NEW YORK, NY. - On November 15, 2013, Sotheby’s will present The Collection of Allan Stone: African, Oceanic and Indonesian Art - Volume One from the famous collections of the legendary New York art dealer. A second sale of equal size will be held in November 2014: The Collection of Allan Stone: African, Pre-Columbian, and Native American Art - Volume Two. The collection is the most significant African and Oceanic Art collection to be offered in New York since the Helena Rubinstein auction in 1966. Many of the works offered have been featured extensively in museum exhibitions and important publications; most recently a small selection from the collection was the subject of the critically-acclaimed exhibition Power Incarnate: Allan Stone’s Collection of Sculpture from the Congo in 2011. Among the highlights is an exceptional group of Songye Power Figures and Kongo Nail Power Figures from the Democratic Republic of the Congo – two of the most iconic genres of African Art. The collection, over 300 works in all, also features particularly important selections of art from Nigeria, Cameroon, and Mali. Overall the collection is estimated to fetch in excess of $20 million. Highlights from the sale will be on exhibition at Sotheby’s Paris during Parcours des Mondes from 10-14 September, and the entire Volume One sale will be on view in New York from 9-14 November, 2013.
Allan Stone (1932-2006) started collecting African and Oceanic art while still a student in the early 1960s. Stone spearheaded the movement of postwar art galleries featuring African and Oceanic artworks within the context of their contemporary art exhibitions. Already in the early years of his gallery career, he sought affinities between African and Oceanic Art and avant-garde Western artists. He juxtaposed paintings by artists such as Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Arshile Gorky, and John Graham with highly expressive African power figures from the Congolese Songye and Kongo peoples. Like the works by de Kooning and Kline, and also the sculptures of John Chamberlain, these sculptures in his personal collection are manifestations of an artistic vision that seeks to feature expressive energy through powerful accumulations of mixed media.
Stone acquired the pieces to be offered over more than 40 years, purchasing from auction houses as well as the foremost dealers in the field. He became one of the most important collectors of his generation, and was a frequent bidder at early Parke-Bernet auctions in the 1960s. Stone also bought from all the leading galleries at the time, including John J. Klejman, New York; Merton D. Simpson, New York; Henri Kamer, Paris; Alain de Monbrison, Paris; Hélène and Philippe Leloup, Paris.
The upcoming auctions of African, Oceanic, Indonesian, Pre-Columbian and Native American Art follow three Contemporary Art auctions of works from the collection of Allan Stone held in 2011, all of which exceeded their pre-sale high estimates, bringing over $68 million and setting numerous artists records.
Heinrich Schweizer, Senior Vice President and Head of the African and Oceanic Art Department in New York commented: “Allan Stone’s collection of African, Oceanic, Indonesian, Pre-Columbian, and Native American Art represents the essence of his unique artistic vision. His deep understanding of the aesthetics of artists from primary cultures is mirrored by his visionary focus on the many postwar artists whose careers were made at the Allan Stone Gallery through the 1960s and 70s. Preserved in a time capsule for nearly 50 years, and highlighted in "The Collector: Allan Stone's Life in Art" (a film created by his youngest daughter Olympia Stone), the Stone Collection was created at a moment in time when Nelson Rockefeller and Dominique de Menil assembled their equally legendary collections, which are today housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Menil Collection in Houston. The Collection of Allan Stone is the last of these three historic collections to remain in private hands, and no other collection of comparable quality and depth has ever come to the market in the United States.”
Jean Fritts, Senior Director and International Chairman of the African and Oceanic Art Department in London, adds: “This auction is a historic event, right in line with other landmark auctions in the field such as the Helena Rubinstein Collection sold at Sotheby’s in New York in 1966 and the Pierre and Claude Vérité Collection sold in Paris in 2006, both of which shaped the taste of entire generations of collectors. Allan Stone was a taste-maker and a visionary, and the longawaited sale of his collection presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for private collectors and institutions around the world.”
The Allan Stone Collection is most well-known for its strong holdings of Songye Power Figures and Kongo Nail Power Figures, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and is indeed the largest private collection in the world of these extremely rare works. Stone bought his first Songye Power Figure in the sale of the collection of Helena Rubinstein at Sotheby Parke-Bernet in 1966, and subsequently added over 40 more to his collection. Carved of wood in human or animal form, these sculptures were used in traditional central African ritual practice to harness spiritual forces for aid, protection, healing, or revenge. Sacred materials chosen for their mystical or metaphorical significance are applied or inserted into the figures, which thereby accumulated power; not unlike the accumulative sculptures by Joseph Cornell and the action paintings by Jackson Pollock. Several large-scale Songye figures in the collection feature particularly remarkable assemblages of materials, including the famous Songye Four-Horned Figure which was the centerpiece of the seminal exhibition Africa: the Art of a Continent held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1996. Similarly, the Kongo Nail Power Figures bristle with nails, spikes, blades, and other metal implements inserted into their surfaces over the course of their long history of ritual use, attesting to their many successes.
A particularly remarkable aspect of the collection is the original condition of the artworks. Unlike other early collectors who removed ritual material from the sculptures, Stone left the works untouched, and today the works in his collection often retain their original oily or crusty ritually-applied surfaces and rich arrays of various attachments.
Songye Community Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Height: 31 inches (79 cm).
In excess of $1 million
Among the most famous works in the Stone collection is the Songye Community Power Figure, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, featuring a striking array of four animal horns oriented to the cardinal directions atop the head. Widely published and exhibited, the Stone “Four-Horn” Songye was included in the landmark exhibition Africa: the Art of a Continent at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1996.
Kuba-Kete Figural Headcrest, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Height: 62 inches (157.5 cm)
Previously in the collection of Loed and Mia van Bussel in Amsterdam, this monumental and extremely rare Kuba-Kete Headcrest Figure from the Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of only three such figures known; the other two are in the Museum für Völkerkunde in Hamburg, Germany.
Songye Community Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Height: 35 ½ inches (90 cm)
Previously owned by the great Parisian art dealer Charles Ratton, this large-scale Songye Community Power Figure from the Democratic Republic of the Congo is of a very rare “ringed-neck” type and is remarkable for its size, lively expression, and cubistically-rendered torso and arms. The highly influential German art historian Werner Schmalenbach selected this figure for his important publication Die Kunst Afrikas, first published in 1953. After World War II, as founding director of the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf, Schmalenbach devoted himself to filling the gaps left in the German national collections by the omission of modern artists who had been declared “degenerate” under Nazi rule, working with art dealers such as Heinz Berggruen and Ernst Beyeler. Schmalenbach was no doubt attracted to the strong affinity of this great Songye figure with modernist sculptural aesthetics.
Kongo-Yombe Nail Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Height: 26 inches (66 cm)
Particularly efficacious power figures had widespread reputations and were in high demand among Kongo clients; this exceptional Kongo-Yombe Nail Power Figure from the Democratic Republic of the Congo bristles with an extraordinary quantity of nails and metal implements, attesting to a long period of successful and repeated ritual use. Published in the landmark 1980 monograph Fétiches à clous du Bas-Zaïre, this figure was acquired by Josef Mueller before 1939, and was last on the public market in 1978. A major collector of Modern art and particularly Picasso, Mueller started collecting in the 1920s and his collection would form the core of the famous Barbier- Mueller Museum in Geneva. The figure is on a base by the Japanese wood artist Kichizô Inagaki (1876-1951), Paris.
Dogon Female Figure, Mali
Height: 62 inches (157.5 cm)
Acquired from Merton D. Simpson, this monumental Dogon Female Figure from Mali is of a distinctive archaic and extremely rare type. Other examples of similar scale and iconography are in major institutional collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, and the de Young Museum in San Francisco. The gesture of upraised arms is interpreted as an attempt to link heaven and earth, and possibly as a prayer for rain.
Kongo Nail Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Height: 22 ¼ inches (56.5 cm)
This Kongo Nail Power Figure from the Democratic Republic of the Congo was collected in situ before 1903 by Robert Visser, and given to the Museum für Völkerkunde, in Leipzig, Germany. After being deaccessioned, it passed to the hands of two legendary dealers, first Everett Rassiga and then Merton D. Simpson. The state of preservation of this sculpture is exceptional, with the surface covered in white kaolin, multiple metal blades inserted into the body and all power charges intact: a recently discovered drawing in the inventory of the Leipzig Museum reveals that the figure has remained untouched since it was collected in situ, with both the charge on the head and the mirrored charge on the abdomen still present as they were more than one hundred years ago.
Songye Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Height: 21 ¼ inches (54 cm)
Collected in situ in the 1930s by the German Ethnographer Hans Himmelheber, this highly cubistic Songye Power Figure from the Democratic Republic of the Congo is of an early, highly refined style which derives from the region bordering the Luba Kingdom. This rare style is characterized by an elegant, sensuous face and balanced overall form. Stone acquired the work from Merton D. Simpson, New York. The figure features a very rare geometric four-plaited coiffure, and the original surface of ritually-applied oil.
Ejagham Headcrest, Cross River Region, Nigeria
Height: 27 inches
This impressive Ejagham Headcrest from Southeastern Nigeria near the Cross River is distinguished by its spectacular and highly stylized coiffure made of great curling “braids”. Covered in animal skin, these expressive headcrests were owned and used by the important membership associations in Ejagham society and were worn during important ceremonies such as funerals or initiations.
Attie Female Figural Post, Ivory Coast
Height: 43 ¾ inches (111 cm)
Among the rarest of Ivory Coast art are the highly refined sculptures from the Attie people of the Lagoons region. This large-scale, superbly carved Attie Female Figural Post was acquired from Merton D. Simpson, New York, and features an extremely fine layered crusty ritual patina. The coiffure relates to two smaller examples in European public collections, one in the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and the other in the Musée Royal d’Afrique Central, Tervuren. However, no other Attie post-figure of comparable quality is known, rendering the Stone figure a unique example.
Elema Headdress, Papuan Gulf, Papua New Guinea
Height: 108 inches (274 cm)
The arts of the Elema people from the Papuan Gulf of New Guinea are famous for whimsical, joyous designs and were prized by the founders of surrealism, André Breton and Paul Eluard, both of whom owned Elema masks. This Elema Headdress is a rare survival: owing to the ephemeral nature of the materials from which they were constructed – barkcloth and fibers on a cane framework -- very few have been preserved.
Dayak Sarcophagus Figure, Borneo
Height: 36 inches (91.5 cm)
One of the most impressive Indonesian sculptures ever to appear at auction, this Dayak Sarcophagus Figure from Borneo once adorned the end of a wooden sarcophagus. These were kept under eaves in caves and thus could be preserved for hundreds of years. This example is notable for its great age, fearsome expression, fine carving and elegant design.