spring, Sotheby's again combines Arts of Africa, Oceania and The
Americas into one auction as opposed to separate catalogues for
African & Oceanic, American Indian and Pre-Columbian Art.
The African and Oceanic Arts section of this auction certainly
could have stood on their own. Indeed, the African Arts are highlighted
by more than 70 works from the quite splendid collection of Lucille
and Arnold Alderman but also has enough important consignments
from other sources to make this one of the finest Tribal Arts
auctions in recent years.
This Aldermans amassed a wonderful collection that is extremely
diverse and of consistently very high quality.
The most spectacular work is certainly Lot 59, a superb Igbo mask
of hollowed conical form, shown at the top of this article, 28
inches high, elaborately carved in low-relief with linear and
geometric motifs, the reverse showing a sunburst and a lizard.
The mask's upswept pointed flanges leaded to a tiered finial,
and the catalogue noted that it has an "exceptional fine
surface of kaolin, indigo, red ochre and black pigments."
"This unusual and particularly imaginative helmet mask is
from the Nsukka area, the northern part of the most complex and
diverse masking traditions in Nigeria, perhaps because of the
presence of the Mabe and Odo cults. Here one finds a multitude
of masks which are independent inventions, such as the present
example, which do not fit clearly into a specific type. Particukarly
notable on the offered lot is the high level of abstraction and
the interplay of form and surface evident in the bold patterning
The work's provenance includes Roger Azar and Galerie Leloup,
both of Paris.
This magnificent, brilliantly colored work, which is the cover
illustration of the auction catalogue, has a conservative estimate
of $50,000 to $70,000. It sold for $41,825 including the
premium as do all prices mentioned in this article.
as colorful, Lot 50 is no less impressive. It is a fine and rare
Kongo oath taking and healing figure that is 31 inches tall. Its
eyes are inset with glass and most of the figure is inset with
various pegs and nails. The figure has a raised arm that most
likely held at some point a blade used for extracting the milk
of the palm wine tree and which was believed to have the power
to kill by supernatural means. This nkisi nkondi
blackened face while most similar works have red or white pigment.
According to the catalogue black pigment signifies life and white
death. A related female figure is in the collection of the
Museum in Geneva and this work was exhibited the Museum for African
Art in New York from September 24, 1993 to January 9, 1994. The
catalogue indicates that it was probably collected before 1900
and was in the Musée de la Porte de Hal by 1902 and then
was in the collections of the Royal Museum of Central Africa in
Tervuren and then in the collection of Baron Freddy Rolin of New
York and Brussels before being sold by Sotheby's in New York January
It has a conservative estimate of $150,000 to $250,000. It
sold for $202,000.
Another major work is Lot 15, a magnificent Hemba male ancestor
figure, 29 7 1/16 inches high that was formerly in the collections
of Pierre Dartevelle of Brussels and Lee Bronson of Los Angeles.
The figure is missing most of his legs and wears a woven cloth
about its hips and has a rounded abdomen and very prominent scalloped
clavicles and a large head with very nicely carved features including
a dentel-molded beard.
What is perhaps most exceptional about this piece is the coiffure
at the rear of the head of the figure which has a separation at
the rear of the right shoulder. The catalogue notes that "monumental
Hemba figures, such as the Alderman example, are called singiti,
or ancestral statues. Carved only for chief's and dignitaries,
the works were maintained in huts solely created for their protection
and they played an extremely important role in the life of the
village. The catalogue quotes an expert as classifying the offered
lot in the Sayui style, possibly from the village of Mbeya, and
very possibly carved for chief Llonda Kasinga Mukelo and possibly
by the same sculptor that created a similar ancestor figure formerly
in the collection of Baudouin de Grunne and was reportedly collected
in the village of Lubundi and carved for chief Liemwe. The catalogue
remarked that "these important commissions - for different
chiefs within the Baga Mbele group from different villages suggest
the carver or atelier was in great demand at the time."
As the rather formal and austere work is not in pristine condition,
its estimate of $150,000 to $250,000 is a bit ambitious. It
sold for $158,000.
The Alderman collection abounds in many unusual and really interesting,
museum quality works.
Lot 13 is
a rare Luba bowl figure, 18 3/4 inches high, with a lovely round
head with a cross-hatched coiffure, a long collared neck, and
attenuated feet. The figure holds a large bowl and the catalogue
quotes an expert as suggesting the figure is a work of the "Master
of the Three Rivers" who produced only a few figures and
whose work shows an "affiliation with the ateliers at Kabongo
and Mwanze. The lot has a modest estimate of $25,000 to $35,000.
It sold for $21,510. The work was acquired from
and Ancient Art of New York.
Lot 14 is
a Cameroon Fang female reliquary guardian figure, 16 9 1/16 inches
high, that was in the Guy Piazzini collection in Paris and the
Kuhn Collection in Los Angeles and was auctioned at Sotheby's
Nov. 20, 1991. It has fragmentary feet pieced through the ankles
transversely and bound with a braided rope of hair and a large
rectangular fetish cavity in the center of her stomach inset with
a nail. The figure's head is surmounted by a solitary nail and
the face has deeply carved features with an oval mouth inset with
iron plugs framed by strips of inset copper and the eyes are raised
and inset with circular tacks in deep sockets and the figure has
a striated cascading coiffure. The charming figure wears many
necklaces on both arms that rest on her knees and has an innocent
and somewhat frightened countenance. The lot has a conservative
estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. It failed to sell as did
a third of the offered lots in this auction.
Lot 23 is a rare Ngbandi male figure, 20 7/16 inches high that
has remarkably subtle modeling of the hips and legs and a pronounced
column of notches above his nose and also in the middle of his
chest. The catalogue notes that the Ngbandi are related to the
Ngbaka from the Ubangi-Shari region in the northwest Democratic
Republic of the Congo and that their figurative figures are usually
effigies of the messengers of the Supreme Being, called either
Seto and Nabo, considered to
be the forefathers
of all humans and are exceptionally rare of this size and great
age. The work was once in the collection of Max Granich of New
York and was auctioned at Sotheby's in New York Nov. 15, 1988.
It has a somewhat ambitious estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It
sold for $113,525.
more aesthetic appeal is Lot 32, a fine and rare Ambete pair,
the tallest of which is 14 7/16 inches high. The figures have
ridged coiffures, shelf-like shoulders and very short forearms
and a honey brown patina with encrusted kaolin and areas of black.
The catalogue remarked that "according to the information
accompanying the figures" they were in the Anatole France
Collection in 1904. They were acquired by the Aldermans from Pace
Primitive and Ancient Art of New York. They have a conservative
estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $32,265.
Two of the
most stunning works are Mende female figures, Lots 39 and 40.
The former, described in the catalogue as "superb,"
is a 21 1/4-inch high statue with an elaborately carved girdle
around her broad hips, a braided necklace between her breats a
ridged neck and a braided turban-like coiffure. The piece has
a very fine blackened and resinous patina and the woman has a
most serence expression beneath her quite glorious turban. The
work was acquired from Pace Primite and Ancient Art of New York
and had been sold at Sotheby's Parket-Bernet in New York May 26,
1978. The figure, which is missing its feet, has a modest estimate
of $25,000 to $35,000. It sold for $29,875.
Lot 40 is 29 1/4 inches high and also has an very fine patina
and is described in the catalogue as "fine." In both
figures, the shoulders are almost non-existent and in this lot
the face is much more highly abstracted. It has a modest estimate
of $12,000 to $15,000. It sold for $32,265.
The figure in Lot 40 is somewhat similar to the Bamana female
figure, 23 inches high, that is Lot 43. A bit less refined than
Lot 40, this work nonetheless has a very interesting treatment
of the breasts and chest and head and also has a very large protruding
girdle of coiled fiber and mud. It has a very modest estimate
of $8,000 to $12,000 and was once with the Leloup Gallery in Paris.
It sold for $11,950.
Lot 41 is a very intriguing Attie male figure, 30 inches high,
that the catalogue describes as rare and comes from the collections
of Charles Ratton in Paris, John Dintenfass in New York and was
acquired from Pace Primitive and Ancient Art in New York. The
figure has an elongated neck and a thin beard and an elaborate
bi-lobed coiffure terminating in pointed tips. The work has a
fine encrusted dark brown patina and has quite an Oriental feel.
It has a conservative estimate of $15,000 to $25,000. It sold
Perhaps the loveliest work in the Aldermans' collection is Lot
49, a "fine and rare Jimini/Ligbi mask that is 10 3/4 inches
high. A similar work is, according to the catalogue, in the collection
of the Minneapolis Institute of Art. The catalogue unfortunately
does not comment upon the symbolism of the figures three noses
and three mouths and two eyes but clearly this very sensuous mask
of fine dark patina would have turned Modigliani into a Cubist.
The catalogue does observed that the facial plane is "of
delicate and complex composition" and has two "forward-arching
horns." It is exquisite and has a conservative estimate of
$25,000 to $35,000. It sold for $38,837.
"a fine and rare Ejagham Ekpe Society emblem," is a
remarkable work of art, 35 inches high, that was posted on either
a center post or a wall which demarcated the inner sanctum and
it is redolent with mystery and potency. The catalogue notes that
William Rubin's catalogue for the 1984 exhibition Primitivism
and Twentieth Century Art at the Museum of Art "describes
the interface of 20th Century Western Art's collages, or 'assemblages',
and the existence of similar work in African art: 'The seeming
simplicity and rawness of collage certainly constituted for Picasso
a second primitizing reaction, in this case against the hermeticism
and belle peinture of high Analytic Cubism. It
that of six years earlier when he had overcome the late Symbolist
refinement of his Blue and Rose Period paintings with the primitivism
that culminated in the Demoiselles. In the spring
when Picasso glued a piece of oilcloth on his Still Life
with Chair Caning and ordered an 'endless'
to go round it in pave of a frame, he not only short-circuited
the refined painterly language of Analytic Cubism, but undercut
its 'classical' structure by introducing a melange of materials
previously considered incompatible with the Fine Arts. His subsequent
application of the collage technique to constructed sculpture
created the hybrid form known as 'assemblage.' While Picasso's
admixture of cloth and rope was unprecedented in the Western tradition,
the principle of such melanges was familiar to him in [African]
sculptures whose maker soften utilized cloth, raffia, string ,
bark, metal, mud and found objects in conjunction with wood and
This work consists of a matrix of woven cane strips attached to
a rattan border and framed by a raffia fringe and the superstructure
comprised of two drum-like forms at the center surrounded by fiber
and an assemblage of bones, rope, medicinal leaves and abstract
wooden carvings. The work comes from the Susan and Jerry Vogel
collection of New York and the Leloup Gallery. It has a modest
estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. It sold for $38,240.
outstanding lots in
the African section of this auction not from the Alderman Collection
include the following.
Lot 113, a superb Dan spoon, 20 ¾ inches high with a fine
patina and considerable sophistication. It has an estimate of
$50,000 to $70,000. It sold for $65,725.
Lot 123, a "magnificent and rare" Yoruba-Ijebu ivory
amulet, 5 inches high. It has an estimate of $125,000 to $175,000
and the catalogue states that this lot is "the only Ijebu
bracelet of this age and quality outside of a museum collection
to our knowledge. It failed to sell.
138 is a spectacular
pair of Cameroon Fang-Beti reliquary guardians, one male and the
other female, 19 ¼ and 21 ¾ inches, respectively.
The lot, which comes from a German private collection, has an
estimate of $150,000 to $250,000. It sold for $306,500.
141, a fine and rare
Cameroon anthrozoomorphic female figure, 19 ¼ inches high.
This highly stylized piece has an estimate of $35,000 to $45,000.
It failed to sell.
144, which is the frontispiece
of the catalogue, is a rare and important Fang reliquary guardian
head. The 9 1/8-inch-high head is very impressive and, according
to the catalogue, "is one of only three others known of this
style: one formerly in the collections of Charles Ratton, James
Johnson-Sweeney and William McCarty-Cooper, a second in the collection
of Les Orphélins d'Auteuil in Paris, and a third formerly
in the collection of H. H. Prince Sadruddin Aga Kahn. This lot
has an estimate of $175,000 to $225,000. It sold for $449,500.
There are only 83 lots in the Pre-Columbian Art section of this
auction whereas in past years there would usually be 200 or more.
Lot 210 is a Chimu painted gold mask, Sicán, circa A.D.
900-1200, that is 12 inches wide and has traces of red pigment.
This piece was once in the collection of Paul Tishman. It has
an estimate of $30,000 to $40,000. It sold for $35,850.
Lot 211, a Middle Chimu gold beaker, Sicán, circa A.D.
900-1200, 5 ¾ inches high, is the back-cover illustration
of the catalogue and has a band of warriors above a band of frogs.
It has a modest estimate of $8,000 to $12,000. It sold for
Lot 213 is the highlight of the Pre-Columbian art section of the
auction. It is a large South-Coast wood ceremonial implement,
Ica Valley Region, Late Intermediate/Late Horizon, Ca. A.D. 1100-1400.
The 89 ¾-inch-high object is carved from algarrobo,
a hardwood, and has six figures standing with arms raised and
touching hands. "These masterfully carved board," the
catalogue stated, "are usually referred to as leeboards or
rudders. They have also been identified as enlarged ceremonial
versions of agricultural tools or digging sticks, the numerous
smaller, utilitarian examples having been found in settlements
in the Ica Valley. Made from the large trunks of the hardwood
algarrobo or guarango, a
desert tree related to
the mesquite, these boards are decorated with figures of the nobles
who controlled the regions. They are further embellished with
the important sea life and waterbirds that were integral to the
agricultural productivity of the area." This very handsome
object has a conservative estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. It
sold for $59,750.
Lot 247 is a very impressive Mezcala stone figure, banded dark
and yellow streaked serpentine, Late Preclassic, circa 300-100
B.C., 4 7/8 inches high. "This figure is a rare and perhaps
unique depiction of Mezcala ritual activity," the catalogue
noted. It has an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for
auction has a very
good selection of Oceanic art, highlighted by Lot 334, a rare
and important Papuan Gulf, Gulf Province, Turamarubi People, female
figure, 44 inches high, shown above. This work comes from the
Masco Collection and was published in the catalogue of an exhibition
of the collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1995. It
has a modest estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for
Lot 323 is a Vanuatu slit drum, 8 feet 9 inches high that is similar
to some at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It has a modest estimate
of $6,500 to $9,500. It sold for $5,078.
353, a "superb"
Hawaiian basalt pounder, 7 5/8 inches high, is a magnificent abstract
sculpture of which Isamu Noguchi would have been proud. It has
an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $29,875.
364, a fine New Caledonian
dance headdress, 35 7/16 inches high, is very imposing. It comes
from the Masco Collection and the catalogue notes that "it
is rare to see a New Caledonian mask with its accoutrements as
complete as the Masco example. It failed to sell.
Lot 365 is one of the spindly male figures that lean slightly
forward from Easter Island, examples of which are currently on
view in a splendid small exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum
of Art (see The City Review article).
This 15-inch high figure was collected by a Dutch sailor in the
18th Century, according to the catalogue and has a very modest
estimate of $10,000 to $15,000. It is carved, the catalogue continued,
from the Sophora toromiro tree, which is now
sold for $26,290.
383 is a striking and
very impressive Maori treasure box, 23 inches long. It has a modest
estimate of $45,000 to $55,000. It sold for $77,675.
wooden boxes such as this one were the property of Maori chiefs.
They were used to hold valuable family heirlooms including the
tail features of the huia bird (worn in the hair to
rank), combs and nephrite ear and neck pendants. The extremely
deep carving on this box, and the interplay of tiki
attests to the skill of a master carver. Rectangular treasure
boxes are rarer than the oval ones and are considered by many
people to be of an earlier date," the catalogue noted.