Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Horse Bridle from Timor Island
San Francisco Tribal & Textile Arts Show
February 11-13, 2010

Nearly 100 international dealers of tribal arts from Asia, Africa, Oceania, & the Americas exhibited at the 25th annual Caskey/Lees show at the Fort Mason location in February.  Over the last 10 years, this show has evolved into the most important and interesting tribal art fair in the US and in my opinion the world, based on the breadth and depth of the objects offered.  The quality of the material ranges from modestly priced pieces perfect for new collectors to museum masterpieces, thus attracting buyers from all economic levels.

Due to the economic downturn starting in 2008, sales at this venue were tepid in 2009 and anemic in 2010.  Expecting another slow year, several dealers, mostly Europeans, dropped out.  However, it took no time to fill these open slots with other dealers (mostly American), eager to take advantage of the opportunity. 

The good news is sales were up over last year.  Most were in the mid price range, of course, but some important pieces were sold by shows end.  Perhaps because expectations were low, the usual complaints by dealers were down and most were even cautiously optimistic about the future of the market.  Attendance was up and collectors were in a buying mood after two years of holding back.

Another indicator of a healthier market is sales amongst exhibitors, and it was clear that several of my colleagues were making deals and re-investing into new inventory.  I picked up a few pieces, including a rare old painted bark cloth vest from Borneo Island.

I really can’t think of any bad news.  The weather was fantastic with clear, blue skies.  The City was beautiful, as always.  Everyone was cooperative, friendly, and up beat.

Because my interest is with tribal art from Asia and the western Pacific, I was aware of a considerable increase in objects from that region, especially Indonesia.  Regular exhibitors of this material: including myself, Tom Murray, Bruce Frank, Jack Sadovnic, Miranda Crimp, John Ruddy, Erik Farrow, and Rudolf Smend, were joined by Frank Wiggers (after a long show hiatus), returning exhibitors Louis Nierijnck and Curtis and Margaret Keith Clemson, and new exhibitors Bill Sutterfield and James Barker.  Fortunately, each of these dealers had their own style and material, allowing for a wide range of sculptures, masks, textiles, beadwork, and jewelry with very little duplication.  To my surprise, a wide variety of stone sculptures were on display in many of these booths, with unique examples from Sumba, Sulawesi, Nias, and Sumatra.

Highlights:  An exciting collection of Javanese batik cloth, curated by batik expert Rudolf Smend, was on exhibition in the lobby, Tom Murray sold his large collection of Neolithic stone blades, Bruce Frank exhibited a rare Dayak ironwood sculpture and an archaic style Tau-Tau ancestor figure from Sulawesi Island (sold), Frank Wiggers also sold his rare tattooed Tau-Tau, Jack Sadovnic offered a beautiful Nias Island coconut scrapper and a pair of throne supports with carved serpent figures, from Sumatra Island (also sold), Louis Nierijnck displayed a Mentawai Island painted wall carving, and Bill Sutterfield offered a collection of Dayak shields and weapons, several of which he sold.  I showed a large old stone figure from Sulawesi Island (sold), a decorated horse bridle from Timor Island (sold), a collection of masks from the Lampung area of Sumatra Island, and an unusual ritual post from Borneo Island, with hermaphrodite features.

Although outside of my immediate area, but definitely worth mentioning: Michael Hamson offered and sold several pieces made by the Boiken people of New Guinea.  In addition, Michael produced an important new catalog of this material that includes an outstanding selection of masks, sculptures, bowls, and drums from major private collections from around the world.  Opening this publication is a series of wonderful field photos recently taken by noted Bay Area photographer Mike Glad.

As always, I want to thank the Caskey Lees team for their hard work in producing this show.  They make every effort to accommodate the needs of at least a 100 semi-stressed out individuals.  I look forward to participating next year!


stevenqfrost said...

Thanks for the report Mark. I always look forward to reading the posts on your blog.

Stacey said...

Makes two of us!

Tribal Art Hunter