What's Happening at the Auctions - May 2012

Considering the New York tribal art shows and the auctions a great deal of material was offered to buyers in May of 2012. A number of experts consulted believed that while there were some great objects in the mix, there were some significant objects that were over estimated in this market. The results seem to support that opinion. Heritage auction house in Dallas unfortunately had another lukewarm performance that was ensured by few lots of note and a very high buy back. Christies had a solid performance yielding over a $1,000,000 with just 51 lots many of which seemed to be carried by the strong lots. A expected Sothebys did very well in the May 11th sales despite a high buy back in the larger sale. One collector pointed out the proximity Sothebys created during the preview with the contemporary art with  exceed $320,000,000 in the two sales held at about the same time as the tribal. The entire gross of the tribal sale equates to one lot on the contemporary sale. So clearly Sothebys is marketing to a buyer that may relate more to the collection history than the quality of the object and its value in the marketplace. Is a mediocre Matisse Lega mask worth over $300,000? As the new buyers become more sophisticated

Heritage Auction house, Dallas Texas  - 2012 May 5 Signature Amrican Indian Art Auction
415  lots offered - 310 sold - 105 failed to sell with a buy in rate of 25% - Gross sales with Premium - $445,051. The highest single sale was Lot 196 a Cheyenne beaded hide baby cradle that sold for $35,000. Only six lots sold over $10,000.

Christies, New York Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas - May 10, 2012
52 lots offered - 51 sold - 1 lot failed to sell with a buy in rate of 2% - Gross sales with premium $1,606,000. The highlights of the sale were lot 1 the Aboriginal shield from the Beyeler coll. ht. 35 3/4" with an estimate of $3,000 to $5,000 sold for $116,500. The cover of the catalog Lot 6, the Santa Cruz Islands platter L. 24 3/4 from the Beyeler coll with an estimate of $80,000 - $120,000 sold for $314,500. Another surprise was lot 15 which featured a Bijogo mask ht. 45" from the Beyeler coll. with an estimate of $8,000 - $12,000 sold for $266,500. While there no big shockers on the downside, there were several lots that seemed to be carried along by the positive auction atmosphere.

Sothebys New York Masterpieces of African Art  Coll.  Werner Munsterbeger - May 11, 2012.
6 lots offered - 6 sold - buy in rate 0% - Gross sales with premium - $3,130,250 . Certainly the highlight of this sale was the Bena Lulua mask which sold for $2,546,500 with the premium. Quite frankly with the elaborate catalog, the pre-sale hype, and considering the recent purchases in Sothebys last sales, it would not have been surprising at all in this very strange market if this helmet mask sold for more than $3,000,000. We can debate whether all six pieces in the sale were actually "masterpieces". When does good art historical research end and hyperbole begins?

Sothebys New York African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art May 11, 2012
217  lots offered - 154 lots sold - 53 lots failed to sell with a buy in rate of 29%. Gross sales with the premium  - $14,580,501. There were 24 lots that sold over $100,000, 6 pieces sold over $500,000, and 3 pieces sold over $1,000,000.  I don't think Sothebys worried about their buy in rate of 29%. In lot 25 the Jalisco couple ht.  26" and 25 1/2" with an estimate of $30,000 to $40,000 sold for $362,500. The Stylized Bamana figure  ht 27 1/4 from the Charles Ratton coll. was estimate to sell for $400,000 to $600,000 and sold for for $2,658,500. In lot 72 the auction house stressed the affinity with modern sculpture and the Dogon art. This particular Dogon figure ht. 24 1/2" which passed through both Kamer and Klejman's hands was estimated to sell for between $250,000 and $350,000 but far exceeded this range by selling for $542,500. Prior to lot 81 Sothebys led in with an article entitled Henri Matisse The Sculptural Language of African Art. The Bamana seated figure which has passed down through the Matisse family was estimated at $150,000 to $250,000 but sold for $782,500. Lot 82 featured what many would consider a very mediocre Lega mask that was owned by Matisse but only had an estimate of $5,000 to $8,000. It probably didn't hurt to have a picture of Matisse's studio with the mask on the wall because the hammer price was $362,500. For many the true shocker of the sale was the Susan Vogel Baule mask which failed to sell in lot 96 with an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000. This mask was featured in William Rubin's introduction to Primitivism in the 20th Century Art. Susan Vogel is considered by many to be the most prominent expert on Baule art. A fine Kota reliquary from the Pinto and Arman collections was offered in lot 131 with an estimate of  $1,000,000 to $1,500,000.  It sold for $1,082,500. The 7 1/4" bone Azande figure in lot 164 was estimated to sell between $40,000 and $60,000. Bidders took this one to $512,500. Finally the Buyu male figure in lot 192 and only  18 1/8" in height  was estimated to sell between $600,000 and $900,000. It sold for $2,434,500

Skinner's Boston American Indian and Ethnographic Art - May 12, 2012
 533 lots offered - 476 lots sold - 57 unsold lots  with a buy in rate just under 11%. Gross sales with the premium not published.. Only 13 lots sold at $10,000 or above. The pictograph on muslin by Chief Henry One Bull (Sitting Bull's nephew) depicting the Custer battle was the high mark of the day selling at $80,000.

Bonhams New York  African, Oceanic,  and Pre-Columbian Art - May 12, 2012
347 lots offered - 183 lots sold - 164 lots unsold for a buy in rate of 47%... 21 objects sold at $10,000 or higher. The highlights of the sale were primarily four lots with everything else selling below $30,000. In lot 302, which was the only lot in six figures,  the seated Kuba king sold for  $182,500.

Bonhams, New York The Nancy Sue and Judson C. Ball Collection of Native American Art. -
May 14, 2012
190 lots offered - 81 lots sold - 109 lots unsold for a buy in rate of  57% . The gross sales total was not published. Only 6 lots sold at $10,000 or above.

Sothebys New York American Indian Art May 16, 2012
158 lots offered - 74 lots sold - 84 lots unsold with a 53% buy in rate. Gross sales were $3,248,128 with 10 lots selling over $100,000.  The highlights were lot 5 a Haida doll collected in 1828 estimates at $50,000 to $70,000 sold for $254,500, lot 36 a Naskapi painted hide coat sold for $278,500, lot 48 a burlwood effigy bowl $206,500, lot 86 a fringed hide war shirt attributed to Chief Joseph sold for $482,500. It is very interesting to compare this shirt with the one that sold earlier at Sothebys for over $2,000,000.