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The Collection of Edwin & Cherie Silver of African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art

Sotheby's New York

November 13, 2017

Sale 9620

Group of Kota figures

Lot 50, Kota-Obamba Reliquary Figure, Gabon, 15 3/8 inches high, left; Lot 22, Kota-Obamba Reliquary Figure, Gabon, 19 1/4 inches high, second from the left; Lot 13, Kota-Obamba Reliquary Figure from Gabon, 17 1/8 inches high, center; Lot 52, Kota-Obamba Reliquary Figure from Gabon, 17 1/8 inches high, second from the right; Lot 15, Kota-Wumbu Reliquary Figure, 19 1/2 inches high, right

By Carter B. Horsley

The November 13, 2017 auction at Sotheby's New York of the Edwin and Cherie Silver Collection of the Art of Africa, Oceania and the Americas is highlighted by a good group of Kota reliquary figures, a fine Hemba-Niembo statue of the Ancestor Kalala Lea, a Fang-Ntumu Reliquary Figure from Gabon, an excellent Colima Postclassic Seated Figure on a stool, a Bamana female figure, and a monumental Ijo Forest Spirit Figure.

The auction has a large and lavish catalogue.

The sale total was $7,133,750 with 71 of the offered 80 lots selling.

Kota 24

Lot 24, Kota-Ndassa Reliquary Figure, Republic of the Congo, 27 1/8 inches high

Lot 24 is a Kota-Ndassa Reliquary Figure from the Republic of the Congo.  It is the cover illustration of the auction catalogue and the work  is 27 1/8 inches high.  It was once owned by René Rasmussen of paris and was included in the "Eternal Ancestors, the Art of Central African Reliquary" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2007-8.

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary:

"Of the great variety of styles observed in the corpus of Kota reliquary sculpture, the grandest and most ambitious examples belong to a group which is today attributed to the people known as the Ndassa Kota of eastern Gabon and northwestern Republic of the Congo. Distinguished first and foremost by their especially large scale and ornate richness of decoration, these Ndassa figures also share what Louis Perrois has described as 'a certain graphic naturalism, contrasting with the stylizing impulse of most other Kota variants.' 1 Discussing the Ndassa group, which they classified as Group 16 in their landmark publication L’Art Kota, Alain and Françoise Chaffin observed: 'These pieces are among the most sought after by lovers of Kota art. […] One finds sculptures from the Rassmussen, Ratton, Chadourne and Girardin collections that are known the world over.'  Previously in the collection of René Rassmussen, the Silver Kota Ndassa Figure is unquestionably this masterpiece of the Ndassa style and among the most magnificent artworks in the entire Kota corpus.

"The hallmark of the Ndassa style is a generally oval face of relatively naturalistic proportions. As compared with most other Kota styles, the volume of the central element representing the face is of particularly generous convex volume. The face is surmounted by a broad crescent and flanked by ample side-coiffures, terminating in duck tails or pendant cylinders representing braids, all atop a cylindrical neck and well-proportioned diamond-shaped lozenge. Ndassa sculptor-blacksmiths mastered the use of multi-colored metals to create dazzling visual contrasts, employing reddish copper, yellow brass, and grey-black iron. The eyes, in brass, are centered vertically on the face, and depicted in perfectly horizontal lidded coffee-bean shape, often with iron pins that read as pupils. Arching double brows in copper and iron dramatically rise above the eyes and give the visage an expression of noble alertness.  Most strikingly the faces feature up to three diagonal bands of iron from eye to jaw, traversing fleshy red copper cheeks. These have been described as 'tears' as they seem to cascade down from the eyes, and can be read as if the subject is weeping.

"Within the overall Ndassa 'weeping' style are several janiform examples, which feature faces of the above-referenced convex style on one side, and a classic but very differently-conceived convex Ndassa face on the reverse, similar to that seen on the Kota-Ndassa figure from the Silver collection previously in the collections of Frank Crowninshield and Russell Aitken (lot 23 of the present catalogue).

"Considering both the Janus and the single-face examples, the variations within this overall group are wide enough to conclude that they represent an overall style region, or type, but not simply one atelier, or even one generation. However, within this classification, there are a small number of works which are so similar in their overall conception as well as in very specific details that they must emanate from the same atelier if not the same individual artist. The Silver Kota Ndassa is one of four works which Perrois considers to be made by the same atelier. Most useful for comparison to the Silver figure are two of these examples: the first 'of truly superb quality and great age.' formerly in the collections of Morris J. Pinto, New York, and the artist Arman (sold Sotheby’s New York, May 11, 2012, lot 131...); and the second previously in the collection of Jay C. Leff, Uniontown, Pennsylvania..... The similarities of these three works are seen not only in their nearly identical shape and proportions, but extend also to the specific motifs in the design and handling of the repoussé. Each bears a border at the top of the crescent inscribed with a pattern of vertical and diagonal lines, with fields of both copper and brass, with a wider band allowing two rows of triangles in the Silver figure.  Each has a band of copper bounded by rows of dots across the forehead; with the Leff figure repeating the design seen in the border of the top crescent, while in the Pinto/Arman figure and the Silver figure the band is undecorated; only the Silver figure bears a cowrie shell inlaid at the center, probably a mark of wealth and status. The design of the ducktail-shaped side coiffure is the same in all three figures, except that the Silver and Leff figures feature a field of tightly spaced horizontal lines emanating from just beside the face, producing an impressive radiating effect (and a chance affinity with an Egyptian Pharaonic 'nemes' headdress). Proportions of the brows, nose, eyes, cheeks, 'tears' and small round mouth are nearly identical; as are the pattern of crosshatching repousse on the upper part of the lozenges, and that of the cylindrical neck of the Silver and Pinto/Arman figures.

"The differences between these three figures are fewer than their similarities; while the Pinto/Arman and the Silver figure have iron pins which read very successfully as pupils and give the sculpture a present, living expression, the Leff figure is without pointed pupils and therefore projects a more distant or blind gaze.  The Pinto/Arman figure bears a slightly thinner, leaner face with brows lower down on the forehead; and the Leff figure features a pattern of cross-hatched lines on the cheeks between the bands of 'tears,' seen in neither other figure.

"Regarding the geographic origin of the Pinto/Arman Figure, and by extension the Leff figure and the present figure from the Silver collection, Perrois notes:

'In his monumental 1953 work Contribution à l'ethnographie des Kuta I, pastor-ethnographer Efraim Andersson, the great expert on the ‘Kuta’, or ‘Kota’ peoples of equatorial Africa, illustrated a closely reliquary figure with a convex face, a broad transverse headcrest, and side-coiffures terminating in volutes [Andersson, Contribution à l'ethnographie des Kuta I, 1953, p. 341, fig. 37], closely related to the present majestic figure, formerly in the collections of Morris J. Pinto and the artist Armand Arman. He noted that this important mbuli-viti had been collected in situ in the 1920s by the pastor Karl Laman for the Svenska Missionförbundets Museum in Stockholm. The same object, with its convex face, is also seen in a photograph taken by The Reverend Jacobsonn before 1912, showing young Kota men wearing bark cloth aprons, carrying traditional weapons, and displaying reliquary figures....Particularly significant to our study is Andersson's indication that the related work comes from the Mossendjo region of the former French Congo (southwest of present-day Congo-Brazzaville), the epicenter of the missionary activities of Swedish evangelists before the Second World War. It was also in the southern part of the Kota region that The Reverend Efraim Andersson conducted the bulk of his ethnographic surveys from 1935 until the 1950s, amongst the Wumbu, the Ndassa, and the Obamba....The area within the triangle formed by the towns of Mossendjo, Sibiti, and Zanaga (all in present-day Republic of Congo) was among others populated by Kota groups, namely the Wumbu and the Ndassa. In this context it is worth remembering that the designation ‘Kota’ is only a collective name of convenience, as each cultural group of equatorial Africa referred to by the name ‘Kota’ also bears a more specific name. The Ndasa are culturally and linguistically distant cousins of the Northern Kota, the Mahongwe, the Shamaye, and the Shaké of the Ivindo basin. Already centuries ago, their migratory movement had already brought them from Southern Cameroon to present-day Congo, traversing the whole of eastern Gabon from North to South. Some Ndasa communities, with small populations, remained behind in the region of the Upper Ogooué River in Gabon.

"The large size, richness of materials, refined design, and elaborate decoration of the Silver Kota Ndassa Reliquary Figure suggest it was associated with an individual or clan of particularly great power and wealth. The Ndassa 'weeping' group, as the most highly refined of Kota reliquary styles, is a testament to the great sophistication of Kota artistry. The Silver figure is the apex of this group and among the most impressive representatives of the pre-colonial art of central Africa."

It has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000.  It sold for $975,000.

Kota 13
Lot 13,
Kota-Obamba Reliquary Figure from Gabon, 17 1/8 inches high

Lot 13 is a Kota-Obamba Reliquary Figure from Gabon that is 17 1/8 inches high.  It was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2007.  It has an estimate of $50,000 to $70,000.  It sold for $137,500.

Kota 22

Lot 22, Kota-Obamba Reliquary Figure, Gabon, 19 1/4 inches high

Lot 22 is a Kota-Obamba Reliquary Figure from Gabon that is 19 1/4 inches high.  It was included in the "African Negro Art from the Collection of Frank Crowninsheild" at the Brooklyn Museum in 1937 and again in 1954-5 in the exhibition "Masterpieces of African Art."  It has an estimate of $70,000 to $100,000.  It sold for $231,250.

Kota 51

Lot 51, "Kota-Obamba Reliquary Figure by the Sebe River Master of the Skull Head," Gabon, 21 1/2 inches high

Lot 51 is a Kota-Obamba Reliquary Figure by the Seve River Master of the Skull Head from Gabon.  It is 21 1/2 inches high and was once owned by the British Rail Pension Fund and Armand Arman.  It was exhibited at the Museum of African Art in New York in 1998 and at the National Museum of African Art in Washington in 2004-5.  It has an estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,800,000.  It sold for $1,215,000.

Ijo 58

Lot 58, Monumental Ijo Forest Spirit Figure, Nigeria, 85 7/8 inches high

Lot 58 is a "monumental Ijo Forest Spirit Figure" from Nigeria that is 85 7/8 inches high.  It was included in the 2002 "Ways of the Rivers: Arts and Envirnment of the Niger Delta" at the Fowler Museum of Cultural History at UCLA and at LACMA in 2008 in the "Tradition as Innovation in African Art" show.

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary:

"The seven heads of this ferocious and imposing statue appear almost to spin, their staring, bulging eyes never resting, ever watchful. The startling faces, deeply carved with curved and rectilinear forms, create deep, dramatic shadows, accentuating the tremendous volume of the head. Awe-inspiring in its scale and arresting in its sheer sculptural vigor, this towering figure is both the apogee of its corpus and one of the largest and most impressive sculptures of sub-Saharan Africa.

"Draining into the Bights of Benin and Biafra, the great rivers of West Africa converge in the vast swampland of the Niger Delta, bounded by a comparatively narrow belt of low-lying sand-ridges, which give way to an expansive sweep of mangrove forest and freshwater swamps. Within this area the population consists predominately of the forty or so sub-groups of the Ijo people.

"Within this landscape, the Ijo recognized the power of water and forest spirits. Water spirits (binioru) were generally considered benign (although there were exceptions), whilst forest spirits (bouorumo) were often described as volatile and violent. Anderson notes that figurative sculptures were not required for most water spirits (usually more associated with masks), and nor were they required for ‘gods from above’ (suwooru), including clan war gods.3 However, unruly forest spirits of the psychically and physically dangerous wilderness often became the subject of shrine sculptures.

"The egalitarian Ijo professed allegiance solely to their clan war gods and to no authorities in the earthly realm. Their settlements were barricaded against invaders both earthly and supernatural with “sculpted sentinels […] and potent medicines.” Outside of the villages, travelling posed another set of dangers: “piracy, slave raiding, and assaults on strangers once made travel along the Delta’s waterways so treacherous that the Ijo regarded trading as a dangerous activity to be undertaken by only the bravest of men […] Older inhabitants of the area still speak of a time when conflicts between villages made even local excursions risky, for small-scale wars continued to erupt well into the twentieth century.” These disputes seldom led to the conquest of land or other property, and it appears that the Ijo fought foremost to demonstrate their strength and courage. Their acephalous society is inextricably linked with a certain individualism which appears to have supported conflict as a means of self-accomplishment, with the supreme virtue being courage, displayed by pitting one’s prowess against that of an equal opponent. The peri warrior society was the principal means for men to obtain status within Ijo society. The peri title was “a distinction clan war gods bestowed on men for killing either human beings or animals – such as leopards, hippopotami, manatees, and sharks – that the Ijo consider to be like human beings”, and membership afforded certain privileges. “Among the Ijo, the intangible rewards [of peri] clearly outweighed the tangible ones, for recipients simply earned the right to drink with their left hands, wear special costumes, which differed from clan to clan, and perform a special peri ‘play’ at the funerals of other title holders.

"This monumental sculpture from the Silver Collection of a bellicose seven headed giant may depict the war-like, seven-headed forest spirit Tebesonoma, an antagonist in the myth of the Ijo culture hero Ozidi. Ozidi’s accomplishments were traditionally celebrated among the Western Ijo, and the Nigerian poet-playwright John Pepper Clark was the first to draw attention to the tradition, later publishing The Ozidi Saga, a version of the myth which he had collected, translated, and edited. The identification of this statue with Tebesonoma, the 'indefatigable fighter,' is supported by its seven heads as well as by its sheer size: the giant Tebesonoma is described as 'so tall that he almost disappeared in the air, like a tree he stood.' This allusion could mean that the statue depicts not only a single powerful entity, but that he represents the power of the entire forest; as the Nigerian novelist Isidore Okpewho observes, 'Tebesonoma the giant of seven heads is a fitting image of the numerous branches at the tops of many a forest tree.' This interpretation is further supported by the creatures of the forest which are carved on this all-powerful figure.

"Regardless of an attribution to a specific spirit, this figure represents the apogee of the corpus of Ijo shrine sculpture, which consists primarily of an exceptionally small number of figures with seven heads, and a larger number of shrine figures with four heads or less. Within this entire corpus no other recorded example approaches the majestic scale of this sculpture; in quality and rarity only the seven-headed figure in the collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco can begin to compare (inv. no. 2004.93; height: 68 in, 172.7 cm).

"Anderson notes that Ijo sculptors presented the forest figures as warriors who have multiple heads, which signify “clairvoyance, vigilance, and superhuman powers.” The number of heads of this sculpture is important, as seven is a number with mystical significance in Ijo cosmology. Okpewho, for instance, notes that “The Ijo believe [...] that the essence of life inheres in the fusion of seven complementary elements: of these, four are female and three male,” and the number occurs and reoccurs throughout Ijo ontology. These sculptures are closely tied to war. Despite their ferocious and dangerous reputation, forest spirits were enshrined by the Ijo, who believed that the spirits’ belligerent and raucous nature could be harnessed and redirected: “Enshrined spirits have to project qualities like ruthlessness and volatility to convince followers of their ability to protect them.”

"Each of the seven heads is painted in dividing fields with contrasting black and white pigment, bisected by a ridge running down the central axis of the face. The colors may refer to membership of the peri society and to the chalk and charcoal which warriors applied to themselves in the shrine before entering combat. Bared teeth, a sign of truculence and assertive personality, may refer to verbal aggression; they may also be a reference to the fact that great warriors commanded both magical knowledge, known as atamgba, and magical speech, aunbibi. This language was unintelligible to most Ijo, and those who commanded it were able to accomplish miraculous feats, such as becoming invisible from attack or ‘bulletproof’, 'simply by uttering a few words.' The gourd medicine bottles, atu, which adorn the figure, “probably represent ‘bulletproofing medicines’, like the smoking pot, one celebrated warrior suspended from his neck to devour enemy bullets […] Charms of this sort  could also render people invisible, seek out, or ensnare enemies and destroy them.

"The animal which stands on top of the head may be a leopard, which is associated with leadership and warfare. Anderson and Peek remark that 'numerous Delta shrines […] display real leopard skulls,' and the leopard’s presence might also refer to the stories of warriors who could transform themselves into powerful animals. The leopard is the largest of the number of symbols of the water and forest which appear on the figure. Others include a crocodile, a tortoise, a snail, two snakes, two lizards, and three birds. Anderson records the tale of 'how Snail, who lacks hands and feet, prepares for war by asking to be covered with a leaf to hide him from his enemies. His ploy recalls the medicines and shape-shifting strategies Ijo warriors employed to avoid detection.' Arnold Rubin notes that a bird which appears on the figure in San Francisco may be 'regarded as [a] ‘messenger of the spirits;’ alternatively the motif may derive from the practice of priests and dancers wearing a live chick suspended from a string to avert evil influences.' While the precise significance of these creatures is sometimes opaque, they seem intended to contribute to the power of this statue, which has absorbed the peculiar qualities of all the creatures of land and water.

"The janiform upper body of the sculpture illustrates the massive physique appropriate to a redoubtable warrior and emphasizes his supernatural abilities. The hulking chest heaves under the weight of his seven heads, and the four arms are held out from the body in an assertive gesture which further expands the sculpture’s volume and its all-encompassing vigilance. Each knotted fist brandishes a symbol of war and power: a cutlass, a rifle, a spear, a stout cudgel. This alert warrior has control of every available weapon, from the mysterious forces of the forest to an imported gun. The formidable torso is supported by a pair of truncated massive, muscular legs. He is assertive and defiant, prepared to take on all-comers.

As Arnold Rubin notes, 'The impact of Ijo style may even have extended as far as southeastern Liberia, where similar conventions are found as a small enclave amidst more naturalistic traditions.' During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Kru people of southeastern present-day Liberia often worked as laborers on European ships or at trading stations along the Guinea coast, where they would have come into contact with the artistic traditions of the Niger Delta. As these people returned to their home villages, they may have introduced stylistic conventions such as 'the rigorous abstraction of the forms of the human face typical of the Niger Delta.' Rubin notes a precisely documented mask collected at Cape Palmas in Liberia before 1849, which has been published as Ijo. The Grebo mask illustrated here shares the formal qualities, in particular, the abstract representation of multiple cylindrical eyes and rectangular mouths.

"The arresting power of this awe-inspiring Ijo statue is also manifest in Jean-Michel Basquiat’s striking and primal Untitled (Two Heads on Gold), 1982. Beyond their aesthetic affinities – apparent in the pulsating, aggressive faces and the gesticulating bodies – both works evince an enthralling psychological essence. In their fascination with the wonder and horror of the human head they show how the visceral power of the imagination transcends time and space."

It has an estimate of $700,000 to $1,000,000.  It failed to sell.


Lot 49, "Fang-Ntumu Reliquary Figure from Gabon, 20 1/2 inches high

Lot 49 is an impressive Fang-Ntumu Reliquary Figure from Gabon that is 20 1/2 inches high.

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary:

"In his discussion of the Fang Ntumu substyle the scholar Louis Perrois observes that 'a painstaking comparative study shows that all [Ntumu] statues are different, there being an infinite number of combinations of details and decoration' (Perrois, Fang, 2006, p. 37). There are, however, certain characteristics which define the work of Ntumu artists and which allow us to attribute the present figure to the group, whilst noting some features more associated with the Nzaman-Betsi style.

"The elongated form of the torso, which is carved as a long cylinder, is a classic indication of the Ntumu style. In this figure the cylinder, which bisects the strong horizontal line formed by the shoulders and breastbone, continues into a powerful neck which supports the commanding head. The columnar strength of the central passage of the sculpture is contrasted by the slender and lithe limbs, which are nevertheless muscular and well defined. They are clearly separated from the central axis of the figure and provide a lissome outline which conveys a certain alert air. The hands are placed at the protruding navel, paying homage both to the spirit of the dead and reminding us of the bond from one generation to the next, with the fecundity of the lineage further emphasized by the depiction of the sex.

"This Fang-Ntumu figure was formerly in the collection of the dealer, collector, and lithographer Aimé Maeght. The eponymous Galerie Maeght was one of the most creative and influential galleries of Modern art and Maeght a seminal figure in the post-war art world. Amongst the artists he represented were Braque, Calder, Giacometti, Matisse, and Miró, and he was one of the first dealers to exhibit Abstract Expressionism in Europe. Maeght’s particular métier was printmaking and publishing, and he encouraged his artists to produce ceramics, prints, and illustrated books. Major exhibitions at the gallery were accompanied by an issue of his magazine Derrière le mirroir, which combined original lithographs alongside essays by leading writers, fulfilling Maeght’s ideal of bringing the work of artist and writer together. As an example, the May 1954 exhibition of sculptures, paintings, and drawings by Alberto Giacometti at the Galerie Maeght was accompanied by an issue of Derrière le miroir with essays by Jean Genet and Jean-Paul Sartre.

"The Fang figure is visible on the mantle of Maeght’s apartment in Paris, alongside artworks including Giacometti’s Le chien (1957) and Miró’s Oiseau lunaire (1946)."

The lot has a modest estimate of $150,000 to $250,000.  It sold for $112,500.
Hemba 20

Lot 20, Hemba-Niembo Statue of the Ancestor Kalala Lea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 37 1/4 inches high

Lot 116 is a very impressive Hemba-Niembo Statue of the Ancestor Kalala Lea from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  It is 37 1/4 inches high.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"This profound and resolute statue of the ancestor Kalala Lea stands sentinel, his gaze serene and omniscient. Published in the most important monographs on Hemba statuary, Kalala Lea is perhaps the most monumental and certainly one of the finest sculptures in this highly distinguished corpus. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in 2011, the statue stood as the centerpiece of a display of Hemba ancestor figures in the landmark exhibition Heroic Africans: Legendary Leaders, Iconic Sculptures. In the ac-companying exhibition catalogue, Alisa LaGamma described the sculpture as possessing 'quiet power, impressive for its considerable scale.'

"In the plains of the eastern Congo, the Hemba people live in the land which extends to the north and south of the Luika River, bounded to the west by the Lualaba, the greatest head-stream of the Congo River. Their villages were 'named for titular heads, well-remembered ancestors, or particular lineages', and were 'autonomous entities [within] which individuals identified themselves primarily in relation to their extended families and clans.' Among the Hemba, the family relationship transcended death in an eternal bond. Ancestors continued to exist in a realm distinct from that of the living, but accessible nevertheless, and their spirits watched over the lives of living. The sculptures, known as lusingiti (sing. singiti), which the Hemba made to honor these ancestral bonds, are among the greatest forms of African sculpture. Only within the last forty years, however, primarily through the work of François Neyt and Louis de Strycker, has Hemba sculpture been identified as an original style distinct from that of the neighboring Luba people, with whose iconic sculpture it shares many qualities, not least a deeply meditative appearance. However, while Luba sculpture represents the beauty of the female form, Hemba statuary almost invariably celebrates the power of the male founders of great lineages, with each singiti a posthumous commemorative portrait of the sovereign of a particular Hemba chiefdom. François Neyt calls these sculptures 'irrefutable genealogical markers', but it is rare for the name of the venerated ancestor to remain known. When this monumental and elegiac sculpture was collected its name was recorded as Kalala Lea, 'a celebrated ancestral leader of the Kitunga clan from a village north of Mbulula.'

"In his monograph La grande statuaire Hemba du Zaïre, Neyt provides a morphological analysis of Hemba sculpture and distinguishes eleven 'stylistic centers.' He attributes this statue to the first group in his classification – the Niembo style of the southern Hemba country – which has been described as 'the most accomplished and classical' of all Hemba styles.' Like all lusingiti, this sculpture was not conceived as a portrait in a literal sense. LaGamma notes that although these sculptures were intended to represent 'specific former leaders in a relatively naturalistic idiom, the representations themselves do not literally reproduce those individuals’ specific physiog-nomies.' Instead the ancestor was represented through an idealized rendition of the qualities which the Hemba valued in their leaders, with the ancestor’s 'likeness' revealed by his deeds.

"Although the Hemba artist would follow certain accepted canons of representation, each sculpture is highly individualized, with the head, and particularly the face, the source of distinction, rather than the posture or body. The imperious, orb-like head of Kalala Lea is a magnificent illustration of the care which Hemba artists devoted to the head as the site of intellect; Louis de Strycker has also suggested that the large heads of Hemba statues serve to emphasize the importance of the skull of the ancestor, which would have been conserved in a special enclosure.

"In this statue, the head is of extraordinary volume, its fullness accentuated by the broad, high forehead, the coiffure swept back. The limit of the facial plane is defined by the arched brows, below which the rounded ocular cavities delicately indicate the line of the cheekbones and underline the quiet yet intense gaze of the eyes, half closed under languid eyelids. The limpid gaze conveys an air of deep contemplation which we can associate with the Hemba concept of ubatizha, the visual acquisition of knowledge. The Hemba privileged the gaze above all other senses and held that through long and unhurried scrutiny one could acquire the most profound knowledge of a person, object, or event. The slight bowing of the head, created by the parallel lines of the forehead and the jaw, furthers the impression of a state of tranquil contemplation and recalls certain representations of bodhisattvas which, like the honored Hemba ancestor, help and guide those in the phenomenal world.

"The acute angle formed by the crisp line of the jaw is counterbalanced beautifully by the sweep of the coiffure, the two planes intersecting at the robust column of the neck. The imperious quality of the head is heightened by the signs of Kalala Lea’s high social status: a fine diadem of two bands, an elaborate backswept coiffure, which is arranged in two horizontal and vertical braids, and his finely incised beard.

"In addition to remarking on the sculptural quality of the head, Neyt states the body of this statue places it amongst 'the finest Niembo works.' The torso is amphora-like, the narrow trunk swelling into an ample stomach which suggests plenitude. The precisely delineated surfaces of the powerful arms and legs unfold rhythmically and contribute to the statue’s feeling of vigor and steadfast resolve. The stylized hands rest on either side of the stomach at the level of the umbilicus, which is the symbol of hereditary succession. Recourse to Kalala Lea’s intercession is evident in the rich and varied patina, which attests to the offerings made to this statue during the invocation of the ancestor’s intercession in the land of the living, during which 'the celebrant, surrounded by his family, begins a long dialogue with the ancestor. He recalls the ancestor’s great deeds, invokes his goodwill and his attachment to the family, and reminds him how close he is to them, and that they do not forget it.'

"On careful inspection of the modelling of the eyes and of the aquiline nose, with its arrow-like tip, we can see that Kalala Lea bears a resemblance to the figure by the Buli Master in the Malcolm Collection. This impression is increased by the similar bowing of the head in both statues. The sculptor created this impression by placing the apex of the line of the forehead well ahead of that of the chin. This characteristic exists, in less dramatic form, in certain other Hemba-Niembo statues, including one of the masterpieces of the corpus, the ex Béla Hein statue in the Etnografisch Museum, Antwerp (inv. no. A.E.0864).

"In the statue of Kalala Lea we perceive a defining quality of the best Hemba sculpture. For all its formal 'classicism' and rarefied noblesse, great Hemba sculpture does not merely express the somewhat impersonal and gelid perfection of an ancient marble. Looking at Kalala Lea one feels the presence and vigilance of the ancestor whose spirit is enshrined in this sublime sculpture."

It has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000.  It sold for $300,000.

Bamana 4

Lot 4, Bamana female figure, 18 inches high

Lot 4 is an impressive Bamana statue of a female that is 18 inches high that was acquired in 1972 from John J. Klejman. 

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary:

"Nyeleni female figures played an important role in the initiation ceremonies of the Jo, a religious society that helped to provide social cohesion and order in many southern Bamana communities. Once every seven years, young Bamana initiates who have been studying the rites and ideas of the Jo and preparing for their ceremonial 're-birth' are lead to a secluded bush where a symbolic 'killing of the Jo' takes place. This event marks the attainment of adulthood for the initiates - known as jodenw - after which they travel to various villages demonstrating their knowledge of the Jo society through song and dance in exchange for gifts. On their travels, the jodenw carry these stylized nyeleni figures, which 'evoke the young girl in her ideal state with the highest degree of physical attraction' (Ezra, Figure Sculpture of the Bamana of Mali, 1983, p. 11-12).

"As such, nyeleni figures represent the canons of Bamana female beauty. While these canons of beauty are bound up in Bamana tradition, their sculptural expression in this figure bears affinity to Cubist aesthetics of early twentieth century Western artists. The figure of the torso is elongated and cylindrical, framed by slender and angular arms. Two sharply conical breasts protrude from the top of the torso’s concentrically patterned surface, which evokes the scarification found on the bodies of young Bamana women. The drastically shortened lower body of the figure is defined by the rounded, exaggerated buttocks that provide a geometric counterbalance to the breasts. The facial features of the figure are flattened and stylized while the narrow and geometrically shaped head are accentuated by a pair of metal earrings. The dark patina on the surface of the wood, sometimes enhanced by the anointment of oils in Jo rituals, harkens to the bodies of young female dancers (Ezra, Bamana Figurative Sculpture, 1986, p. 17)."

It has an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000.  It sold for $30,000.

Dogon 11

Lot 15, "Mask for Malagan, New Ireland," 13 3/8 inches high

Lot 15 is an impressive mask for Malagan from New Ireland.  It is 13 3/8 inches high.  It was once with John Klejman in New York.  It has an estimate of $7,000 to $10,000.  It sold for $32,500.

Songye  56

Lot 34, Mask, Bungain, East Sepik Province, Papua, New Guinea, 16 inches high

Lot 34 is a Bungain mask from the East Sepik Province in Papua, New Guinea.  It is 16 inches high and was once with Charles Ratton of Paris.  It has an estimate of $150,000 to $200,000.  It sold for $175,000.

Yoruba 65   

Lot 64, Pair of Yoruba Female Twin Figures, 8 inches high

Lot 64 is a pair of Yoruba female twin figures, about 8 inches high.  The lot has an estimate of $5,000 to $7,000.  It sold for $8,750.

Dan 6

Lot 6, Dan Bird Mask, Cote d'Ivoire or Liberia, 10 3/8 inches high

Lot 6 is a very fine Dan Bird Mask from Cote d'Ivoire or Liberia.  It is 10 3/8 inches high.

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary:

"The sublimely beautiful masks of the Dan people are among Africa’s most refined sculptural styles. Inhabiting the region bisected by the border between present-day Cote d'Ivoire and Liberia, the Dan participated in masquerades which have important judicial, political, religious, and social functions. The masks worn by the dancers in such masquerades represent a diverse pantheon of characters that embody particular spirits. These take on human and animal forms, or as in the case of the present mask, a fantastic mixture of both. The mask as an object is endowed with spiritual power, and distinguished masks may be passed on from generation to generation, their potency increasing with age.

This large mask has a profound black glossy patina, the result of repeated anointment and use, with encrustations of ritually-applied materials. The voluminous downward curved beak recalls that of a hornbill, and is enhanced by small serrated teeth, a feature which the sculptor has borrowed from another animal. The mask’s anatomy is human also, with heavily lidded eyes facing forward above angular cheekbones. Above the eyes is a diadem of points, which recall a costume headband, or a formation of feathers, or perhaps a highly-abstracted interpretation of a headband of vertical mammal horns worn by Dan warriors and referenced in other bird masks (Vogel, African Aesthetics, 1986, p. 39).

"The sculptor has built the volumes of this mask in a masterful arrangement of cubistic planes. The highly stylized radiating points of the diadem rise in an arched row from the forehead, predicting the exuberant Art Deco crown structures such as Manhattan's Chrysler Building; beneath this the bone structure of the human eyes and cheeks are formed by sophisticated polyhedrons, bilaterally symmetrical and divided by a strong ridge at the center of the brow. The central ridge continues down into the patiently-smoothed mass of the enormous beak, the upper mandible of which is underscored by two deeply inscribed parallel lines. The elegant slits of the eyes project feminine beauty, fused with the solidity and strength of a powerful bill, structured cheekbones, and spiked diadem.

"These aesthetics no doubt appealed to the mask’s previous owner Charles Ratton, the preeminent dealer of indigenous cultures' art in twentieth century Paris, who propelled the evolution of taste in this type of art among Western audiences. With close ties to the Parisian avant-garde, including André Breton, Tristan Tzara and Paul Éluard, Ratton helped to elevate the status of so-called "primitive" arts, which he considered worthy of equal attention in the canons of world art.

"The iconography of a part-human, part-bird is a powerful artistic concept which has appeared across various world cultures. Bird-human hybrids appear in Oceania and Papua New Guinea, and the surrealist Max Ernst famously drew inspiration from the bird men of Easter Island reliefs and wood sculpture. According to Maurer, 'The Primitive aspect that Ernst saw in himself [...] not only enabled him to live in harmony with nature, but helped him explore all her mysteries and appropriate the secrets of her creative powers. In both classical and tribal mythology, animals and their anthropomorphized variants appear as symbols of both the spiritual forces of nature and man's mystical relationship to these forces. These types of images appear throughout Max Ernst's oeuvre - a bizarre menagerie of insects, fish, animals, and fantastic hybrids that constitute his personal bestiary. The bird, however, is by far his favorite and most frequently represented creature, and in his intimate association with birds we find Ernst's most significant association with the Primitive' (Mauer, in Rubin, ed., Primitivism, vol. II, 1984, p. 553). Ernst went so far as to identify himself with a mythical character named Loplop, a bird-man who frequently recurred in his drawings, paintings, and collages. Ernst's famous 1934 collage-novel Une semaine de bonté is rich with references to classical mythology as well as forms inspired by the arts and myths of primary cultures, and especially bird-headed human figures, expressions of a powerful spiritual and artistic affinity across distant cultures."

The lot has an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000.  It failed to sell.

Colima 43

Lots 43 and 44, Aztec Stone Figure of the Goddess Chicomecoatl," Postclassic, circa 1300-1521 A.D., 16 7/8 inches high

Lot 43 and lot 44, are, according to the catalogue, "part of an important group of four known Postclassic figural censors from the northern Colima region of El Chanal. Their eccentric and stylized faces and rope-like arms echo earlier West Mexican figural styles, but it is the round woven cane stools (known as equipales) which are of particular distinction. Hasso von Winning first studied the three figures in the Silver collection in 1968; his later article  discussed the ethnographic importance of the cane and bamboo round seats used by the Huichols of Nayarit (von Winning, 'Der westmexikanische equipal-Stuhl', Indiana, 1984, pp. 175-187). An important source was the early work of the Norwegian explorer/anthropologist Carl Lumholtz. Lumholtz traveled from Arizona down through Mexico in 1892, recording and studying indigenous groups including the Huichol and Cora of the Sierra Madre Occidental. His two volume publication in 1902, Unknown Mexico, was a landmark oeuvre with illustrated, highly personal accounts of West Mexican customs and art. Round stools held special importance as nearly all depictions of seats are rectangular. Lumholtz describes the equipales for shaman and their attendants as seats of divine power, an indispensable accessory for shamanic customs (Lumholtz, Unknown Mexico, vol. II, 1902, pp. 30-31). Lumholtz records, "The singing shaman who was the leader, sat in a peculiar arm-chair used by the tribe" (ibid., p. 7). He refers to shaman sitting for days, "...on all festive occasions the shaman and the principal men use such chairs and after the feast is over, everyone takes his chair home with him." A smaller version of the cane stool was called a "Gods chair" (ibid., p. 30-31).  Veneration of deities included long celebratory rituals involving combinations of performance, feasting, fasting, sacrifice, and divinations. Within the framework of Postclassic iconography, von Winning noted the figures can be compared to the deity Mixcoatl, God of the Hunt, as illustrated in the codices Magliabechiano and Vaticanus, which show impersonators with costume elements similar to the Silver’s figures including the stiff broad collar, headband with applied medallions, and twisted armbands (ibid., p. 179). Postclassic figural censors depicting a skeletal deity or the rain god Tlaloc are from a different region and were of very blocky proportion. The Silvers' figures are a refined and vivid reference to the ritual behavior of elite individuals. For the closely related fourth and companion figure, see Elizabeth Kennedy Easby and John Scott, eds. Before Cortes, Sculpture of Middle America, 1971, fig. 264, (also Sotheby's, New York, May 15, 2009, lot 140), currently on loan to the Yale University Art Gallery (ILE2010.17.1)."

Lot 43 has an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000.  It sold for $118,750.

Lor 44 is 25 3/4 inches high.  It has an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000.  It sold for $9,375.

Nayarit  35

Lot 35, Nayarit Family, Ixtlan del Rio style, Protoclassic, 100 BC-AD 250, 15 1/2 and 18 1/4 inches high

Lot 35 is a very good Nayarit family in the Istlan del Rio style, Protoclassic, 100 BC - AD 250.  One of the figures is 15 1/2 inches high and the other 18 1/4 inches.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"This family group is the most elaborate and ornately decorated of the Silvers' West Mexican couples, a tour de force of form and color, and a defining model of the Ixtlán del Rio style of elite ancestor figures. With lively and vibrant identical expressions, poised in their respective roles (holding a nursing child and playing a rasp), they portray a youthful couple that have fulfilled their achievements and celebrate the continuity of their status. The couple is a confirmation of 'gender complementarity,' described as the idealized portrayal of male and female roles as separate but interdependent and supportive spheres of activity (Pirtle, in Beekman and Pickering, eds., Reassessment, 2016, p. 159). Pirtle’s study of attributes denoting gender and status in Ixtlán figures emphasized how status and gender were shown by the frequency of both male and female figures participating in all rituals. The 'imperceptible difference in adornments between the sexes may indicate that participation in ritual was about status or families and less about gender' (ibid.).

"Ancestor worship was an important practice and belief system throughout West Mexico, and was integral for establishing status and power (Butterwick, Heritage of Power, 2004, p. 11). Townsend describes the 'festive pairs' as commemorating marriage and referencing the primordial union of male and female creative forces. Butterwick refers to the ancestral couple, possibly sibling ancestors, as the highest ranking individuals as they established land territories and control of the resources within the area.

"Founding ancestor ceramics reinforced their kinship ties through their shared facial features, elaborate body designs, jewelry, and clothing. On this couple, both their faces are covered in curvilinear and segmented designs highlighting their open mouths and wide, rimmed eyes. Their excessive jewelry includes the dense arc of earrings, beaded necklaces, and crescentic pendant, as well as effigy nose ornaments. The female nurses a child clinging to her bare chest which is highlighted by zigzag designs. Her tight fitting skirt is patterned with alternating squares of diagonal stripes and scroll motifs which are repeated on the man’s short-sleeved tunic. He plays an effigy rasp that is humorously modeled as a couple engaged in lively conversation, their joined elongated bodies forming the rasp with their feet projecting at the bottom. The male wears a peaked cap with a stiff segmented brim that is secured with an animal pelt showing paws at each side.

"Clothing details on ceramic figures such as these are the only source of insight into the textiles of ancient Mexico, the actual fabrics long lost in the archaeological record.  In addition, textile exchange was part of the larger trade networks along the Pacific coast whereby the valuable, and in some cases sacred, raw materials such as spondylus and obsidian available in Mexico were traded to Ecuador and the larger Andean region. There is a distinct similarity of textile styles found in Ecuadorian Chorrera and Bahia phase figures (spanning 1500 BC-AD 500) and the Ixtlán del Rio figures....Patricia Anawalt extensively studied textiles of ancient Mesoamerica, with particular research on the textile patterns of the Tarascan empire (AD 900-1500s) as shown in the sixteenth century colonial document Relación de Michoacán. She showed that distinct designs on Ixtlán figures are the same as clothing illustrated in the Relación. She further concludes, “Within Mesoamerica the tradition of Ecuadorian-style clothing marked into geometric squares is known only in West Mexico, both at Ixtlán del Rio and, over a thousand years later, among the sixteenth–century Tarascans” (Anawalt, in Townsend, ed., Ancient West Mexico, 1998, p. 242). Besides specific jewelry such as tusk pendants, she observed  that short breeches, short-sleeved tunics, women's wrapround skirts, and the step-fret motif are key attributes shared in both Ecuadorian and Ixtlán del Rio figures (ibid., p. 237).

"There is joy and a celebration of life conveyed by this couple with their infant. They are participants in a timeless affirmation of the community and the accomplishments of broader societal roles.

It has an estimate of $70,000 to $100,000.  It sold for $125,000.

See The City Review article on the Spring 2017 auction of African, Pre-Columbian and Oceanic Art at Sotheby's New York
See The City Review article on the Evolution of Form: African & Oceanic Art at the Genesis of Modernism at Christie's New York May 12, 2016
See The City Review article on the Spring 2016 Tribal Arts Auction at Sotheby's New York
See The City Review article on the Fall 2015 Tribal Arts auction at Sotheby's New York
See The City Review article on the Fall 2014 Tribal Arts auction at Sotheby's New York

See The City Review article on the Spring 2014 auction of Vol. 2 of the Allan Stone Collection of African and Oceanic Art at Sotheby's New York
See The City Review article on the Spring 2014 article on the African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian art auction at Sotheby's New York
See The City Review article on the Fall 2013 article on the African and Pre-Columbian Auction of Allan Stone's Collection at Sotheby's New York

See The City Review article on the Spring 2013 article on the African, Oceanic & Pre-Columbian auction at Sotheby's New York
See The City Review article on the Spring 2012 article on the African, Oceanic & Pre-Columbian auction at Sotheby's New York
See The City Review article on the Spring 2012 article on Masterpieces of African Art from the collection of the late Werner Muensterberger at Sotheby's New York
See The City Review article on the Spring 2012 Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas auction at Christie's New York
See The City Review article on the Spring 2009 auction of African and Oceanic Art from the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2008 African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian art auction at Christie's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2008 African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbia art auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on Spring 2008 African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on Spring 2007 African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Saul and Marsha Stanoff Collection of African, Oceanic, Pre-Columbian and Indian Art auction at Sotheby's May 17, 2007
See The City Review Article on the William Brill Collection of African Art at Sotheby's November 17, 2006
See The City Review article on the Fall 2006 African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian art auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2005 African & Oceanic art auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2005 African & Oceanic Art auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2004 African & Oceanic Art auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2004 African & Oceanic Art auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2003 Tribal Art auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2003 Tribal Art auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2002 Tribal Art auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2002 Tribal Art auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Fall 2001 African & Oceanic Art auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Spring 2000 African and Oceanic Art auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Fall 1999 African and Oceanic Art auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Spring 1999 African and Oceanic Art auction at Sotheby's
See The City Review article on the Fall 1998 Sotheby's African and Oceanic Art auction
See The City Review article on the Spring 1998 Sotheby's African and Oceanic Art auction

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