Scott Reyburn reports from the Parcours des Mondes in Paris where ‘Tribal Art’ seeks a broader audience:
Over the past couple of decades Paris has been competing with Brussels and its Non European Art Fair, held in June, to be Europe’s prime trading center for tribal artifacts — one of the few historical categories that can attract crossover buying from collectors of modern and contemporary art. In the 1990s, Sotheby’s and Christie’s decided to hold high-end tribal auctions in Paris. That decision, together with the concentration of France’s ethnographic collections in Musée du Quai Branly, which opened in 2006, has given the edge to Paris, where “primitive” art played a crucial role in influencing avant-garde artists such as Picasso, Modigliani and Brancusi during the early 20th century.
The gallery-lined rue des Beaux-Arts and the rue de Seine were bustling with international collectors, many American, at the opening of Parcours last Tuesday. There were several stand-out shows. The up-and-coming Paris and Brussels dealer Martin Doustar, 35, had taken four years to put together his collection of 49 human skull sculptures from various eras and civilizations. Aptly named “Golgotha,” the exhibition included a macabre A.D. 1300 Mixtec mosaic-inlaid head, priced at 350,000 euros, or about $452,300. Nearby, Galerie Flak was showing more than 20 Eskimo sculptures. Among the group, acquired from a collection in Aspen, Colorado, a small “grande figure” from the 2,000-year-old Okvik culture, as abstract as a Brancusi, was priced at €130,000. About eight of them quickly sold to collectors from the United States, France and Germany for more than €50,000 each.
Arte y Ritual was among around 30 non-French guest exhibitors at the Parcours. The Spanish dealers, who sell to contemporary art collectors such as New York-based Adam Lindemann, held a 30th-anniversary show that mixed museum-quality items of former stock with works currently for sale, such as a 19th-century wooden Ewa figure from the Korowori River, Papua New Guinea, for sale at €450,000.
There were plenty of red stickers in the galleries, though dealers said collectors tended to wait until the weekend to commit to big-ticket purchases. A group of distinctive Kota reliquary figures from Gabon — types admired and collected by Picasso — attracted at least four sales in the €100,000 to €400,000 range at Galerie Alain Bovis during the early hours of the preview.
Parcours des Mondes, with its buzzy blend of international gallerists and serious-minded collectors, would seem to be a model for survival for dealers specializing in historic material. And yet, as was pointed out by the Paris-based exhibitor Anthony Meyer, the event still somehow struggles to attract the crossover buyers that are key to the market’s growth. “It’s a great success, but we don’t see many contemporary art buyers,” Mr. Meyer said during the Parcours preview. “I met more of those when I was exhibiting with the antiquities dealers at Maastricht.”
Antiquarian Fairs Prove Vital to Dealers (NYTimes.com)