By Carter B.
Pre-Columbian Art is one of the
few major collecting
areas that has not witnessed significant price increases in recent
years, probably reflecting the double-whammy of lingering concerns
about forgeries in the field, instabilities in some Latin American
economies, and growing national concerns about retaining their
artistic patrimony within their borders.
This auction did not have too
works but fared reasonably well, selling 77 percent of the 416
lots offered. "This was an extremely successful sale indicating
that interest in Pre-Columbian art remains high," Stacy Goodman,
the director of the Sotheby’s Pre-Columbian Department, said
after the sale, adding that "top quality objects with excellent
provenance continue to sell extremely well."
Lot 17, a rare Huari inlaid
figure of a dignitary
from the South Coast, Middle Horizon, circa A.D. 600-1000, was
the cover illustration of the catalogue and the most spectacular
lot in the auction. It sold for $233,500 (including the buyer’s
premium as do all sales prices in this article), more than three
times it low estimate of $75,000.
The exquisite 4 inch high
figure, shown above,
is, according to the catalogue, "the only known example of
a freestanding figure entirely covered by inlaid shell
figure is a classic example of the Huari use of small portable
objects (including textiles, ceramics), to convey religious iconography
and social status. The garment prominently worn by the dignitary
emulates the carefully interlocking weave using formal geometry
and a play of dual images in a repetitive, yet unified and fluid
The inlays on the piece, which
by a private Latin American collector, include mother-of-pearl,
mussel shell, turquoise, greenstone, lapis lazuli and silver.
Such a precious piece is
infinitely more delightful
than the more common Pre-Columbian gold pieces, several of which
were in the auction and generally sold within their estimates.
Lot 34, for example, a very impressive but not too decorative
Calima gold tweezer, circa A.D. 200 - 400 and 8 1/4 inches long,
sold for $34,500 and had a low estimate of $30,000.
Not all the most attractive
works were so costly.
Lot 4, for example, shown below, is a very fine and large copper
Early.Middle Mochica mask, circa 300 B.C. to A.D. 300. Estimated
at $10,000 to $15,000, it sold for $23,000. While it was missing
the traditional large nose piece and the eyes did not have inlaid
pieces of shell as many such works do, this was in very good condition
otherwise and was particularly expressive.
Even more reasonable but also
was Lot 30, a Chorrera/Valdivia stone mortar, circa 1500-500 B.C.,
shown below. The 7 3/4 inch long work in the stylized form of
a puma sold for $13,800, well above its $9,000 high estimate.
A nice, typical Quimbaya seated
Lot 31, circa A.D. 1000-1500, one of the most popular and attractive
examples of Pre-Columbia art, sold for $3,450, more than twice
its low estimate, a reasonable level that has held relatively
constant over the past few years. The price for this 12 1/2 inch
high figure is a good indication of how the market is moving upwards,
although the fact that this piece still had a large gold nosering
indicates that it is still rather reticent compared to some other
Lot 43, a Costa Rican Jade
possibly Guanacaste/Nicoya region, circa A.D. 1-500, 7 1/8 inches
long, sold for $20,700, well over its high estimate of $12,000,
probably reflecting its good size, a recent major exhibition on
Costa Rican art, and its fierce face with triple serpent-like
tongue and headband decorated with opposing alligator heads.
Another Costa Rican piece, Lot
47, was consigned
by the High Museum of Atlanta and sold for $9.775, almost double
its $5,000 high estimate. It was a stone effigy mace head, Chorotega
region, circa A.D. 1-500 and was 4 3/8 inches high.
Surprisingly, however, a good
Costa Rican stone
effigy metate in the form of a jaguar from the Atlantic Watershed,
circa A.D. 1000-1500, sold for only $4,025, just over its $4,000
high estimate. This low, curved table was only 20 1/2 inches long
while many other tables are about twice as long, but almost all
are very impressive.
A marvelous and very
impressive, rare Olmec
incised vessel of translucent creamy aragonite from the Guerrero
region, Early Preclassic, circa 1200-900 B.C., Lot 66, shown above,
sold to an American "institution" for $101,500, nicely
over its $90,000 high estimate. The work, 9 3/4 inches in diameter,
had an impressive exhibition history and was once in the Alice
Kaplan collection. The light-colored stone vessel had a pinched
top and a slightly rounded bottom with a deeply incised continuous
band, the catalogue noted, of "four repeated segments incorporating
an elongated s-scroll surrounded by symmetrically opposed forked
motifs (possibly snake tongues) and sprouting elements, separated
by recessed squares, with each end carved with a pair of bold
zigzag motifs with the outside edge of wavy design, vertically
flanking a recessed square, the rim with six small scrolled elements
linked by an incised line, with extensive remains of thick, bright
red pigment in the carved areas."
Two Late Classic, Mayan
depictions of dignitaries,
circa A. D. 550-950 were among the highlights. Lot 169 was a fine
polychrome stucco head of a dignitary, 16 3/4 inches high, that
was formerly in the Alice Kaplan collection and sold for $145,500,
more than twice its $70,000 high estimate. Lot 177, an excellent,
10 1/2 inch high statue of a full-figure statue with a very dynamic
pose from Jaina, sold for $200,500, well past its $120,000 high
Among the disappointments of
the sale was Lot
81, a West Mexican stone mask, Colima/Jalisco region, Protoclassic,
circa 100 B.C.- A.D.250, 5 5/8 inches high, that failed to sell
and had a low estimate of $35,000. The finely carved mask in a
luscious dark green stone was impressive and interesting because
of the almost abstract slit cuts for the eyes and mouth.
Lot 131, a Zapotec figural urn,
IIIB, circa A.D. 450-650, 17 inches high, modeled in the form
of a dignitary with outstretched arms and a large headdress, failed
to sell and had a $30,000 low estimate.