Estimates at Sotheby’s reach into the seven figures apiece for terracotta, stone and wood vessels, masks and statues of deities and animals, made by cultures scattered from Alaska to Patagonia. A few had previously belonged to famous expatriates in Mexico, including the film director John Huston and the French-Canadian collector Guy Joussemet. Collectors in the pre-Columbian field typically focus on one region. But Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller, the family patriarch, preferred to cover the whole Western Hemisphere. “He bought against the currents of fashion,” said Jacques Blazy, Sotheby’s specialist for the sale. Other portions of the family’s art collection remain on view elsewhere. At the Barbier-Mueller Museum in Geneva, a show of 100 masks includes pieces from Asia, Africa and the Americas, along with contemporary face protectors for athletes and workers.
In Manhattan the family has lent works to the current Neue Galerie retrospective of the Swiss painter Ferdinand Hodler. Gabriel and Ann Barbier-Mueller, a son and daughter-in-law of Jean Paul and his wife, Monique, have been lending their samurai armor and artifacts for traveling displays; the Museum of Civilization in Quebec City is showing the pieces through early 2013. African gold objects that the family assembled, which now belong to a mining company, are displayed in an 18th-century Dutch slaveholder’s house in Cape Town. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/26/arts/design/ceramic-pieces-pre-columbian-art-and-byzantine-jewelry.html?_r=0
One of the strengths of the Barbier-Mueller Collection lies in its cross-cultural approach: the choices of objects across the historical cultures represented (from 1200 BC to 1500 AC) reflect a remarkable coherence of vision on the part of the collector as well as showing the variety of media in which Pre-Columbian artists worked. The Collection comprises works in wood and stone, ceramics, textiles, ritual objects, as well as being representative of all the leading Pre-Columbian cultures. Not only are iconic pieces to be found in each area, but many possess historic provenance and are in an exceptional state of preservation.
In 1908 and 1909 Josef Mueller acquired major works by Hodler and Cézanne in Paris. While initially focusing on Western masterpieces of universal appeal, he soon became attracted by important works of Pre-Columbian art, his first purchase being an Aztec ‘water goddess’ in Paris in 1920. His son-in-law Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller, a great aesthete and man of culture, brought this high standard of collecting to other fields, such as African Art, Oceanic Art and Cycladic Art. His dedicated focus has resulted in the well-deserved reputation for excellence that the collections have today. Mr. Barbier-Mueller and his wife Monique Barbier-Mueller (Josef Mueller’s daughter), who has pursued modern and contemporary art, have achieved one of the foremost collections of art in private hands, one defined by their sophisticated knowledge and refined eye.
Along with their role as custodians of this magnificent, century-old collection, they are renowned for their commitment to furthering recognition of non-Western art and culture and for the remarkable exhibitions and publications they have overseen.