Wednesday, March 4, 2009
COMMENTARY ON THE RECENT SF TRIBAL SHOW
San Francisco Tribal & Textile Art Show
Fort Mason Center, Feb.13th to 15th, 2009.
Every February I exhibit at the San Francisco Tribal & Textile Art Show held at the Fort Mason Center. I really look forward to this event because in my opinion this show is the best Tribal Art venue in the US and possibly the world. There are more exhibitors than any other show (100 or more) with considerably more variety of material, unlike the big European shows which tend to focus on African art. Also, sales have typically been strong and consistent each year. There is always an interesting display in the lobby at the entrance to the venue and this year was no exception. Featured were a series of fantastic and powerful paintings from famed Miami artist (and tribal art collector) Jose Bedia.
Even with the constant drumbeat of economic Armageddon each day on the news, I was cautiously optimistic that buyers would dust off their checkbooks to take advantage of this once in a year opportunity to acquire great tribal artworks. There were plenty of good pieces for sale and attendance was high, certainly it appeared to be no less people walking the aisles than last year.
However, most people I talked to were not in a buying mood, even the ones that were not directly affected by the economic slowdown. Everyone appeared nervous about spending any serious money. With fewer sales to collectors, most dealers were backing off buying as well, so in the end overall sales were down considerably from previous years. This seemed to be the case with the majority of exhibitors, with the exception of a few dealers who did quite well. This was disappointing of course, but not unexpected considering the circumstances. Despite lower than usual sales this year, I believe this will not be the norm and look forward to exhibiting at this venue next year.
One side area that I want to address is the vetting at the show this year. Vetting, prior to the public opening, is a necessary step to insure the quality and authenticity of the material offered. This is usually done with the intention of removing only those items that are obviously or very likely to be problematic (fakes, reproductions, or overly restored items). In a perfect world, people selected to do the vetting would be recognized as experts in their fields and have no personal interest in the items on display. Admittedly, this is difficult to achieve as finding outside experts who are willing to do this job is not easy and often impossible. As an alternative, the show organizers usually have to select a group of dealers that are also exhibitors.
Unfortunately, this can (and often does) lead to allowing certain dealers, with less than honorable intentions, to have the power to remove any item from a competitor’s booth. This is supposed to be remedied by that fact that a small group has to make these decisions and no piece can be vetted out by a single person. However, it is not unusual for other members of these committees to either have their own agendas or not be qualified to make those decisions in the first place. In addition there can be a sheep-like mentality amongst some members of a vetting committee who prefer to avoid confrontation, so they just go along with the opinion of the most forceful personality.
I personally know of several authentic old Borneo sculptures (including a pair of male/female territory markers) that were vetted out of the show. These particular pieces were so clearly and unequivocally correct, that I was in shock when I found out they were removed. To be blunt, certain key members of that committee, who voted to remove these pieces (as well as others), were either extremely ignorant of the material or chose to do so because of a personal agenda.
This business is hard enough without the moronic and virtually criminal behavior of certain dealers. The real shame is these same dealers actually believe they will look better to their clients if they pull down their colleagues, when in fact it only causes distrust and insecurity in the marketplace. We need more cooperation, not more competition amongst our community if we want to see this business flourish.