New York: May 9th to 13th, 2012.
For nearly a week in early May, auction houses, tribal art dealers and galleries came together to produce a series of semi-coordinated tribal art events. After the closing of the Caskey Lees show in 2010, a rushed attempt at filling the void barely got off the ground. Not unexpected, considering the organizers had less than two months to pull in exhibitors, spaces, and promotion. The concept was to find temporary spaces or share existing gallery space with tribal art dealers from out of town, preferably in close proximity, along the lines of the successful BRUNEAF show in Brussels and the Parcours in Paris. It was important to time these dealer exhibitions around the existing Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Bonhams tribal art auctions.
In 2011 another group, AOA Tribal Art New York produced a similar event. With more time for promotion, it was reported that this attempt went fairly well. This year the AOA group working with a new organization, Madison Ancient & Tribal Art (MATA) produced an updated version, with two major hubs, one at the Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion, the other at the Arader Gallery, both near 79th and Madison. Two smaller hubs, also hosting out of town dealers, were located the Bohemian National Hall and the Art for Eternity Gallery. In addition, other local galleries specializing in tribal art (for example: the Calvin-Morris Gallery’s “Shields of New Guinea”) were hosting special exhibitions as well as the usual scheduled tribal art auctions.
The primary locations near Madison, brought in several European dealers, most notably Gallery Visser, Galerie Flak, Conru African & Oceanic Art, and Adrian Schlag Tribal Art Classics. American dealers included Peter Boyd African Art, Joe Loux, Bruce Frank Primitive Art, Huber Primitive Art, James Stephenson African Art, Michael Rhodes African Art, Gail Martin Gallery, Earl Duncan, and Jeffery Myers Primitive & Fine Art. Also participating were local galleries, such as Pace Primitive, Alaska on Madison, Nasser & Co, Arte Primitivo, and Tambaran Gallery.
My favorite location was the MATA group at the Arader Gallery. With four stories of open, wood paneled rooms, excellent lighting and good air circulation, it was a comfortable place to visit. There was a great mix of material, with high end African, Oceanic, Indonesian, and Pre-Columbian objects well represented and displayed.
What most impressed me was the pacing and timing of the openings and auctions. It was easy to preview the offerings at the three auction houses prior to the main openings on Wednesday. The Art for Eternity Gallery opened on Wednesday afternoon, the MATA group had their opening in the late afternoon, and the AOA group, a short walk around the corner, later that evening. Sotheby’s held their auction on Thursday with the official opening at the nearby Bohemian National Hall location, soon afterwards. Christie’s auction took place on Friday, with Bonhams holding theirs on Saturday. A couple of private parties were planned for Friday evening.
There was significant “buzz” leading up to events in NYC, bringing in important collectors and dealers from Europe and other parts of the US. The openings at the AOA and MATA locations were packed, at times leaving little room to easily view the fine display of objects. The auction housed did well with sky-high prices paid for several very special objects offered at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. I heard that several of the dealers were able to make significant sales, although most reported more modest gains.
Unfortunately, not all of the material offered at the various locations was of the quality you would hope to see and there were a few dealers offering very marginal material, to put it politely. Well, at least there was something for everyone.
In my opinion, after a few off seasons, this latest incarnation of the New York “Tribal Week” bodes well for the return of New York as again one of the primary international centers for the sale of tribal art. I applaud those who organized this year’s events and look forward to returning (and possibly exhibiting) in 2013.