Collector Spotlight

Kristina Achmann-Paul & Andreas Achmann, Germany

June 29, 2017 By: Adenike Cosgrove

Tell us a little about yourselves.

We are a married couple working together as photographers. Kristina has a degree in communication science from Ludwig-Maximilian-University in Munich and worked for PR / advertising agencies and in marketing for LVMH before joining Andreas’ studio in 2007. Andreas has a degree in photography and started the studio over 25 years ago specialising in still life photography.

Kristina Achmann in front of the African art library, holding her very first piece purchased, a Holo figure from Galerie Fred Jahn
Photograph by Andreas Achmann

Why Africa? How did you discover classic African art?

Having the collector’s gene Andreas has always been collecting objects of all kinds, from cameras to vases. This in combination with his fascination for myth and the morbid was the starting point for our passion for African art. When we had the opportunity to photograph a major collection of tribal art for a German auction house together with an expert for African art we caught fire. That was 10 years ago, we've been collecting even since.

What motivated you to start collecting?

Already in our teenage years we both went to museums a lot and were very impressed by Picasso and the expressionists. Many of them were themselves collectors of tribal art and influenced by it.

I always wanted to be surrounded by beauty and have a home like a museum. Andreas has inherited his hunting and collecting gene by his father who was a movie production designer who spent months, sometimes even years researching for the next movie. From some of the movies we still have a few pieces like Berlin Alexander Platz or Cabaret with Liza Minelli, which were co-designed by his dad.

Yoruba Agere Afa Bowl from the Rolf Miehler collection
Photograph by Andreas Achmann
Ekoi Head from the Carlo Monzini collection
Photograph by Andreas Achmann

What was the first piece you bought?

In the beginning we were too shy to ask other collectors for their opinion and maybe not confident enough to approach galleries.

Quite incidentally we were walking by an auction house and saw a Holo figure. Not knowing a whole lot about African art at that point we were lucky to buy an authentic, old piece with great provenance.

What do you wish you knew when you started collecting?

The best sources for purchase and that there is no need to rush into any purchase. If a piece is meant to be yours it will always come back to you at a certain point.

What types of objects do you collect?

Mostly we collect masks and figures. But we do not focus on certain ethnic groups. We rather buy what we find appealing in terms of authenticity and aesthetics. Objects from the Cross River region and the Cameroon border appeal to us the most for their savage and raw beauty. We especially like pieces from the Eket very much.

The aim always is to have top pieces and to constantly upgrade the collection. But there are also little magical objects that may not be masterpieces or pieces of art but very fascinating nonetheless.

Group of DR Congo Figures: Holo, Hungana, Yaka
Provenance : Galerie Fred Jahn, Gallery Visser, Marc Felix respectively
Photograph by Andreas Achmann
Dondo Nail Fetish placed on a base in the living room
Photograph by Andreas Achmann
Eket Marionette Head from the Azar collection
Photograph by Andreas Achmann

What is your favourite piece in your collection?

On that we do not agree. Andreas’ favourite piece varies but I will always like three pieces best, that is the Holo figure, our first purchase, the Punu mask which I chose myself, and the Yaka figure as it was the first piece ever that I bought at an auction. And, believe me, I was very excited bidding on it.

What steps do you take before a purchase?

Before adding anything to the collection there will be intensive research. Actually that is almost the most fun part of the entire process. It is like detective’s work. Andreas scans his brain and tries to remember everything he has seen online, in galleries, museums, books. And then he checks similar pieces and goes through all price lists, figuring out the market price. After that he asks fellow collectors for their valuable opinion.

For us it is key to know everything possible about a piece. And isn’t that what makes a piece even more special if you know the history and use of it.

An arrangement of Lobi, Baule, Wurkun and Senufo figures under a wall scone by Nymphenburg Porcelain
Photograph by Andreas Achmann

What sources do you turn to for research?

We have an extensive library on African art which is in constant use. But we also search online databases. Not to forget our network of passionate collectors and experts who are willing to always share their knowledge with us. We are also very thankful that through our passion, valuable friendships have developed.

How do you live with your collection?

The pieces are spread all over our apartment, even in the kids’ rooms. According to certain themes, we rearrange the pieces from time to time. And of course, a new acquisition always gets the best spot.

Usually all pieces are on pedestals. If the pedestal that comes with the piece does not please us we have new pedestals made. With the lighting we are never quite satisfied. This is probably a side effect of being a photographer. The lighting has to be perfect.

Zulu Beer Vessels
Photograph by Andreas Achmann

What advice would you have for collectors starting out in African art?

Take your time before any purchase. Do intense research before you decide on a piece. Do not let yourself be pressured by anyone. Even if this special item is sold by the time you have decided to go for it, there will be another piece.

And let your instincts lead you—5% doubt is 5% too much.

What star piece are you still looking for?

I would love to find an old classic chi wara and Andreas’ object of desire right now is an early Oron figure.

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