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Masterpiece of Oceanic Art in Brussels Sells for Record Price

March 24, 2012

COVER OF LEMPERTZ MARCH 31, 2012 TRIBAL ARTS AUCTION CATALOGUE FEATURING LOT 120, A HIGHLY IMPORTANT NEW IRELAND COMMEMORATIVE ULI FIGURE FROM THE COLLECTION OF THE GERMAN ARTIST OTTO DIX (1891 - 1969)

One need only visit the Michael C. Rockefeller wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to savor the glory of Oceanic art (including work from Papua New Guinea, New Ireland and New Britain).  Artwork that in some circles is still labeled “primitive” is anything but.   Work from Papua New Guinea, New Ireland and New Britain, in particular, frequently combines a rich and diverse iconography, inventive approach to space and volume, and vibrant use of pigment to yield works that are fascinating, terrifying and sublime.

On March 31, Lempertz auction house is offering an imposing and impressive totem from New Ireland formerly in the collection of influential 20th German Artist Otto Dix as part of their tribal arts sale. There are only twelve known figures like the one being offered.

Influential 20th German artist Otto Dix with LOT 120, New Ireland Uli figure.

The catalogue description includes this passage about the function and role of this work:

Uli figures are the central objects in the commemoration and honour of a deceased chief or clan founder. Following the death of such a high ranking man, a series of large-scale feasts were held over a period of one full year.

The ceremonies culminated in a final gathering for which the large uli figures had been carved to represent the deceased. People from neighbouring villages assembled to participate in dances and pig feasts. Ulisculptures were highly esteemed, powerful objects that were kept in the villages for generations. They were used for a long time, were repainted and displayed in huts constructed especially for this purpose. The uli was kept in the men’s house after the ceremonies where it was believed to continue to aid the successor and his people.

Lot 120. A HIGHLY IMPORTANT NEW IRELAND COMMEMORATIVE ULI FIGURE FROM THE COLLECTION OF THE GERMAN ARTIST OTTO DIX (1891 - 1969). The large powerful head with carved teeth in the broad -horizontal mouth, the eyes with shell operculae pupils set into oval shell panels, the prominent nose with pierced septum, a black painted band descending from the eyes to loop under the mouth, inset fibre beard, the coiffure in three cross-hatched sections with tall median crest carved with bands of triangles, standing with the arms carved free of the body, the joined hands holding a vertical shaft which -descends from the chin to the abdomen, a shell opercula inset in the centre of the hands, a similar shaft at the back of the figure, -conical breasts, carved struts about the thighs and lower -abdoemen, prominent sex, on short legs, carved and painted geometric -ornament about the body in black, white and reddish brown, 127 cm. Estimate EUR 700,000-900,000. UPDATE: This lot sold for EUR 1,160,000.

Lot 120, detail. A HIGHLY IMPORTANT NEW IRELAND COMMEMORATIVE ULI FIGURE FROM THE COLLECTION OF THE GERMAN ARTIST OTTO DIX (1891 - 1969). Estimate EUR 700,000-900,000. UPDATE: This lost sold for EUR 1,160,000.

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