2011 June “BRUNEAF” Tribal Art Fair Brussels

Written by Michael Auliso and republished here with his permission.

Missing most of the images on page 1 and all images on page 2 and 3

*Primary Photography Michael Auliso, Supplemental Photography Clive Loveless

This years Bruneaf Fair brought decent weather and offered an art experience that is unequalled in density and diversity.  That said, there was a lack of stellar pieces.  This was exactly the case at the San Francisco Tribal Show; the last two years and in a down market, what else could be expected?  As the number and frequency of sales shrink, dealers aren’t replenishing inventory as rapidly.  As a result they may be fearful of showing a great object because they don’t want their best piece killed from wide exposure.  To a lesser extent is the perception that you can’t get the price you want in a soft market.  Great objects are still around but they are not being “shown” as much.  When sales and prices finally rebound, this will all change in my view.

Feedback I got from African dealers suggested that the sales activity was concentrated in objects that were 8000 euros and under, which was disappointing for many.  Some dealers felt there was definite lack of customer interest for pieces that were 12000 euros and up.

In addition to 65 participating dealers there were two tribal art auctions which included: Native, Lempertz, and Pierre Berge & Associates.  This year the show organizers printed several very helpful large board-like maps around the Sablon.  A viewer could instantly locate various galleries not only for the Bruneaf fair but also for the simultaneously occurring BAAF (Brussels Ancient Art Fair) and BOA (Brussels Oriental Art Fair).  Good job guys!

I didn’t attend this fair last year so it was fascinating to see the changes in and around the Sablon.  Dealers with the financial means are taking advantage of expiring leases, more favorable real estate prices and gallery attrition to buy leases or entire buildings.   Philippe Laeremans, Didier Claes, Serger Schoffel, Joris Visser and Patrick Mestdagh all have new galleries.

Kevin Conru armed with his “lucky pipe” to spur buying activity

Kevin Conru

Inside Herma Visser’s chic apartment on Ernest Allard

Bruce Frank (NY) answering questions on opening day

Galeria Raquel y Guilhem Montagut

Montagut with an expressive Yombe maternity figure

Montagut with a selection of Kota reliquary figures

A pair of these classy flower-laden urns greeted customers at Dalton Somare’s Gallery 

Court yard at Dalton Somare gallery

Ambre Congo:  Pierre Loos, Thomas Bayet & Sophie Caltaux with a thematic exhibition “oriqinaux argentiques anciens d’ Afrique- raphia & Co”

Ambre Congo

a lavish old staircase in 7 rue des Sablons, located at Ambre Congo’s exhibition

Tim Teuten, retired Christies Specialist (right) chatting with an old friend

foyer of 17 Impasse Saint-Jacques which hosts multiple dealers

Ambre Congo, Upstairs in 17 Impasse Saint-Jacques. 

Ambre Congo

Interior Pierre Dartevelle’s gallery.   Jean Fritz of Sotheby’s compares notes with Tim Teuten

Brant Mackley and Michael Evans (right) exhibiting their second year at Bruneaf, this time in a new gallery right on 5 Impasse Saint-Jacques.  Brant next to Maori canoe prow and Michael next to a rare New Guinea Chambri Lakes Shield

I think this was Alain Guisson & Yannik Van Ruysevelt’s Gallery?  Correct me if I’m wrong.

Alain Guisson & Yannik Van Ruysevelt’s Gallery? 

Upstairs of Serge Schoffel’s new gallery on 14 rue watteeu

Serge  Schoffel.  He told me that he and Lulu barely got the gallery finished in time for the fair.  Good job guys, I wish you great success with this new space!

Schoffel (left) a stone likeness of a corn from a Pre-Columbian culture in Mexico.  Serge hold me he is still researching the piece.  (Right) a Konso shield from Ethiopia.  Not many of them around

Schoffel (left) Borneo Hampatong and (Right) Asmat Area “B” shield. 

Schoffel’s downstairs gallery.  Dramatic all black interior.   Most of my photos didn’t come out.  (Left) Maori Canoe prow, New Guinea Blackwater River Hook and a Fang figure (right)

Renaud Vanuxem’s gallery on 4 rue Van Moer

(Vanuxem)  I had to ask Renaud where the skull was from.  I didn’t instantly recognize it.  Its a rare ancestor skull from the “Andaman Islands”!  I understand it sold very quickly.

(Vanuxem)  A poor quality photo of a rare pair of Lobi Birds (featured in Bruneaf catalog).  Only a handful of these are documented.

Ahhh….. this photo gives me goose bumps!  It was taken in the lobby of the NH Jolly Hotel.  Bill Jamieson’s film crew crams into the elevator with a boxed up purchase in hand before the door closes.  Bill’s Fiancee Jessica Philips is seen on the right.  His face can be seen peeking through.  With a heavy heart, I can truly say that you will be dearly missed, you were a real original.  Rest in peace my friend!

This year, I sensed clear frustration among many dealers. The Sotheby’s auctions had just happened a couple weeks before in NY. Upon seeing my friends and colleagues I was struck by how quickly the conversation turned to the auction results. The frustration comes from seeing the whole selling environment skewed out of balance. For example, pieces are selling at auction for “fantasy prices” while at the same time business has slowed to a trickle for everyone else.

Many gallery owners & dealers are outright convinced that the Auction Houses are killing the business. But it occurs to me that the business has changed dramatically, rather than the auction houses turning the allegiance of old collectors away from dealers, the high rollers at auctions may be consortiums or individuals amassing art for investment purposes arbitrarily, perhaps unaware of or uninterested in the dealers, or the gallery system. An unnamed dealer whose voice carries the most weight with me, soberly predicted that in 10 years there would be barely a handful of tribal art galleries still open around the Sablon, he may be right.

Ultimately the world is a different place and the “classic collector” group has dwindled. On some level the art market may be evolving into an art-like “Stock Market”, with buyers only appreciating the capital gain potential, rather than the beauty of the art.

Powerbrokers around the Sablon, Adrian Schlag and Patrick Mestdagh (right)

Yann Ferrandin with an early Janus Teke figure

(Yann Ferrandin) This 18th C. Maori Whalebone “patu” was on my favorite oceanic pieces in the fair. Quality and refinement all the way!

(Yann Ferrandin) A New Guinea Middle Sepik wooden replacement skull

(Yann Ferrandin) Punu Mask

Patrick Mestdagh getting “hands on” with the Bruneaf Flag

Patrick Mestdagh’s new gallery on 29 rue des Minimes. His new large gallery is a remodel in progress but I was struck by his ingenuity and courage successfully incorporating an exhibit in a construction site! Not easy to pull off but he did it!

Patrick made me take one of his construction hardhats but I got hassled for wearing it while going through airport security on my way home

Mestdagh next to a fine quality split Fijian Whale tooth necklace “wasekaseka”

Clive Loveless (London) taking a photo of Patrick

Alain Lecomte Gallery. Lecomte (far left)

(Lecomte) Small Songye Fetish

Lecomte’s book on the Bembe



Lecomte with an unusual Akan figure that looks like it is boxing

Josh Dimondstein with a handsome Azande pipe

Bruno Frey

Bruno Frey with a selection of Vanuatu Posts

OUCH! This curious piece is a Songye “judgment crown of thorns” and was worn on the head! It was exhibited in 2R Ritual Gallery (owned by Renaud Riley) and belonged to Roger Bourahimou.

Interior Joris Vissers new gallery on 11 rue van moer

Immigration problems are universal.

Interior exhibition room of “Native” Auction on rue aux Laines 32

(Native Auction) This amazing mid 19th c. Maori bowl with two figures holding the spout was the coolest piece I saw in Brussels. During the auction I had to leave briefly to find a bathroom and in the meantime it hammered for a measly 8000 euros!!!!! If I was the buyer would be on “cloud 9” and if I was consignor I would be crying, still crying in fact!

Legendary dealer Emile Deletaille. Photo taken in the courtyard of Native Auction

Interior Francois Coppens Gallery


Coppens with a New Guinea Papuan Gulf Elema Tapa Mask

This piece belonged to Jo DeBuck who had a thematic exhibition titled “Animals Symbols of Power”

Adrian Schlage next to a massive Songye Fetish

(Schlag) This dramatic Dan mask was punctuated by placing a picture frame around it.

Changes in the Sablon. Joris Visser sold his Art Nouveau style gallery which I enjoyed visiting so much. Now it has turned into a high-end woman’s clothing shop.

On the topic of photography, John Giltsoff always has at least one object I want to photograph but can’t. This time it was a Dogon Tellem figure around 22 inches dating to the 16th-17th C. Unfortunately the topic of photographs is completely “taboo” with John. He told me he hates publicity and even declined Bill Jamieson’s film crew access to his gallery who were finishing filming for the up coming series “Chasing History”. While I understand and appreciate his position, it is frustrating from a reportage standpoint. But it wasn’t just him, other dealers were not allowing photos either, even when I asked permission politely and explained the purpose. One dealer told me that he didn’t want his pieces exposed places like “facebook”. So I consider myself lucky I got as many photos as I did but it is by no means easy anymore.

Interior of the multi-dealer building of 17 Impasse Saint-Jacques

H. Kellim Brown with a group of Lulua figures

H. Kellim Brown collected these figures and was able to identify the carver as “Bakwa Ndolo”

A lovely Angolan Ovimbundu figure also in H. Kellim Brown’s booth

Lucas Ratton (Paris) Exhibiting for the first time at Bruneaf

Mike Hamson used to exhibit at this spacious gallery on rue Sainte-Anne but this year it sat vacant

Alain Naoum (left) demonstrating a magic trick, Patrick Morgan Paris and Dave Cassera (Right)

Interior Galerie 1492, Yannick Durand (Paris)

Durand with a fine quality Vera Cruz stone axe head

(Yannick Durand) this seated stone money sculpture was from the Aztec culture and is wearing a “buccal” mask thus representing “Ehecatl” the wind God

The new gallery of Didier Claes. I like the “Claes” awnings up to the 3rd floor. The man certainly knows how to name brand himself. This was a lovely gallery but unfortunately NONE of my photos turned out of the interior. Next year I’ll bring my slr camera. Didier was exhibiting with Bernard Dulon but I couldn’t quite figure out which art pieces belonged to who?

Didier holding a menu…. and still waiting to place a food order! I was at this same cafe days before and ordered food but left after 45 minutes of waiting! Ridiculous. Maybe that is standard in Brussels but an establishment providing service like that wouldn’t last a week in a city like Los Angeles.

Interior of Philippe Laeremans Gallery. This was my favorite gallery. The design, furnishings and the art worked beautifully together and they were very cool about me taking photos. Thanks guys!

Laeremans (downstairs)

Laeremans (downstairs)

Laeremans (downstairs)



Laeremans with a wonderful Luba figure


(Laeremans) A Pende or Mbala helmet D.R.C

(Laeremans) A powerful seated Teke figure (center)

(Pascassio Manfredi) This rare Indonesian Moluccas piece is published in Borneo and Beyond (1981)

Pascassio Manfredi with an amazing Naga figure holding his phallus

For a second I thought I was in Malibu! No… Harley’s in Brussels!!

I forget who these cheerful folks were but they were happy to see me, maybe I owed them money?

A Songye exhibit from Marc Felix. The cigar smoke is free of charge

Marc Felix and company

Joel Cooner (left) with Joaquin Pecci. I felt bad for Joel since he had a freak accident tripping on a cobble stone and broke several ribs– YIKES! I refrained from telling him any hilarious jokes because it hurt when he laughed. Hope you’re healing fast Joel.

Man’s best friends

Texas sized Lapdog

I was missing my good friends back home when I took this photo

Josh Dimondstein packing it in or going to settle a score with someone?