African Art is rapidly growing in popularity.
An even broader audience has been able to enjoy
this form of art thanks to major exhibitions in recent years in London, Berlin, Munich,
Dusseldorf, New York and San Francisco.
At the start of the 20th century, however, African Art was already arousing excitement among
artist and art collectors.
At a time when Negro Art was still looked upon as the innocent of
primitive peoples, cubists such as Picasso, Braque or Gris were already drawing inspiration
from the strikingly new qualities of form.
Expressionists such as Kirchner, Nolde, or Schmidt-
Rottlaff were captivated by the elementary power of this native art and Gauguin was painting
scenes from his travels to countries of the South Pacific.
Non-European art greatly influenced
the work of these great artists as it continues to influence modern art of the present day.
Over the course of the decades, great art lovers such as von der Heydt (Rietberg Museum
or Mueller (Barbier-Mueller Museum, Geneva) have established significant art collections, which
alongside the "colonial legacy" proved the mainstay of the museums inventories all over the
We have now understood that this art form cannot be referred to as "primitive art".
It is a fact that this art speaks to us and as it does so it draws us into the world of those created it.
Even when using the term African Art one must remember that it derives from rich diversity of
cultures, which finds expression in the wonderful works of this extraordinary art.
Provenance has become increasingly important because collectors fear buying the unauthentic.
Provenance is regarded
as a talisman even though it can be hyped, invented and faked.
Good provenance adds value but is not a guide to
quality or authenticity.
Dispersed collections often release mediocre examples onto the market, including tourist and presentation objects that are merely old.
Such pieces often reach disproportionately high prices.
Publication in old auction catalogues; reference books
or museum monographs can add cachet and historical interest but does not guarantee authenticity.
The piece itself should always be the guide. A collector should never pass on a good piece merely because provenance is lacking; provenance is a bonus not the prize.
When an object does have meaningful provenance the appropriate question to ask is
whether the quality of the piece warrants the extra expense.
Authentic tribal art will continue to fascinate and inspire because it moves to the heartbeat of authentic human feeling.
Different interest groups within the tribal art field emphasize different aspects of an object.
Anthropologists and art historians are more
likely to focus on the cultural and historical context of a piece whereas the tribal art market ends to highlight aesthetic qualities and
It is always pertinent to ask who is doing the evaluating and why.
It was once customary for pieces in museum collections to be cleaned and polished.
An old museum piece might have provenance
but the perceived quality of its surface might be an unintended fabrication.
The term patina is often used as shorthand to denote authenticity, tribal usage, quality and age.
The development and refinement
of false patina is a major aim for fakers.
Condition - Repairs:
Skillful, indigenous repairs can usually be regarded as a positive attribute.
They suggest that the piece was used, valued in its culture and has some age.
Consequently, it is not unknown for pieces to be deliberately broken and repaired to simulate
this desirable factor.
The market invests objects with aesthetic coding: patinas are 'lustrous'; features are 'sensitive'; poses are 'refined'.
descriptions- supported by glossy photographs – prime the viewer and reinforce the 'art aesthetic' through an appeal to cultured
Objects are best appreciated under good lighting and in elegant isolation but aesthetic presentation has little
relevance to an object's inherent qualities.
The term 'rare' is over-used and is often a red flag: a collector's rule of thumb is that the more times a dealer use the
word the less likely it is to be true.
The important question to ask is why an object is regarded as rare.
The cause of rarity – cultural,
historic, qualitative, social or environmental is more important than the described fact