2008 May New York Tribal & Textile Arts Show

Written by Michael Auliso and republished here with his permission.



This year the tribal show migrated to its new downtown location at the Gramercy Park Armory at 26th & Lexington. The feel of the show was virtually unchanged mainly due to the similar interiors of the two Armory buildings. I did not exhibit, as I felt the saturation of the marketplace, one large show and two auctions simultaneously, would not lend to even marginal sales. This gave me a fresh perspective as I chose to purchase art with the ten thousand I saved by not exhibiting. The buying was good I might add.

The opening night definitely caused a buzz and many serious collectors and dealers attended from Europe and elsewhere, if only for a brief period. The very best pieces were immediately purchased and often taken away that evening or the next morning. This made it challenging, if not impossible, to document and review the show in a complete way.

The composition of the dealers again shifted drastically this year. I opened a catalog from the New York show five years earlier and so many of those dealers have now dropped out like: Patric Didier Claes, Josh Dimonstein, Bill Jamieson, Leonard Kalina, Jerry Boch, Davide Manfredi, Alain Naoum, Wayne Heathcote, Tambaran Gallery, Spencer Throckmorton, Kevin Conru, Malcolm Grimmer, William Siegal, Primary Source, Tad Dale, James Willis and Christine Valluet and others). It’s sad to see. The turn over was gradual but significant and the NY market continues to perplex us all! Even though the show is expensive and stressful, the reality is that most of these dealers would still be exhibiting if the buyers were present in meaningful numbers. I attribute this partly to a once vibrant but aging collector-base which have stopped collecting or literally died off. The marketplace seems in an awkward transition desperately seeking to introduce fresh collectors to this powerful art form which the previous generations so deeply appreciated.

This years mosaic of dealers produced a skewed abundance of African art, a distinct shortage of Oceanic Art (Polynesian in particular), Pre-Columbian material was under represented, as was Native American and Indonesian art. Some new dealers included Joe Loux (San Francisco), Charles-Wesly Hourde’ (Paris), Arcade Gallery- Peter Wengraf (Devon UK), Casiopeia- Michael Cacioppo (Chicago), Kagu Gallery– Frank Van Craen (Antwerp), Jacaranda Tribal (NY), B.C. Dentan (San Francisco).

For the most part exciting fresh material was lacking. Overall quality slipped a notch and there were only a handful of stellar breath-taking pieces. That said there were of course some great pieces and above all there were a lot of fantastic deals to be had! I spent too much money and surely would have spent more, but I had to eat & have cab fare.

A few pieces on my radar screen that sold before I could even shoot a photo was a fine New Caledonian ceremonial jade Axe with masks for $18,000 offered by Charles-Wesly Hourde’ (Paris), a New Guinea palm splath painted skull rack panel from the Sawos people for $12,000 offered by Joris Visser and an Easter Island figure from Lewis Wara Gallery.

My favorite booth in the show was Serge Schoffel’s who had an array of impressive and important Oceanic pieces (pretty stunning actually). Among them was a monumental stone-carved Vanuatu Grade Post from Malekua, a New Britan Sulka Shield, a masterpiece New Guinea Middle Sepik Hook collected by Paul Wirtz, a great Hemba Figure and others. What I find so fascinating about Serge is he tells me that he boldly has his entire bank account (every penny) invested into the art. That level of passion and courage is admirable. There is an old production saying in Hollywood which is “put the money on the screen” and Serge surely did that for this show!

Serge Schoffel next to a fine early Vanuatu Malekula Post. Seen on the right is a classic New Britain Sulka war shield.

Other stand-out booths included Gallery J. Visser (Brussels), Joel Cooner (Dallas), B.C. Denton (San Francisco), Galen Lowe (Seattle) and Thomas Murray (Mill Valley)

(It is worth noting that the harsh overhead lighting inside the show is the worst environment for taking good images, but we do the best we can)

Peter Wengraf (Devon UK)

Cassiopeia- Michael Cacioppo (Chicago) had a very attractive booth with some gorgeous beadwork

Tribalhunter, Ben Hunter (UK)

Craig De Lora Tribal Art (Clifton NJ)

Craig De Lora: with a Guro figure and wonderful early Dan miniature mask

Kagu Gallery, Frank had some strong Congo material with included an impressive Songye Axe. Notice the unique Balue figures on the far left which have their hands and arms raised and carved away from their bodies

Frank Van Craen (Antwerp) That Dan Ladle seen in the background was an extraordinary example and surely one of the best available

Amyas Naegele Fine Art Bases Ltd (NY), Amyas likes to have a booth stuffed with quality smalls which seems to be his secret to a great show. In fact he never stopped writing receipts!

B.C. Dentan (San Francisco) with one of the most elegant booths in the show. That purple object in the corner was a flamboyant fiber headdress from Cameroon

Lewis/ Wara (Seattle), Had a classic early New Ireland Tatanua mask which got a lot of attention. Kirby is in white shirt showing a customer a group master-carved Trobriand Island Massim lime spatulas (some by artist Mutuaga)

Patricia and Bruce Frank (NY), and son Marcus next to a power Indonesian Toraja Tatu effigy

(Bruce Frank) With a very cool Batak Magic Figure

Thomas Murray with a stunning Peruvian Central Coast feather headdress (Chimu/ Chancay) in beautiful condition. Tom’s presentation of this piece coincided with the special exhibition at The Met titled “Radiance from the Rain Forest: Featherwork in Ancient Peru”. It is worth noting that Tom also had in important large Indonesian Ataoro Figure

Joel Cooner next to an early stone-carved New Guinea Lower Sepik Mask

Joel Cooner

Serge Schoffel (Brussels) Upper Left a masterpiece New Guinea suspension hook.

Owen Hargreaves & Jasmine Dahl (London)

At last a photo in natural light of a dashing couple!

Owen Hargreaves & Jasmine Dahl

(Bruce Frank) Ancient New Guinea Yangoru Boiken Figure

Mark Johnson (Marina Del Rey CA) Left- Modang Dayak ritual oil lamp, Right- Bottom View of a painted Iban Dayak pattern board for an Ikat.

Joe Loux (San Francisco) with a lovely selection of Chinese and Moroccan objects

A.R. Broomer Ltd. (New York) had this very unique inventive seat/ bench from the N. Philippines with stylized animals carved from a huge root mass

Dave DeRoche (Piedmont CA) Dave continued this theme of “Monumental Miniatures” this year exhibiting approximately 300 pieces. He had a diverse selection from all cultures. Among the treasures, was an impressive group of rare terracotta Formosa (Taiwan) Aboriginal figures from the Yami People. Every one loves to buy from Dave and as I recall he said he sold 40 pieces!! Still he said that was about two thirds of the sales results compared to last year.



Arte Primitivo (New York) Howard Rose and Charles Moore

A brief word about sales etiquette: There is a tendency for a handful of dealers to give any person who walks into their booth a “hard sell” for any given piece they look at. This can be very unsavory and a huge turn off to customers. I’m mentioning it since it was even happening to me and most people know I’m a dealer! That left me wondering– was the average visitor experiencing this times two? Hopefully not. Visitors want to wander and look freely. Dealers should be available and helpful to answer questions but not smother a potential customer with an aggressive sales pitch. Visitors are less likely to come into a booth where they feel intimated or even return to the show. Perhaps dealers were just a bit more eager to sell merchandise this year because of the competitive environment but it is something to be aware of. It’s a fine art show not a used car lot.

James Stephenson African Art (Brooklyn NY)

This fine Makonde Helmet mask was amazing thin and delicately carved

Jim Hart with a selection of Native American and African Art

Michael Hamson (CA) Interior wall

Myers and Duncan (New York)

Charles Hourde’ (Paris) standing next to a figure from Ghana (possibly a funerary effigy). Charles had a gorgeous Mangbetu Harp from the Congo which was his featured piece in the catalog.

Joris Visser (Brussels) standing next to an important Baule “gbekre” Monkey Shine figure (the largest one known). The figure was from the collection of Jacques Ulman and was the most impressive African piece in the show. Joris sold it for an “unknown sum” and said that it truly hurt to see it go, he wished he had a dozen. Joris had a very minimal booth this year with a handful of great pieces. This was very effective allowing the viewer to fully focus on each piece.

Jacaranda Tribal Art (Daniel Rootenburg)

Handle Detail of a South African Ladle

Dave DeRoche’s booth. Todd is caught holding Dave’s large Pre-Columbian terracotta Phallus. (“Todd, I know I promised not to use the photo but it was just too good–sorry”)

One night at a Persian Restaurant. Left to right (back row) myself half asleep after too much wine, Dave DeRoche, Todd Z., Peter Boyd, Craig DeLora and Lisa, Jo De Buck with his hand in the air

The End


Scott Rodolitz did another fine job assembling this auction. The Polynesian material, followed by Oceanic Art sold well. A Hawaii Spear brought $33,000 and a Marquesas Island U’U club brought $87,000. But sadly many lots were passed and the African results were disappointing. However, the Punu mask on the cover of the catalog sold for $72,000 and a Songye Stool sold for $48,000. The biggest underlying factor for the fizzle with the African Art seemed to be unrealistic reserve prices primarily on the pieces from Bob Bohlen’s collection. It was surprising to see bidding climb up on so many lots that were ultimately passed. For example lot 639, a Bete Mask, got up to $85,000 and was passed, the reserve was likely $100K.

The showrooms at Bonhams are new and modern but it would have been ideal if they could have allocated more space to the African-Oceanic Department to display the pieces! The exhibit hall was long, deep and too crowded especially toward the back with the African art. There is a perception too that if a piece of art appears at Sotheby’s that somehow buyers have more confidence to bid aggressively (sometimes insanely). Since Bonhams had their first Tribal sale in New York in 2007 they been facing headwinds from other NY dealers who are not invested in their success to put in nicely. There is a real need in the marketplace for a vibrant middle market to thrive in tribal art. Sotheby’s may not encourage consignments under $10,000 as they only want to focus on the very highest tier of the market. It is important for new collectors to have an “entry point” to able to buy and afford tribal art. That is one of the important functions that Bonhams provides and it is vital the everyone in the Tribal Art community that they continue having auctions in New York despite the many challenges.

Polynesian Art


The sales results at Sotheby’s were again stellar with the sale netting 10.1 million. Many lots sailed way past the estimates. European dealers were present in the back of the room bidding aggressively for Congo material. A mysterious woman on a cell phone on the back aisle was raising her paddle at the last minute for top African pieces on behalf of some wealthy entity.

This Dinhofer Baga Serpent (lot 58) sold for $3,289,000. It was given 16 pages on the catalog

Lot 134, an impressive Vili Kneeling figure 4.5″ tall sold for $289,000. Hypothetically, if this piece say turned up in a Brussels gallery during the Bruneaf fair it could likely purchased for around 15.000-20.000 euros. It is probably only worth about $50K-$60K usd. Nobody but the Sotheby’s staff knows who is paying these kinds of prices. Surely whoever it is they are outside of our field and do not shop the usual channels of dealers and galleries.

Bembe Figure, Selling Price $109,000

Close up of lot 172, A Songye male power figure, Selling Price $85,000