 239,
Apache pictorial coiled tray with a very complex pattern of concentric
panels, 25 ˝ inches in diameter and estimated at $6,000
to$9,000, which sold for $8,050, and Lot 232, a
pictorial coiled storage jar, 21 inches high, and estimated at
$20,000 to $30,000, which sold for $19,550, and Lot
a 10-inch-wide Apache pictorial coiled tray with human and animal
forms and an estimate of $1,200 to $1,500. It sold for $3,680.
Lot 231 is a Yavapai pictorial
jar with high rounded shoulder and flaring rim that has an estimate
of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $20,700.
Sotheby’s will also feature
works of art
from the Robert Whiteside Collection in its next two Important
American Indian Art auctions.
The morning session of this
220 lots from The Lucille and Marshall Miller Collection, which
has many classic examples of baskets, pottery and blankets as
well as many newer or "contemporary," works. More than
93 percent of the lots sold, a very impressive showing.
The highlight of the Miller
to the catalogue is Lot 4, "The Cartier Jar" by Maria
Martinez (1887-1980) and Julian Martinez (1885-1943) that Mr.
Roche said, in the catalogue's "Specialist’s View,"
a feature that Sotheby’s introduced this year, is "one
of the most famous works of art ever created by these legendary
artists" and "is also considered one of their finest."
The jar is named after Jacques
a dancer in the Ziegfield Follies who became a choreographer and
landscape designer and was well-known for his role of the Fire
Dancer at the annual Santa Fe Fiesta. He acquired the jar from
Maria around 1940. She made the jar and Julian decorated them
and he is created with the motif of a single band of decoration.
They discovered the process of making black-on-black pottery in
1919 that would revolutionize pottery making at San Ildefonso,
the catalogue maintained.
The 15-inch-high lot has an
estimate of $150,000. It sold for $255,500.
Another highlight of the Miller
is Lot 23, a monumental and rare redware storage jar with four
bear-paw impressions encircling the shoulder by Magaret Tafoya
(b. 1904), Santa Clara. The lot has an ambitious high estimate
of $90,000. It sold for $85,000.
It is a bit difficult for some
admirers of American Indian Art to see quite high prices for mid-20th
Century works in comparison to mid-or-late 19th Century works,
not only because of historic authenticity and rarity, but also
because the latter works tend to be derivative and quite commercial
and highly stylized, which is not to imply they ar+e without artistry.
Both, of course, have their merits, but the market values are
rather distorted, a reflection perhaps of the activity of dealers
handling "contemporary" works. In an age, of course,
where museums place high emphasis on selling reproductions, such
disparity of value may not too hard to understand.
Some works, such as Lot 35, a
jar, 7 7/8 inches high, of tapering form in swirl pattern that
could inspire Issey Miyake, are very beautiful. It has an estimate
of $8,000 to $12,000. It sold for $9,200.
Lot 125, a Tularoasa
vessel, circa 1150 A.D., however, has the same estimate, and Lot
133, a Gila polychrome pictorial bowl, circa 1200-1450 A. D.,
with an anthropomorphic design has an estimate of only $1,200
to $1,500! Lot 125 sold for $9,200 and Lot 133 sold for