Monday, June 18, 2007


The most difficult factor to consider is QUALITY. Beauty is truly in the eyes of the beholder. What one collector loves another might hate. This is actually good for the market because if we all loved the exact same things, only those pieces would have value and everything else would be unsellable. This issue is too complex to cover here easily, but there are a few points that can be made:

Artistic pieces are not limited to certain types of objects, such as sculptures or masks, but can be considered with any artifact. I have seen crudely carved or downright ugly wood statues that I would rather throw in the fireplace than consider as art objects. But, I have seen many aesthetically and beautiful rendered utilitarian objects such as spoons, doors, panels, bowls, beadwork, etc that I (and most others) would absolutely consider brilliant masterpieces!

Sometimes value and desirability in tribal artifacts have nothing to do with refinement of technique or perceived beauty (especially in the normal western view of beauty). Some of the greatest pieces of tribal art can be simple and informally constructed, yet emanate power and menace (as they were often meant to). Other features we might dismiss as unattractive in our culture are considered beautiful in theirs. For example, the Dayak tribes of Borneo appreciate big ears and many of their sculptures show them sticking straight out! Many tribal cultures (again the Dayaks are a good example) believe the head holds the soul and essence of the individual, so most sculptures will emphasize oversized heads and faces.

An important note is that all cultures have had influences from other cultures and that all artistic traditions have evolved over time often absorbing ideas and materials from other groups. It is rare to find a society that is untouched by others even in ancient times. Some collectors get a bit obsessed and put off if they think an artifact has too much outside influence, but I don't see it that way. It is just another part of that culture's history. For example the Dayak tribes of Borneo Island, have been influenced by Arabs, Malays, Indians, Chinese, and Europeans for many hundreds of years, so how does one logically decide the precise cut-off point for that culture to be "pure"?

Another issue that comes up regularly when selling tribal art (and art of any kind) is the ultimate VALUE or INVESTMENT POTENTIAL. Unfortunately, most collectors are overly concerned about getting a good deal instead of a good piece. It is frustrating as a seller to have to spend a large portion of the “sales pitch” trying to convince the buyer that they are getting a great deal! I would rather spend the time talking about the aesthetic qualities of the piece and why it would be right for their collection. I understand that buyers want to feel they are not getting taken and are spending their money wisely, but to obsess about getting something over the seller or to feel they are being cheated is annoying and insulting.

A good dealer knows the value of his inventory and normally offers objects within a realistic price range. It is rare for a professional dealer to try and over charge on a sale, as it would make no sense to cheat a buyer. Most dealers are trying to establish long term relationships with their clients and make every effort to offer good pieces for fair prices. Good art regularly and progressively goes up in value and most collectors benefit in the long run especially if they bought the best pieces they could afford. In fact it has been my experience most collectors ultimately make more money from their objects than the dealers that sold them, by either eventually re-selling the pieces or getting tax credits by donation. It is very important to remember that enjoying the art is the major part of the investment!

That said, there are interesting investment opportunities when collecting art. Look for areas that are not well known on the market at this time. Look for objects that might be overlooked by the mainstream collectors. If collecting in unknown areas, it is possible to buy great pieces for low prices as the highest values have yet to be set. Once a new area has been bought out then prices normally rise, so buying in early can be beneficial. In addition, once this area has been exhibited or published then prices may raise again as other collectors become aware.

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