NEW YORK, NY.- Last Friday, before a crowded saleroom of international clients, Sotheby’s two sales of African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian art brought a combined total of $10,582,129. The morning single-owner sale of The Sculptor’s Eye: African and Oceanic Art from the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation surpassed the high estimate to bring $4,888,316 (est. $3/4.4 million). The afternoon various owners sale, which also included Pre-Columbian Art, exceeded the low estimate to achieve $5,693,813 (est. $4.3/6.4 million).
Jean Fritts, Worldwide Director of African and Oceanic Art, commented, “The African and Oceanic market is a vibrant one, and today it responded well to the works presented with a great depth of bidding from a wide range of clients. It is interesting to note that for the first time ever half of today’s top ten lots in the various owners sale were works of Oceanic art, which is a testament to the great quality of the works on offer in that section, particularly from the esteemed collection of John and Marsha Friede.”
Heinrich Schweizer, Director of African and Oceanic Art in New York, noted, “Today we saw that rare objects of great quality continue to inspire competitive bidding in the saleroom, evidenced by our strong sale total of $10.5 million for the day, which exceeds our total from a year ago of $10.1 million for a virtually identical number of lots. The Senufo kneeling female figure and the Ngbaka statue, both from the collection of the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation, each more than doubled their high estimates. We were also particularly pleased with the sale of the Iriwáke figure which wiped out previously existing auction records and established a new record for sculpture from the Papuan Gulf region.”
Stacy Goodman, Senior Consultant, Pre-Columbian Art, said, “Today we saw many experienced buyers from other fields participating in our sale at a very sophisticated level, as well as serious activity from a number of public institutions. Great material with fresh provenance attracted active bidding from private, institutional and dealer clients alike. ”
Assembled from the 1930s through the 1960s, the collection of American sculptor Chaim Gross and his wife Renee was among the earliest collections of African art in the United States, and it has remained intact and largely unchanged since that time. Six bidders competed for the sale’s star work, a Magnificent, Rare and Highly Important Ngbaka Statue Representing the Mythical Ancestor Sčtň from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which doubled the high estimate to bring a world record price of $1,258,500 (lot 67, est. $400/600,000). The figure, which has been widely published and acclaimed as the best-known example of its kind, was purchased by Gross directly from legendary collector Frank Crowninshield and first exhibited in the 1937 Brooklyn Museum Exhibition African Negro Art from the Collection of Frank Crowninshield. A Superb, Extremely Rare and Important Senufo Kneeling Female Figure from the Ivory Coast – possibly the only example of this unique iconography – soared to $758,500 after competition from three telephone bidders (lot 25, est. $250/350,000) and a Magnificent Soninke Hermaphrodite Figure from Mali dating to the 12th to 15th Centuries achieved $530,500 (lot 9, est. $400/600,000), a record for a Soninke figure at auction. Strong prices were also seen for two Benin bronze plaques on offer, which both surpassed pre-sale estimates to bring $458,500 and $278,500 (lot 34, est. $200/300,000; lot 40 est. $150/250,000).
The afternoon session comprised a particularly strong offering of Oeanic art, led by a Magnificent, Extremely Rare and Important Figure of the God IRIWÁKE, from Papua New Guinea, which sold to a bidder in the room for $1,202,500 (lot 146, est. in excess of $1 million), establishing a record for sculpture from the Papuan Gulf region. The figure – one of only two known to exist – boasts a distinguished provenance, previously in the collection of Loed van Bussel and John Friede, and is one of the most famous works of art from the Papuan Gulf region. A Magnificent Torres Strait Drum carved from a single piece of wood in the shape of a whale shark surpassed its presale estimate to achieve $698,500 (lot 149, est. $300/500,000). Also commanding a strong price was a Superb Iatmul, Parambei Subgroup, Janiform Spirit Figure House Post from Papua New Guinea, which jumped past its estimate to sell for $266,500 (lot 152, est. $100/150,000).
Top prices for African art were achieved by A Superb, Rare and Highly Important Fang-Betsi Reliquary Head from Gabon, which commanded $506,500 against an estimate of $200/300,000 (lot 170) and was purchased by an American institution. A Superb Tsonga of Nguni Snuff Tobacco Container from South Africa estimated at $6/9,000 leapt to $43,750, almost five times its high estimate (lot 172).
The Pre-Columbian offerings today were highlighted by an Important Nayarit Seated Couple in the Ixtlán del Rio Polychrome Style from the Protoclassic period, ca. 100 BC-AD 250, which sold for $314,500 (lot 116, est. $250/350,000), establishing a record price for a large-scale West Mexican couple. An incredibly Rare Veracruz Head with Cutaway Masks from the Veracruz/Possibly Puebla Region, ca. AD 700-1200 more than quadrupled its presale estimate to sell for $134,500 (lot 128, est. $20/30,000) and a vibrant green Teotihuacan Tecali Mask from the classic period, ca. AD 450-650 totaled $104,500 (lot 126, est. $70/90,000).