Since his late 20s, Javier Peres—Cuban-born collector, contemporary art dealer, and gallerist of Peres Projects—has been collecting classic African art. His eye has changed, his knowledge has grown, and his collection has evolved to be one that is now centred around “abstraction, expressionism, and untouched surfaces.”
But this isn’t a passion in isolation. Javier has embraced social media—@peresprojects—to bring African art to a broader audience, demonstrating how contemporary art and classic African art can be integrated. He also has an Instagram account dedicated to African art—@peres_african_art.
We sat down with last year’s honorary president of Parcours des Mondes to find out more about his collecting philosophy as well as dig into his advice for budding collectors of classic African art. Press play below to learn more!
**Forgive the clinking at the beginning of the podcast—our green tea arrived at the Wrong! Time!
Country: Ivory Coast
Ethnic Group: Anyi
Object: (Female Figure)
Dimensions: 10.6 x 3.7 x 2.6 inches
Provenance: Javier Peres Collection || Pace Gallery, New York || Private Collection, New York
“African art became very much my thing, like in the 90s… I was in my mid to late 20s when I started collecting. Initially, I was only looking at Ivory Coast, the Lagune region, Côte d’Ivoire, Lagunire, really looking at female beauty.
“It’s not every day that you see sculpture that’s black. That was already, in a way, radical because everything I knew about sculpture was white—European, and literally white in that it was marble. I think for me, that early interest, which was very affordable at that time, opened up this possibility that art could be more.”
Ethnic Group: Kaka
Object: (Altar Figure)
Period: Late 19th – Early 20th Century
Materials: Wood with Darkened and Oily Sacrificial Patina
Dimensions: 49.0 x 8.3 x 9.1 inches
Provenance: Javier Peres Collection || Entwistle Gallery, Paris || William Ziff, New York || Kuhn Collection, New York || James Willis, San Francisco || Karl Ferdinand Schaedler, New York || El Hadji Amadou Yende, Foumban
“There is something very unique about collecting in this field. It’s a very passion driven field. I think it’s very similar to people who collect archaeology, people who collect Egyptian art. There’s a certain obsessive quality… #obsessed!
“The mistakes that I made were collecting purely impulsively and not really studying and comparing and doing the legwork. Because early on, not doing the preliminary steps can be very detrimental. Late in the game, now, I can make a really quick decision on something and the likelihood of me screwing up are a lot less likely.
“A couple years ago, when I bought that amazing Kaka altarpiece from Entwistle, that was the only time I was going to have that opportunity—that was it! So I had to make that decision. It’s a masterpiece of the culture, it came at a certain cost, but these kinds of works are limited… This is the best one that’s known.
“The Kaka piece changed everything for me. I remember when I got that sculpture to my house, I still couldn’t believe that I owned it. It blew my mind that something so special, so important… And why is it special, why is it important? Well, it’s intact, it has everything that that culture applied to it. It obviously had an impact in that culture. It came from a very small group that created these amazing things. For me, that’s something about art that’s really important. Art gives us an opportunity to see what people at their best are capable of doing. This sculpture to me represents that.”
“I used to favour the well sculpted, naturalistic ideals of beauty. Now I tend to go for abstraction and expressionism. Untouched surfaces are very important for me as opposed to the really polished ‘French Patina’, the really beautiful shiny surfaces. I still do like that but I’m more likely to be compelled by something that has the ongoing oozing oily patina or sacrificial patinas. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the sculpture doesn’t have to be on point! But I’m more interested in the art typically from Eastern Nigeria, Northern Nigeria, Southeast Nigeria, Central Nigeria.
“Somewhere around 1997-98, I acquired a bunch of generalist books… and I marked everything that I wanted to have. I wanted to build a collection that would have everything basically. But already then, I was interested in Jukun, Mumuye, Eket, Ibibio, Igbo, Oron.”
Country: Ivory Coast
Ethnic Group: Dan / Wé
Object: (Miniature Mask)
Materials: Wood, Pigment, Teeth, Hair, Fibre, Earth, Metal, Wooden Necklace, Leather Strings
Dimensions: 13.4 inches
Provenance: Javier Peres Collection || Liliane et Michel Durand-Dessert, Paris || Serge Schoffel, Paris || Bernard Dulon, Paris || Patrick Caput, Paris || André Schoeller, Paris || Jean Claude Bellier, Paris || Roger Bédiat (1897-1958), Ivory Coast
“I’m in the business of aesthetics and I know how to make my own decisions. it’s not like I need a crutch. But, I also understand the power of communication. Art is all about communication. So why would you deny yourself the benefit of information? Why would you buy something in a bubble? In your own little mind, you’re like “this is amazing”… I don’t give myself that much credit. I’m aware of my own limitations… ultimately the decision is always mine.
“With Benoît moving to Berlin, we took out a lot of works, in recognition of his interests and aesthetics too. But also, really kind of being extra critical, extra, extra critical! Why, why, why, why? And then we’d dance them around, we moved them around… I like the objects to have space to breath, to yell, to scream, to talk, to do everything that they’re meant to be doing. I don’t like to have a bunch of things next to each other. We’ve taken things back quite a bit so that now, our storage is pretty full. And so, right now, if I’m going to add something, it’s got to be really WOW!
“One thing that’s been really interesting is that I never used to collect small things and now I do. Miniatures… The [Liliane and Michel Durand-Dessert] collection, had an amazing Guéré-Wobé miniature mask, it’s full on! It was collected in the 1920s in Ivory Coast. It was owned by the collector known for having a number of masterpieces from that region [Roger Bédiat (1897-1958)]—I mean the provenance is incredible. I remember seeing [the mask] all the way from the other side of the room and even though it was tiny, I remember telling Bruno [Claessens] at the time that I just saw it as gigantic!”
Country: Ivory Coast
Ethnic Group: Senufo
Object: (Female Figure)
Materials: Wood, Fine Black Patina, Oozing Oily Patina
Dimensions: 7.9 inches
Provenance: Javier Peres Collection || Lucien Van de Velde, Antwerp || Maria Caremans, Antwerp || Collection Ketteridge, Antwerp || Field Collected by Albert Maesen in Dembasso
“Last year we go this 20 cm Senufo that was in the show at the quai Branly and the Rietberg in Zurich. It’s so incredible. We have it in the dressing room, it’s the only African art in this big dressing room. It’s the only sculpture with some Warhol polaroids called ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’, and a painting by a young artist. That’s it!
“That’s been a new sort of direction, of collecting things that are small but strong. This piece is oozing oil, kind of like the little fetish mask that has everything—front and back it’s all bundled up.”