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.