The New York Times reveals today that the Met Museum in New York is about embark upon a thorough renovation of its African, Oceanic and Americas galleries where tribal and primitive art are displayed. The 40,000 square foot wing will focus more distinctly on each region rather than allowing the presentations to run into each other. At the same time, Sotheby’s Paris has revealed that the estate of one of the great collectors of African and Oceanic art, Murray Frum, has consigned two African works to lead their December 12 auction.
The two works come from recognized masters. The first is a Luba Shankadi, the Master of the Cascading Hairstyle; the second, a reliquary figure Kota Obamba by the Master of the Sebe (above). Here’s Sotheby’s description of the works:
In 2014, Sotheby’s sold Murray Frum’s outstanding collection, built over half a century, distinguished by Polynesian works of great rarity, remarkable quality and historical provenances.
The Master of the Cascading Hairstyle
It is exceptional to be able to attribute an African work of art to an identified artist. The hand of a sculptor Luba Shankadi, nicknamed the ‘Master of Cascade Hairstyle’, was identified around 1960 by the great specialist William Fagg. The first neck support of this hand was collected in 1901 by Brissoni and is now part of the collections of the Museo di Antropologia ed Etnologia in Florence. Only eighteen works of this kind are known to date, most of them in the collections of the most prestigious institutions – from the Metropolitan Museum in New York to the British Museum in London.
This masterpiece from the Frum collection is arguably the most emblematic and sophisticated sculpture of the Master of Cascade Hairstyle because of its deep patina that testifies to a continuous and privileged use, the rarity of its iconography, and especially the visual dynamism of his form and his character. For the third time since 2006, Sotheby’s will have the privilege of selling in Paris one of the rare works of this master sculptor.
Figure of Reliquary, Kota Obamba, by the Master of the Sébé Gabon
With less than a dozen works now known, the corpus created by the Master of the Sebé is one of the rarest of African art but also one of the most archaic.
While respecting Expressionist norms specific to Kota sculpture, this Master has gone beyond classical canons by creating a unique set of works. Preserved for almost a quarter of a century in the Frum collection, this reliquary figure brilliantly illustrates both the exceptional technical know-how of the Master of the Sebe Valley and his individual artistic genius.
This artist, active between 1750 and 1800, fed on the artistic currents of the region that he knew how to transcend in order to contain in a motionless form the imperious presence of the ancestor. Then there is the virtuoso composition juxtaposing the extremely thin plates of metal with very narrow slats in a subtle play of chromatic nuances accentuating the visual power of the work.