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African, Oceanic, and Pre-Columbian Art at Auction, May 11, Sotheby’s

April 6, 2012

Lot. 69. Bamana Zig-zag Figure, Mali, Estimate: $400,000-600,000. THIS LOT SOLD FOR HAMMER PRICE OF $2.3 MILLION ($2,658,500 INCLUDING THE BUYER’S PREMIUM)

UPDATED – One bidder “standing in the rear of the room” went on a serious shopping spree today dropping millions for a bevy of lots including the Luluwa Helmet Mask (Lot 62, below), plus Lots 72 (hammer price $450,000), 81 (hammer price $650,000), 82 (hammer price $300,000) (all illustrated below) and others.  Lot 69, the  Bamana Zig-Zag figure, blew through it’s $400,000-600,000 to reach at gamer price of $2.3 million. Here’s the complete catalogue with results.

ORIGINAL POST – The forthcoming sale of African, Oceanic, and Pre-Columbian art once again refocuses our attention on the remarkable artistry of work all too often called primitive.  The use of form, volume, materials and spatial definition are wondrous. The highlights from the May 11 sale announced by Sotheby’s come from several different collections. The Bamana Zig-Zag figure (right), according to the press release: 

was formerly in the collection of MoMA Director William Rubin … and was exhibited in the landmark exhibition Primitivism in 20th Century Art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The instantly recognizable zig-zag shape has been an inspiration for many 20th century artists of the avant-guarde including Constantin Brancusi.

 Here are some additional highlights:

Lot 62. Luluwa Helmet Mask, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Estimate: $1.5-2.5 million. THIS LOT SOLD FOR HAMMER PRICE OF $2.2 MILLION ($2,546,500 INCLUDING THE BUYER’S PREMIUM)

This work comes from the collection of Dr. Werner Muensterberger who purchased it in 1959 for $12,000.  According to the release: “The monumental mask is a unique portrait of a female ancestor created by a Luluwa carver in the 19th century or earlier.”

UPDATE – As noted above, the same bidder who purchased lot 62 (above) also purchased the following three lots:

From the same collection:

Lot 61. Sherbro Stone Head from Sierra Leone, Estimate: $250,000-350,000. THIS LOT SOLD FOR HAMMER PRICE OF $200,000 ($242,500 INCLUDING THE BUYER’S PREMIUM)

Like the Luluwa Helmet Mask this piece had also been in Dr. Muensterberger’s collection for several decades. The remarkable 15th Century sculpture represents a major figure in a village or clan and is stylistically comparable to the finest ivory carvings exported in the 15th and 16th centuries from Sierra Leone for the ‘Kunstkabinette’ at the European Royal Courts.

From other collections:

Lot 131. Kota Reliquary Figure, Gabon, Estimate: $1-1.5 million. THIS LOT SOLD FOR HAMMER PRICE OF $900,000 ($1,082,500 INCLUDING THE BUYER’S PREMIUM)

Lot 96. Baule Portrait Mask by the Totokro Master, Ivory Coast, Estimate: $300,000-500,000. BIDDING ON THIS LOT STOPPED AT $275,000 AND IT FAILED TO SELL. 

In the Pre-Columbian department, the Art Institute of Chicago is de-accessioning this stone mask:

Lot 39. Teotihuacan Stone Mask, Classic (Ca. A.D. 450-650), Estimate: $125,000-175,000. THIS LOT SOLD FOR $134,500 INCLUDING THE BUYER’S PREMIUM.

From the Estate of Jan Mitchell:

LOT 5. A Large Sicán Painted Gold Mask, Ca. A.D. 950-1250, Estimate: $50,000-70,000. THIS LOT SOLD FOR $212,500 INCLUDING THE BUYER’S PREMIUM.

Sicán masks from the north coast of Peru are some of the largest Pre-Colombian goldworks known to exist; with the current piece pigments have been used to add to the aura of the highly stylized funerary item.

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