Published: July 3, 2001
By Liza Montgomery
NEW YORK CITY – The Seventh Regiment Armory, Park Avenue and 67th Street – currently awaiting restoration – undoubtedly plays host to many important events in the trade. In the realm of tribal antiques, however, it represents the most significant venue in the United States. Recently 54 international dealers gathered within its walls to offer the best of this genre at , and it was not only a pleasure to peruse the museum-quality architecturals, sculpture, textiles and jewelry therein, but also a privilege to speak, once again, with the event’s dedicated exhibitors.
No less dedicated are the show’s organizers, Caskey-Lees, of Topanga, Calif. In this, the event’s seventh year, their improvements – from a sophisticated, streamlined catalogue to a more concentrated circle of respected dealers – were clearly evident. Overall attendance was up 25 percent from last year, while an elegant Saturday preview to benefit the Gay Men’s Health Crisis attracted 750 people.
One would never know, in such an enthusiastic atmosphere, that dealers had set-up the morning of the preview, some as early as 4 o’clock, because of a scheduling conflict at the armory. Added to this was the adherence to a serious vetting process that same afternoon.
“The set-up is okay to do in one day,” Kriage Block, director of Throckmorton Fine Art, Inc., New York City, told us. “This year it was more difficult due to the fact that the [tribal auctions] were taking place on the same day. Our gallery was able to manage since I designed and executed the installation of the booth while Spencer [Throckmorton] went to the sales.
“Vetting is always a tough road at these art fairs,” he continued. “We take the utmost care to provide scholarly expertise as well as scientific research for our material.” And Throckmorton enjoyed brisk business. Among the highlights in that booth was a fabulous Teotihuacan mask, AD 450-600, sculpted from a rich green stone, which once decorated the collection of Diego Rivera.
Irvine, Calif. dealer Mark Johnson let us in on his secret to an easier set-up. “I tend to bring smaller- to medium-sized objects. Also, I pretty much keep to a simple display. It is always better to have more time, because displays can be improved and the stress level is less, but it also gives the dealers time to socialize and conduct some pre-show business.”
A fascinating, finely carved wood ancestral sculpture of a man in a Dutch-style military uniform created by the Ngaju Dayak people, Borneo, stood an impressive five feet tall in Johnson’s display. “My sales were excellent at this show. Better than most other venues and certainly up from last year. Most took place at the opening or on the first full day and then tapered off considerably through the week.”
Other dealers expressed frustration with the rushed preparation. “I didn’t have time to do [informational] tags,” said Linda Pastorino-Coad of Singkiang, New York City. “I was back from Asia that very week. However 75 percent of the time I had people asking the same questions as on the tag, so I got fed up spending my time like a curator and decided to take less wear and tear on myself.” In her booth was a brilliant, Nineteenth Century gold, turquoise and pearl kaffa from Najd, Saudi Arabia, presented on a red cloth.
“I sold more sculpture than jewelry this time,” she added, “as did other dealers with similar merchandise, and I sold well for pieces under $10,000.”
James and Lin Willis, of James Willis Tribal Art, San Francisco, Calif., reported a similar experience. “[The set-up] is exhausting. The breakdown and packing is even worse, as we closed the show at 5 pm and had to have everything completed by midnight that night.”
A 30-inch-high wooden Yoruba Shango shrine figure holding a bowl was a highlight of their display. “Sales were very good for us overall.[We] showed mainly African at this show. Last year, [we] had a broader range with African, Indonesian, South Pacific and sold well.”
Several other outstanding Yoruba offerings could be found this year. Elaine Ryan of Eric Robertson African Arts pointed out an Egungan mask, Yoruba, Republic of Benin, priced in their booth for $10,000, and three divination bowls were graced the display of Gallery de Roche, San Francisco, Calif., all made before 1900.
“The [Yoruba] aesthetic is pleasing, because it leans more towards naturalism and realism rather than abstraction,” said Dave DeRoche.
For Oceanic dealer Michael Hamson, of Palos Verdes Estates, Calif., who featured a startling Coastal Ramu, New Guinea mask of the early Twentieth Century, business could have been better. “I had a few large sales to dealers during set-up as is the norm for me. I think that there was definitely a reticence in the mood of the collectors and casual visitors. Last year there was a certain freedom of spending that could be felt. This year I sold a lot of lower end rdf_Descriptions – $200 to $1,500 – and no real significant sales to a collector. The stock market downturn has taken its toll on people’s willingness to crack open their checkbooks.”
But, he added, “while the costs for doing the show are very high and only seem to be getting higher, the bottom line is still the bottom line and every year I make money at the New York show.”
Small – measuring 11 inches in length – but packing an enormous visual punch was a Nayarit, W. Mexican Proto-Classic terra cotta model of a funerary scene at Judith Small Nash, Woodstock, N.Y. Carrying a $55,000 price tag, the model, in excellent condition, had been exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1998. Mexican artistry could also be found at Robert Morris, who featured a gorgeous Eighteenth Century, Hispano-Moresco Baroque period caja enconchada, or chest, with tortoise shell, mother-of-pearl inlay and a mahogany marquetry interior.
Leonard Kalina Fine Arts offered a spectacular Chimu silver offering dish, or pouring vessel, depicting mythological scenes and exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Chimu show, priced $16,500. Kalina also reported excellent sales to Caskey-Lees.
Textiles were well represented at Collins Gallery, which featured a circa 1925 Afshar Village rug, 4’3″ by 6’2″, reasonably priced at $4,000. The rug was unusual in its composition due to its lack of weeping willows, depicting instead nicely spaced cypress trees and vases with roses. Ronnie Newman, of Ridgewood, N.J., offered Nineteenth Century Pennsylvania hooked rugs along with traditional Persian rugs. According to Caskey-Lees, folk art rdf_Descriptions will be welcome additions for future shows.
Four-year veteran Wayne Heathcote’s turn-of-the-century effigies, or sacred figures, turned many heads. Originally acquired in the 1930s, the life-sized New Hebrides creations hailed from a US collection before their show appearance.
Another life-sized figure stood in the booth of Jeffrey Myers Primitive Arts, wearing an Aleut parka and a circa 1880 Aleutian Islands hat. Myers’s Northwest Coast and Eskimo offerings were popular this year, but according to Myers, whose sales were in the six figures, “quality prevailed over area of origin. This is an exceptionally well-handled show with a promoter who is a former dealer, and really knows what a dealer needs.”
The most attractive offering at Chinalai Tribal Antiques, Shoreham, N.Y., dominated an entire wall of the booth: a Nineteenth Century Taoist pantheon of the gods and ancestors of the Yao people painted on handmade paper by itinerant Chinese artists and hung in a shingle-like fashion.
Vichai and Lee Chinalai enjoyed “decent” sales, “Our major [rdf_Descriptions] are usually in textiles, both for the Asian and tribal shows and this was the case this time as well. Price ranges vary so much with the customers, depending on whether they are museum curators, avid collectors or someone with a chance attraction to a particular object.”
“We hope the media will give full recognition to the importance of this show,” they continued, in a perfect summation of the event. “It is probably the definitive tribal show in this country because of the quality of both objects and presentation by the best and most knowledgeable – and passionate – dealers in the country. It deserves not to be missed.”
Next year’s Tribal Antiques Show will return to the armory with – what else – an improved preview date of Friday, May 17, although, according to Caskey-Lees, another “midnight labor call” will be in order. “Seventy-five percent of dealers asked wanted the extra weekend selling day [without] wasting it on set-up,” they explained. The event will continue through Tuesday, May 21, 2002. Mark your calendars.
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