Sotheby’s New York spring sale of African Oceanic and pre-Columbian art achieves $10,165,325

NEW YORK – The May 2008 spring sale of African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art achieved a total of $10,165,325 (est. $4.7-$6.7 million). The sales room was full, with active bidding from clients both in the room and on the telephone.

Heinrich Schweizer, Department Head of African and Oceanic Art in New York, said, “We are extremely pleased with the total of over $10 million, repeated for the second consecutive year for our various-owners sale of African, oceanic and pre-Columbian art in New York. The results of the auction showed many works achieving prices that are many multiple times their high estimates.”

Jean Fritts, worldwide director of African and oceanic art said, “Following the record results for this category in New York in May of 2007, this sale shows that New York is an exceptional marketplace in which traditional buyers of African and oceanic art compete with collectors of other categories of art. In today’s sale, we saw significant crossover interest from collectors of Impressionist and modern and contemporary art who are entering the field at the very highest levels of quality, seeking to collect great masterpieces.”

baga serpant carvingThe outstanding highlight of the sale was a magnificent Baga serpent (shown at left), an impressive sculptural object from the Republic of Guinea from the Dinhofer Collection. Bidding for the Baga serpent continued for several minutes, with competition from multiple clients before selling to applause for $3,289,000 (est. $1.5-$2 million), setting a record for a Baga sculpture at auction.

Another highlight from the Dinhofer collection was a Teke male power figure (Democratic Republic of the Congo), which sold to a bidder in the room for $301,000 (est. $100,000-$150,000), setting a record for a Teke sculpture at auction.

From the Walter and Molly Bareiss collection of African art, a Songye community power figure brought bids from interested clients in the room and on the phone, selling for $451,000 (est. $250,000-$350,000).

Recognition in the marketplace for works of great quality and age from East Africa was demonstrated by a Tanzanian, possibly Kerewe, female figure, which sold for many times above its high estimate for $205,000 (against an estimate of $15,000-$25,000), setting a record for an East African sculpture at auction. Another highlight from this region was a Kamba male power figure (Kenya), which brought $61,000 (est. $7,000-$10,000).

From a private collection, a Punu mask (Gabon, estimated at $60,000-$90,000), fetched a price of $337,000. This lost treasure was published in 1915 in a seminal book entitled Negerplastik by Carl Einstein, which had great influence on artists of the 20th century who bought the book and studied its objects.

Also from a private collection, a Luba Hermaphrodite figure (Democratic Republic of the Congo), a masterful example of Luba artistry, was highly sought after, bringing $511,000 (est. $80,000-$120,000).

A rare Dogon cliff painting (Mali) from an American private collection more than doubled its high estimate, bringing $91,000 (est. $25,000-$35,000). Also from an American private collection, a Sherbo female figure (Sierra Leone) fetched $46,000 (est. $15,000-$25,000).

From a private British collection, a Toma mask (Liberia) exceeded its estimate of $30,000-$50,000 to sell for $67,000.

Works from Nigeria were highly sought after and brought great prices. Two lots that came from a German private collection demonstrated the American market’s appreciation for works with strength in their sculptural quality: an Ijo fish headcrest (Nigeria) realized $79,000 (est. $40,000-$60,000); and an Ishtan mask from Nigeria sold for $103,000 (est. $30,000-$50,000).

Smaller objects achieved strong prices. A highlight was a magnificent Vili kneeling figure (Democratic Republic of the Congo), which surpassed its estimate of $30,000-$50,000 to realize a price of $289,000. A Bembe male ancestor figure, also of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, sold for $109,000 (est. $50,000-$70,000).


From the Oceanic offerings, a Nias male ancestor figure (Republic of Indonesia) more than tripled its estimate of $40,000-$60,000 to achieve a price of $157,000. A Marshall Islands pounder, made from the shell of a giant clam brought $73,000 (est. $20,000-$30,000). Only a very small number of these pounders are known to exist.

Another highlight from the Oceanic section was a Hawaiian bowl, featuring a fine lustrous dark brown patina, which sold for $85,000 (est. $7,000-$10,000).


The selection of 30 pre-Columbian objects was highlighted by a large Olmec jade mask, Middle Preclassic, circa 900-300 BC, which sold for $481,000 (est. $400,000-$600,000), setting a record for an Olmec mask at auction.

A Tiwanaku wood beaker, circa AD 500-1000, which fetched $43,000 (est. $35,000-$45,000), was purchased for an American museum.

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