Tribal Art Notes for February 2012

1. Bonhams has not made a significant commitment into the recently hot Oceanic field until now. They can hope to repeat this success in future African sales.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- Bonhams inaugural auction solely devoted to Oceanic Art, February 11 in San Francisco, was led by the sale of a rare and important Rarotonga or Atiu pole-club, 'akatara,' of the Cook Islands, which achieved $146,500 - far exceeding its pre-sale estimate of $75,000-$100,000.
The pole-club is carved from the heart (taiki) of the toa (ironwood) tree with an exquisitely carved broad, scalloped blade with a needle-form tip. Its collar has two "eye" motifs on each side and its butt features chevron design. It is beautifully finished with a rich, dark-brown patina. It has provenance from Arthur Sewall (1835-1900) of Bath, Maine; thence by descent. Seawall was candidate for Vice President of the United States with William Bryan in 1896, and was one of the earliest and most prominent shipbuilders of Bath.
Additional highlights among the auction’s 150 lots of unique and fresh-to-the-market works from Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia, Indonesia and Australia, included a Maori greenstone amulet, hei tiki, from New Zealand, that sold for $21,250 against its pre-sale estimate of $6,000-$8,000. The amulet, measuring 3 3/8 in. tall, is finely carved, likely without the use of metal tools, with paua shell-inlay eyes.
Also a success was the $10,625 sale of a rare Telefomin shield from Papua New Guinea (pre-sale est. $8,000-$12,000). The shield was field collected, circa 1960, by Wayne Heathcote and was acquired by the present owner’s family in 1967. It is stone carved in high relief with motifs possibly representing a flying fox (sagaam); it is highlighted on the front with dark-brown, red-orange and white pigments.
Of the auction, Fredric Backlar, Specialist of African, Oceanic & Pre-Columbian Art at Bonhams, said, “We are extremely pleased with the results of today’s inaugural auction of Oceanic art in San Francisco; the Gateway to the Pacific. There was spirited bidding from both domestic and international collectors, many of which were first-time bidders, illustrating the continued growing demand for good quality, unique and fresh-to-the-market works of art at all price levels.”
Also, he added, “We were pleased to see many new and experienced collectors and dealers in town for the plethora of Tribal Art-related events that took place both at the De Young Museum and the San Francisco Tribal & Textile Arts show. After the auction, we were pleasantly surprised to experience brisk post-sale transactions.”
Weapons and tools saw much success in the auction, with such sales as a Cuirass and Sword, Tabiteuea Atol, Gilbert Islands (Kiribati), Cuirass, that brought $8,125 against its pre-sale estimate of $3,000-$5,000; a large and rare Ritual Shark Hook, gaung'akao, of Rennell Island that brought $6,250 (pre-sale est. $4,000-$6,000); a large Bone Fish Hook, makau iwi kanaka, Hawaiian Islands that took in $5,250, (pre-sale est. $5,000-$7,000); and a large Food Pounder, Micronesia that took in $4,750 (pre-sale est. $5,000-$7,000).
More of the auction’s success came with the $8,500 sale of a Hawaiian Quilt, “Ka Makani Kipuupuu O Waimea” (Crackling Wind of Waimea), a fine hand appliqué construction in navy blue over white cotton, made in 1936 by Mildred Isabelle Gross (pre-sale est. $2,000-$3,000); a finely detailed Rare Dayak Ritual Calendar/Oracle Tablet from Borneo Island, carved on both sides with ritual symbols, that sold for $3,750 (pre-sale est. $2,500-$3,500); and a rare French Exhibition Poster, "EXPOSITION ETHNOGRAPHIQUE DES COLONIES FRANCAISES," of the Museum National D'Histoire Naturelle, Le 20 Mai 1931, that realized $3,750 (pre-sale est. $4,000-$6,000).

2. The Walters Museum's  Pre-Columbian exhibition of the John Bourne features a major donation to the the museum that is intrigyuing in lighet of the American Association of Museum Directors acquisition guidelines for Pre-Columbian art  and their suggestion that all objects be listed in their online directory.  See article in this Newsletter
BALTIMORE, MD.- The Walters Art Museum presents Exploring Art of the Ancient Americas: The John Bourne Collection Gift an exhibition of 135 artworks from cultures that rose and fell in Mexico, Central America and Andean South America from 1200 B.C.–A.D. 1530. Drawn from the collection of John Bourne recently gifted to the Walters, this exhibition, on view February 12–May 20, 2012, expresses each culture’s distinctive aesthetics, worldview and spiritual ideologies.

Modern historians group the many ancient societies south of the United States into three great traditions based on ancient geo-politics and patterns of shared cultural features: Mesoamerica, Central America and Andean South America. The exhibition features artworks as illustrations of the societies’ fundamental principles such as the shamanic foundation of rulership in Mesoamerica, Costa Rica and Panama, and the cosmic principles embodied by gold and silver in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Artists expressed each society’s uniqueness in novel forms of monumental and portable art of human figures, spiritual beings and deities, and companions of daily life such as dogs, made from stone, clay, precious metals and fibers.
Exploring Art of the Ancient Americas touches on the performative nature of politics and religion—performance being a key mechanism for strengthening bonds of community and religious belief. The exhibition features the imaginative musical instruments used during these events and emotive portrayals of performers—from kings to commoners.
“Before mass communication such as television, the internet or smart phones, performance was a vital public device for real-time communication of a culture’s social, political and ideological beliefs,” said Curatorial Consultant for Art of the Ancient Americas Dorie Reents-Budet. “In the ancient Americas, as elsewhere in world history, performance communicates group identity and reinforces social hierarchy, political power and other key characteristics of a society.
This exhibition features selections from collector John Bourne, who was among the initial explorers to probe deep into the hilly jungles of southern Mexico. Traveling with adventurer Carlos (Herman Charles) Frey and photographer Giles Healy, they were among the first Westerners to visit Bonampak, the now famous Maya site celebrated for its three-roomed royal building whose interior walls are covered with murals recording a battle and public rituals concerning royal political history at the site during the eighth century. Bourne became enamored of the creative expressiveness of the Maya—and of all peoples of the ancient Americas—perceiving the works as equal to any artistic tradition in the world.
“Without question, this gift from John Bourne marks a great milestone in the Walters’ 70-year history,” said Director Gary Vikan. “In the decades to come, the museum will be at the national forefront in exploring and sharing with the public the rich cultural history of the great ancient civilizations of the Western Hemisphere.”
This exhibition has been made possible through the generous contributions of John Bourne, the Women’s Committee of the Walters Art Museum, the Selz Foundation and the Ziff Family, through its endowed exhibition fund for the arts of the ancient Americas.
Highlighted artworks include:
Mother and Child
(100 B.C.–A.D. 200) These cream-slipped figures were created during the culmination of the shaft tomb tradition in West Mexico, when tombs were filled with figural sculptures and pottery vessels. This woman proudly supports her son standing upon her lap, the sculpture being an informal yet stately expression of the procreative power of women and their lifelong calling as nurturers.
Human Effigy Pendant
(A.D. 400–1500) The medium of choice after A.D. 500, this cast-gold alloy piece portrays a dancing musician, his performance indicated by his bent knees. This finely cast pendant may render a shaman’s spiritual transformation, signified by the serpents emanating from the top of his head.
Llama Effigy
(A.D. 1000–1470) Well-adapted to the extremes of the Andean environment, the llama was at the heart of every Andean home, providing fine wool for warm clothing and being the only beast of burden in the Andes. This engaging earthenware sculpture captures the young animal’s natural inquisitiveness, its white and black face coloration following the Andean principle of duality and balance.