Published: June 3, 2008
Bold and beautiful, the New York International Tribal & Textile Arts Show has no rivals in Manhattan, one reason that it each year mesmerizes visitors with its freshness.
Now in its 14th edition, the May 14‱8 fair coincided with the African, Oceanic, and pre-Columbian art sales at Bonhams and Sotheby’s. In keeping with the generally robust spring auctions in New York, Sotheby’s event grossed $10.2 million, more than double low estimate, and saw a record $3.3 million for a Guinean serpent sculpture once displayed by Pierre Matisse, a dealer in Modern art.
With the pros all in town for the goings on, the Tribal & Textile Arts Show hummed with learned conversation and collectors on the prowl for rare pieces. Even for design mavens less steeped in the intricacies of primitive art, the New York International Tribal & Textile Arts Show is a visual feast, offering surprise and inspiration at every turn.
“There are many different kinds of quality. The best dealers sift and refine as they go along,” said Joss Graham, a London dealer in Asian textiles and works of art, referring to the presentation’s diversity and evolving nature. Its fluid and multifaceted personality reflects the tastes and interests of its 77 exhibitors, who hail from 19 states and countries.
Textile & Tribal Arts also hints at the West Coast origins of its organizer, Caskey Lees, Inc, of Topanga, Calif., which promotes Asian and tribal arts shows in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Two influential European events †the now-disbanded Hali Fair, which gathered antique textiles and rare Oriental rugs and carpets at Olympia in London, and the Brussels Non-European Art Fair, which continues in Belgium in June †are other parallels.
Reluctantly, Caskey Lees this year moved the New York International Tribal & Textile Arts Show to the Gramercy Park Armory at Lexington and 69th Street after rent tripled at the Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue. Already well broken in by Caskey Lees, the Gramercy Park Armory is slightly smaller and less formal. The gate was down slightly from last year. Overall, attendance has held relatively steady at about 4,000 visitors for the past four years. Visitors to the show included curators from the Houston, Philadelphia and Metropolitan museums, as well as the playwright Edward Albee.
Dealers offered no consensus on sales. Some sold well in the $5,000 and under range; others noted growth in the market’s high end. According to management, English and Continental dealers are finding the American market sluggish compared to sales at home.
The show’s current strengths are in Middle Eastern and Asian textiles and in African and Oceanic sculpture.
“The combination of tribal and textiles really works,” said Gail Martin, a New York dealer who pioneered the concept of world textiles as fine art in the 1970s. Mainly two-dimensional, textiles give the fair color and pattern. Three-dimensional sculpture gives it volume.
Along one long wall, Martin hung color-saturated Indonesian silk ikats that were the visual equivalent of Mark Rothko paintings, a theme continued in the booth of John Ruddy, a Santa Fe, N.M., dealer who combined the weavings with a Bolivian woman’s mantle and Japanese shibori panels.
Cavin-Morris Gallery devoted its entire display to Japanese shibori, indigo dyed hand-loomed cotton, banana fiber or hemp woven fabrics of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century.
Especially beautiful was a girl’s hemp kimono in a red, pink and white clover pattern.
Rudolf G. Smend is one of the world’s leading authorities on Indonesian batik. The author of numerous books and catalogs on the subject, Smend brought an incomparable selection of hand printed cottons and silks from Java and Sumatra.
“I went to Indonesia for the first time in 1972. Now these textiles are hard to find,” said the Cologne, Germany-based dealer.
Grass and raffia weavings in geometric patterns dominated the walls at Andres Moraga, a dealer from Berkeley, Calif.
Joss Graham took two booths. One contained folk caps and hats of various origin. Some were from the Republic of Cameroon, a West African country featured in the Textile & Tribal Arts’ loan exhibition, “Cameroon 1931‱934: The Photography of Paul Gebauer,” curated by Jonathan Fogel of Tribal Arts magazine.
The boundaries between art and craft merged at Art Passages, a California dealer in East Indian paintings on fabric, much of it spiritual in nature.
London dealers Owen Hargreaves and Jasmine Dahl celebrated the meeting of cultures in a mid-Twentieth Century Ghana cotton quilt decorated with a Union Jack and an airplane. The quilt was $1,390.
One of several carpet dealers in the show, Sidhartha of Bangkok, Thailand, featured a rare Star Kazak “D” pattern rug of circa 1820‴0. Dealer Feroz Qureshi believes the piece is one of only 17 such examples known.
Masks, shields and carved human figures dominated the sculptural offerings, which came from Africa and Oceania as well as ancient America.
A highly abstract Nigerian Afikpo mask, $23,000, was a highlight at Kagu Gallery of Antwerp, Belgium.
Gallery J. Visser’s showpiece was a carved wood Nigerian figure of a seated human with curved horns. The Nineteenth or early Twentieth Century sculpture holds a sword and a trophy head. The Brussels dealer sold three of seven significant pieces that it brought to the show.
Paris dealer Galerie Charles-Wesley Hourde also sold its catalog piece, a Mangbetu harp from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The musical instrument was priced around $100,000.
The writhing image of a carved and painted stone Abelam male-female ancestral figure was among California dealer Michael Hamson’s sales of Oceanic sculpture. Dating to pre-1920, the figure was $40,000.
Chinese and Japanese sculpture was relatively scarce. Exceptions included a bronze Warring States period Chinese burial plaque at Joe Loux of San Francisco and Los Angeles.
New York dealer Arnold H. Lieberman featured Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Japanese masks and a Pinocchio-like Japanese vendor’s sign.
Sales of architectural fragments included a pair of circa 1900 painted sandalwood doors from Saudi Arabia at Chinalai of Shoreham, N.Y.
Ancient art included a pair of Jalisco pottery figures at Arte Precolumbino of New York City and a Moche copper mask at Arte Primitivo, also of New York.
Recently profiled in Forbes, Amanda Broomer of New York is making a specialty of religious art and reliquaries, some of it from Latin America.
John Molloy of New York and Santa Fe, N.M., offered Southwestern kachinas.
New York dealer Jeffrey Myers sold a small late Nineteenth Century kayak used for hunting caribou, along with an Eskimo mask and a fur parka used in his display of Northwest Coast art.
There was even a tiny bit of contemporary art. Anavian Gallery, a New York specialist in Islamic art and antiquities, featured “Tribe V,” a mixed media painting on canvas by Ayad Al-Kadhi that drew inspiration from traditional Arabic calligraphy.
Caskey Lees’ final shows of the 2008 season are Treasures, in Philadelphia October 23′6, and the Los Angeles Asian & Tribal Arts Show, November 14‱6. The promoters return to New York from January 20′5, for the New York Ceramics Fair.
For information, 310-455-2886 or www.caskeylees.com.
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