2018 saw the 17th edition of Parcours des Mondes, the world’s largest fair dedicated to art from Africa, Oceania, Asia, and the Americas. 17 years and the fair is still going strong.
We got to Paris a little later this year and missed the preview and opening of the show… and that gave us insight into what the experience of visiting the fair must be like for those that can’t manage to take time off to visit during the week. Come the weekend, many of the standout and most talked about pieces were gone, the auction previews had closed, and the overall vibe of the fair was less frantic than on opening day.
As in previous years, dealers sent out their show catalogues in advance of the opening, giving many the opportunity to browse and decide on what was of interest. We heard from many collectors that they’d made purchasing decisions from the images in catalogues alone… well before they got to Paris! So, once again, we repeat our advice that collectors connect with dealers they trust, ask them for their catalogues in advance, and if you see something you like, make an offer or ensure that you’re at the show on day one!
As we did for the 2016 and 2017 editions, below is a summary of key takeaways from the 2018 show. But instead of having us share our perspective, we asked visitors to the fair what struck them this year… and they had some interesting things to say.
“My name is Hubert Langmann. I’m from Austria and my favourite thing is the gbekre at Kevin Conru this year.“
Bruno Claessens and Jean-Louis Danis wrote a wonderful book, ‘Baule Monkeys’, that explores the “creation, usage and morphology” of these unique examples of Baule bowl-bearing monkey figures. According to Claessens, amuin ba figures (often wrongly called gbekre which actually means ‘mouse’ in Baule) are believed to be physical representations of supernatural spirits, used to “overcome everyday fears”, “pursue wrongdoers or ‘guilty souls’” and to “cast spells on enemies.”
And is it any wonder that these figures instil fear? Stark, forbidding, and often with a crusty patina from offerings of blood, amuin ba figures are typically carved with zoomorphic heads, sharp teeth indicated, with both arms raised, holding a bowl in both hands.
“My name is Stephan Herkenhoff and I’m a Lobi collector from the North of Germany. I saw some very nice pieces. My favourite piece is perhaps the wonderful Lobi bird at Castellano that was in the collection of Tom [Thomas G. B.] Wheelock [New York]. I liked the Lobi head that I saw at Adrian Schlag, another very good Lobi head at Sotheby’s and another wonderful piece, is a little Lobi that I saw at Binoche… it’s only 17cm! So I’m quite happy with what I saw.”
“I’m Deborah Dainese and my favourite piece is a little Kongo maternity from Galerie Monbrison. It comes from an ancient Portuguese collection and I love it so much because I start studying African art with Afro-Portuguese ivory and as a scholar, it’s very important and I love it so much.“
“My name is Heinrich Siemers. My favourite dealer is Dulon… he had a very very beautiful Dan mask. He centred his entire collection around Dan masks but one mask belonged to Rasmussen.“
Galerie Bernard Dulon exhibited an incredible selection of Dan masks, including the famous gunyege racing mask, called ‘black diamond’, from the old Rasmussen collection. Dulon described the mask as “a masterpiece because it is an extremely old piece dating from the nineteenth century. But it is above all, aesthetically an object of absolute perfection. A perfection of form, lines, volume, matter. The nose is incredibly delicate, the big round eyes open. It’s a marvel. There is a lot of Dan masks on the market but there are very few as old as this one and in a state of preservation so remarkable.”
The mask, collected before 1951 and believed to be created in the 19th century, was kept in the Rasmussen private collection until 1979 when it was sold at auction. The mask then made its way to Entwistle and more recently to Dulon.
But who was René Rasmussen and why was everyone so excited about him as a provenance? Rasmussen (1912-1979), considered one of the greatest dealers of his time, founded Galerie AAA on Saint Germain des Prés, Paris and dealt for over 40 years. He specialised in historical art from sub-Saharan Africa and is said to have received visits from Pablo Picasso and other Surrealist artists of that time.
“My name is Klaus-Jochen Krüger. I’m a collector for many years and I was most excited about the object from Christine Valluet Schoffel. The big house post from the rooftop figure from the middle Sepik area. Second is a small Uli figure from Serge Schoffel.
From Africa, there were a lot of good pieces but this time there had also been, from my point of view, some fakes and so I was a little bit disappointed. Because it’s always the same, always the classic pieces. No surprises, and if you follow Parcours des Mondes for many years, the taste of the dealers has not changed at all for African pieces, but it’s changed a lot for Oceanic. Their knowledge has increased a lot and strange pieces are en-vouge for Oceanic pieces but not for African. Not yet.
[We pushed Klaus to pick his favourite African art piece.]
“So there is no favourite piece. At least I don’t have it in my mind because I’m so impressed by some of the Oceanic pieces I’ve seen and I’m so impressed by pieces I’ve seen at the Lempertz sale. I’m a little bit out of Africa even though I’m mainly an African [art] collector.
[He reflected some more and came back with something!]
“Just a minute I want to add an African piece… there is one piece I like very much because it would be something for my personal collection. I’m interested in these sort of things. It’s a Bobo-Fing mask, a very unusual and excellent Bobo-Fing, also from an artistic point of view, from Castellano.“