By Liza Montgomery
NEW YORK CITY — The ninth annual New York International Tribal Antiques Show made a quiet but significant return to the Seventh Regiment Armory May 17-19, coinciding with Sotheby’s tribal art auctions.
Since 1994 the Caskey-Lees production team has endeavored to present the most important show of its kind on the East Coast and this year was no exception. It was, as always, a pleasure to peruse the rigorously vetted, museum-quality offerings there.
The show opened with a party for the AIDS service agency and advocacy organization Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) on Friday, May 16. The benefit followed a hectic setup begun at 9 that morning before some 585 preview guests walked through the doors at 6 pm.
Typically a 50-dealer event, this year 45 international exhibitors participated, among them four from Belgium, three from Italy, one from West Africa, one from London and another from France. US
The dealer roster was also uncertain even at the time of the event’s publicity, which included a rather unusual comment from promoter Bill Caskey regarding participation: “With this show and all others about which we have knowledge, exhibitors remain uneasy about the international political and military situation and are somewhat slower to make firm commitments than in the past.”
Those who did commit on the whole seemed to be rewarded for their efforts, as another of Caskey’s publicity predictions came true: “We saw the beginnings of a more vibrant New York market at the Commissioner’s Antiques Fair in late November and in late fall auction results. Generally, the US market for antiques and fine arts has remained stronger than Europe’s and there are indications that that will continue to be the case. This is particularly important in the field of tribal and ethnographic works and our large international component remains a key aspect of this show.”
Said vibrancy was certainly evident among buyers. Despite an overall ten percent decline in attendance, some dealers still reported their best Tribal Antiques Show ever.
“The crowd was a little smaller than in years past, but the quality of knowledgeable collectors was high, as was the quality of eager-to-learn-and-look younger collectors,” said Dave DeRoche of Piedmont, Calif. “For example, two of my earliest and most important African figures were both quite noticed and appreciated, even though one was tucked away down low in a dark case. People kept asking me to bring it out so they could study it up close. One of the two I sold, in the $25,000 range, and the other is under consideration. All told, I sold 18 pieces for approximately $100,000. That’s good for this economy.”
“This was unquestionably the strongest show with the highest sales of any to present,” echoed Native American and Inuit specialist Jeffrey Myers of Myers and Duncan, New York City. Myers sold a very fine Northwest Coast Kwakiutal face mask to a collector “with a major museum director as a buyer if the initial purchaser decided to void the sale,” he related. “This did not occur.”
Three Native American dealers were added in 2003, resulting in very strong offerings in this area. Among the highlights was Toronto, Canada, dealer William Jamie-son’s 1870s quilled war shirt made for Cheyenne “White Powder,” who fought against Custer at Little Big Horn. Indian portrait artist Joseph Scheuerle had painted White Powder in this shirt in 1911 and subsequently purchased the shirt for $15.
Sherwoods Spirit of America, Santa Fe, offered a Blackfeet war shirt circa 1875, of painted yellow ochre and blue hide with ermine drops for $95,000. Brant Mackley Gallery, Hummelstown, Penn., featured a Mandan, Arikara or Hidatsa leather skull cap, circa 1870-90, for $45,000. Front and center in this booth was a Naskapi-Montagnais ceremonial painted robe, circa first quarter of the Twentieth Century, possibly painted by an older wife of the shaman Old Sam, Davis Inlet, Labrador. It is one of only ten examples extant.
Sales for Native American dealer Marcy Burns, New York City, “were erratic, as they have been at all the shows that I have recently participated in. However, I have already had very good follow-up from the show and hope to make several major postshow sales. Many of the people I spoke to said that they would be contacting me in future months, which I will look forward to.” Burns offered an Apache polychrome tray and an Apache polychrome olla, as well as a San Ildefonso jar with birds, circa 1915-20, priced at $28,000.
In the booth of Leonard Kalina Fine Arts, Pacific Palisades, Calif., and Splendors of the World, Haiku, Hawaii, a Costa Rican ceremonial metate of volcanic stone, circa 1000 AD, was $7,500. Also featured was a circa 500-600 AD, Moche (V), North Coast Peru, flare-rim rattle bowl painted in fineline with a ritual presentation theme.
Bruce Frank Primitive Art, New York City, offered a Nineteenth Century West Timor, Indonesia, sacrificial altar post, Tetum/Belu region, and Langotsky Gamba and Chista, New York City, which has a combined new gallery in Tribeca, featured a Tami Island food bowl with references to marine life, Nineteenth Century.
Among Asian offerings, Chinalai Tribal Antiques, Shoreham, N.Y., displayed a man’s suit of armor for the warrior class of the Yi Minority, Yunnan Province, South China, circa 1900, with a lacquered painted leather bodice and small plates bound together with cord. Vichai and Lee J. Chinalai felt the impact of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome this year on their inventory, as did Linda Pastorino of Singkiang, Chester, N.J., and other Asian dealers.
“I make regular trips to China and in fact was supposed to go before this show but was not able to, so I only had a few new pieces which I purchased by way of ‘jpeg’ photos from my suppliers,” said Pastorino. She offered a beautifully detailed baby carrier in shades of orange, black and green, Zhuang People, Ghizou or Yunnan Province, South China, late Nineteenth/early Twentieth Century. “My sales were okay. I did sell one of my new major pieces [during] the opening, which was a rare silver cape I had been hunting for the past four years.”
There are changes in store for the 2004 show, resulting from a “productive” exhibitor meeting, according to Caskey. “We’re going to revamp the selection committee to help us get more high-profile dealers. We’re also looking to rent more of the building next year and to add about ten dealers, which would help our budget. It probably won’t be a problem to have the whole floor.”
For information, 310-455-2886.