Just days after Tribal Art London came to a close, the African art world got on the Eurostar to Paris. Parcours des Mondes (PdM), the annual autumn time mecca, saw collectors of classic African art set on their pilgrimage to the streets of Rue Mazarine, Rue Guénégaud, and Rue de Seine. As one collector from the United States said, “I come to Parcours to see masterpieces, pieces that set my heart racing.” PdM represents an opportunity for dealers to sell to some of the worlds most important collectors.
And yet, this year’s event was, “a bit of a disappointment. I didn’t see any surprises, nothing that I could call spectacular,” a collector was overheard saying. This was a sentiment echoed by others, those looking for unusual pieces of African art. Perhaps this is because the number of dealers focused on African art were much reduced this year. The 18th edition of the fair welcomed fifty ‘Tribal Art’ exhibitors, down from 57 in 2018, with Didier Claes, Galerie Schoffel de Fabry, Ben Hunter, Galerie Jacques Germain, and Jacaranda Tribal missing from the 2019 edition.
Many commented that their highlights were in fact artworks not from Africa but works made by artists from the Philippines, New Ireland, Oceania and North America.
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My highlight of #ParcoursdesMondes2019 – the biggest fair in our field, there is always a massive amount of art to absorb in a very limited period of time; it is truly a not to be missed event. A week later it is always interesting to reflect upon which objects succeeded in staying on top of your mind. For me personally one of them was this massive fragment of a totem pole from the Northwest Coast of British Colombia on view at Kevin Conru 🐸
But despite some negative rumblings, according to a number of dealer accounts, the fair was a success, shrugging off expectations of a weak autumn season. Many commented about the mad rush of opening day with collectors purchasing many pieces during the preview.
Among those reporting some of the highest volumes of sales to ÌMỌ̀ DÁRA was Galerie Olivier Larroque, where their exhibition, ‘Materia’, explored how local environments shaped artistic creations. Sold during the fair were a Yoruba Osanyin puppet (used in ceremonies by priests of Osanyin, the god of healing and patron of herbalists), a Chokwe mwana pwo mask from Angola, a Malinke n’tomo mask from the Jean Nies collection, and a Fon alter piece from the Republic of Benin. Also sold was a Titsi bracelet from Rwanda that Larroque first showed at his ‘Essence des Formes’ exhibition during Cultures, 12 – 16 June 2019. This is noteworthy because much of the African art on show at PdM was from West Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“Parcours was, as every year, the most important event in our field. We had many visitors including collectors and curators from abroad”, said Charles-Wesley Hourdé. But aside from the expected and well-known collectors and museum curators, Hourdé reported that he was “glad this year to meet new clients, relatively young but definitely passionate”. Perhaps this speaks to why the galleries reported strong sales this year. While established collectors were looking to be blown away, newer, younger collectors were excited to have the opportunity to collect beautiful pieces at an affordable price range. Some collectors reported buying artworks on opening day for less than €500.
Interestingly, Bernard Dulon hosted an exhibition ‘The Art of the Collection: Jan Calmeyn’—featuring classic African artworks from the collection of Belgian sculptor, Jan Calmeyn juxtaposed with the artist’s work. None of the African artworks were for sale.
Unreal in the collection is what we’ve dubbed the ‘African Thinker’, a sitting Dogon figure from Mali with its absent face, thin limbs, and negative spaces. The figure is featured in the book ‘Dogon Statuary’ by Hélène Leloup, and is said to “embody a sick person and was thought to help healers by serving as an intermediary between the patient and the supernatural world.” Originally owned by John J. Klejman, the figure has subsequently been owned by John Friede, Ben Brillo, and was sold at the Sotheby’s auction of the Saul & Marsha Stanoff Collection on 17 May 2007 for $240,000. The exhibition remains open until 05 October at Galerie Dulon.
Over at Galerie Serge Schoffel, replicating their exhibition at BRAFA earlier this year, the Belgian gallery devoted their show to Yoruba art with ‘Orisha Yoruba’. “We sold quite well,” reported Serge Schoffel. “We sold the Onile shrine house door, the major bochio figure and some of the bronzes… The French public is not really interested in Yoruba art in general yet, we mostly sold to Americans.”
Entwistle sold an exceptional Senufo kapielo ‘mother of the village’ maternity figure (similar examples are at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cleveland Museum of Art, and at the Afrika Museum, Berg en Dal) and Theodor Fröhlich of Galerie Patrik Fröhlich stated that they “worked very well this year.”
When asked about the prices artworks sold for, almost every dealer had the same response; “It is delicate for my customers to publish the prices, sorry”, “I cannot talk to you about the sales. We work with private collectors who highly esteem our discreet way of working”, and “As far as prices are concerned, I would prefer staying discreet.” Whilst there is still some opacity around pricing, dealers are increasingly becoming more comfortable with publicly sharing information about sold artworks. Perhaps this is a sign of increasing visibility in the classic African art market, something more and more collectors crave.