figure (iginga), 16.5 cm 18th century
TM: You and
Bobbie have turned up some fresh discovers apparently by searching out
the relatives and family members from famous voyages and expeditions? Has that type of genealogical research paid dividends for
genealogical research we did was related to the Benin Expedition.
This was something I used to do before I was with Bobbie. At
the time I really knew nothing about running a business and this was
born out of my incredible naivety. I was really an academic
and what interested me was reading books, so I naturally thought I could
do everything through analysis and research. So I would go to a
library, but that was not a very dynamic business plan. We had some
successes and traced some surviving descendants of the exhibition
participants and bought some material from them. We also located
some material that was not available. It was successful relative
to our career levels at the time which were the early days.
But it was certainly not a viable business model and I would
never dream of doing it today. If I had gone to African with a
few empty sacks and gone into Nigeria the way Jacques Kercache did or
Philippe Guimoit did, that would have been a more viable plan.
That said, I enjoyed the treasure hunt aspect of it. I enjoyed
crunching the data as it were, and the sleuthing aspect of it. This
still occasionally comes into play but it tends to be more now with
tracking down provenances and finding out early histories of things.
TM: Can you
recall an especially interesting story which involved a great find?
I can tell you
a modestly amusing one which involved Bobbie and my in-laws on a trip to
Scotland. Bobbie said look, "this is the deal, no antique shops.
We're not going to ruin my father and mothers experience by stopping at
every antique shop we pass". So I reluctantly agreed to that deal.
We were looking for a traditional Scottish Tea Shop with scones. I dropped
everyone off and went to park the car. I passed an antique shop
and saw a spear in the window. After the Tea Shop I said more or less
on bended knee, please I saw a spear in that shop can I go ask
them if they have anything else? The shop owner was having a long
conversation with someone. This was awkward because I needed to get
back and didn't want to screw things up with the in-laws. I
eventually interrupted him and said, I see you have a spear in the
window. Do you have any other African things? He said "What, you
mean like Benin Bronzes for example?" I said, "yeah right like
Benin Bronzes." He said, "Yes, Just wait while I finish with
this customer". At that point I would have waited all night to
see it! He had a Benin Bronze figure but it was in the bank vault, so I
later made an appointment to see it. He flew to London to show me and it
turned out it was a rather fabulous piece. To cut a long story
short we bought the piece from him and it ended up in The Met.
That was the one and only antique shop we went into during the whole
trip. That was kind of serendipity.
I have another
story but I can't talk about it because we have not gotten to the end of
it. This story which I give a fifty-fifty chance has been going on
for 25 years. It involved some genealogical research and other
research with some amazing coincidences and funny twists and
turns. Right now I can't discuss it because it is in play.
understand you have a massive library of books at your London gallery
spanning floor to ceiling?
Yes, the books
are under the eves of a rooftop and the shelves run about 15 feet high.
The building was built in 1890-1910 as an art dealing concern. It
was obviously a very grand affair at the time. I don't
actually know who the original occupants were, I should find that out.
The showroom is setup as a library where we show art but we actually
focus our inventory in Paris. The environment of books is a
very good environment for selling because it is knowledge.
Knowledge in our business is security. Buyers, with good reason in
my opinion are cautious since this field is fraught with authenticity
problems. Buyers are reassured by knowledge.
By the way
going back to your question about reputation and mystique, one of
the things we always provided, particularly in the early days,
was very extensive write ups and documentation to our clients. One
of my colleagues Alain de Monbrison, bitterly reproached me. He
said "It is just terrible what you've done; now we all have to do it".
We did become a little bit lazy about it but now we have a fulltime
researcher and archivist which serve us well.
TM: You knew
many of the great collectors like George Ortiz, Douglas Newton and
others. How much knowledge has been lost and can it ever be recovered?
I think I can
say to collectors without being unfair to them, that many are not fulltime
collectors but dealers are fulltime dealers. The greatest
repository of knowledge, generally speaking, is held by the dealers.
Sadly very few dealers are also scholars. It is in the nature of
it, they don't have the time, and you can't be a businessman and a scholar
at the same time. You can be a "well informed" dealer, a
professional with good connoisseurship, a great eye and great knowledge
but not be a great scholar and recorder of the information you have.
Consequently, I think the greatest loss to the business is the loss of
dealer knowledge. The one saving grace is that particularly like
in a city like Paris, where there is a certain "milieu" where
these events take place, knowledge is shared.
There is a passage of knowledge from older to younger.
I think one of the great benefits that any beginning dealer has in Paris is
that they can very quickly acquire knowledge. Whereas, I think in
the states it is much more dispersed. I think in California you do
have some good people and some people who share knowledge but it is not
as intense; they don't sit around the cafe sharing information the way
you have in Paris. They don't meet on the doorstep of Drouot and
discuss the finer points of Fiji Clubs. So you have a culture of
connoisseurship in France where there is some transmission of this
information but a huge amount gets lost. I think another point is
that, whereas we once sold the Rubinstein Fang Head and are unlikely to
ever sell it again; many younger dealers will not have the opportunity.
just for purely logistical reasons, not because they are not talented or
dynamic but the material is just not there to be handled.
That is a disadvantage.
TM: Do you see
fewer generations of art dealers emerging? As great
material gets more scarce and costly, couldn't our business be in danger of
some aspects or some fields of the art business have historically gone
extinct, or relatively so, by virtue of the lack of material. I mean
if material all ends up in institutions it's no longer available to
deal. The possibility of creating excitement and interest among
the collecting community diminishes. It is not because there is
not enough for the dealers to work with but it is because there is not
enough for the collectors to buy. If you have an active
collecting community then there will be dealers to service it. A
field on the decline would be the case with medieval art. It
has been attenuated with very few dealers because there are so few
pieces and overall the connoisseurship of collectors needed to support
is diminished. Certainly if there were more material the field it would
be more viable.
I don't presently see that as being a problem in
Tribal Art. I think what we're going to see, or what we are
seeing is a higher rate of rotation. We've seen that in the
picture (painting) field. It is going to slow down in the next two
years as sellers become more skittish because of uncertain (sale)
results. They'll say, "let's get out- get out!" It is
proverbial that high prices bring material to the market, so material has
been coming up particularly from discretionary sellers as opposed to
see a generational shift here where certain collectors
and their collections are going to come to the market. Its a bit
sad since many of these people are my friends and have been my clients
for years. There is a
whole generation of collectors who came on strong in the 70's and early
80's who are now quite elderly. Some of their collections, like
the Rosenthal sale at Sotheby's for example, will come up to stimulate
interest and renew the market. Even if prices are depressed, that
can be good because it can result in greater distribution which
isn't a bad thing.
I used to be
pessimistic about the future, but I've seen there are people like you who are enterprising and finding new
ways to deal will always make it. So I'm fairly sanguine on it.
I also know very well that there is nothing more replaceable than
a dealer. I could retire, disappear, whatever... and the market
would not miss a heartbeat. That is just the way it is. Its
"tough titty" but we are completely dispensable to the operation of the
market. I've seen the good and the great disappear
progressively over the years. It doesn't make a dime of
advice would you give to new collectors entering the market?
There is one
bit of advice that nobody wants to hear which is do your homework.
I say that both to help encourage new collectors to look after their own
interest and also from a self-interested point of view, because I think
that responsible honest dealers benefit from having informed clients.
The old adage, "the best client is an educated client"; it's true if
you're selling good stuff. There is a MASSIVE kind of "hinterland"
in dealing in the most appalling kind of fakery. Even in France
where we've said there is this level connoisseurship, there are auctions
almost on a daily basis in different provincial centers. You see
the "La Gazette Drouot" they sell rafts of stuff and just churn it
basically. They take it to Reims, offer 200 lots, 20 of them sell
then they take it down to Cannes, sell a bit and add 20 lots... It's an
absolutely appalling system and the same thing is happening on eBay.
It's very unfortunate, but in a sense collectors get the collection they
deserve. So if they want to deceive themselves, well that's their
TM: Although you sell at the top level, isn't it also important for there to
be a healthy middle market for the longevity of this business?
I think where
I always see a problem is the definition of the "middle market".
Does the middle market refer to a "price point" or to a level of
"quality"? Because you can have a minor piece, take a Bembe figurine
where you could have a price spread of between $3,000 and
$120,000. Now, some people would say well what is the middle
market? Is it $60,000 or maybe $120,000 is the middle market; it
might be the top of the market? That would be the supreme
example. But if you took the spectrum represented by that
particular category of objects and took the middle point, the mean,
you're always going to have a problematical area. What you're talking
about is something that is in the middle range of quality for what it is
and costing quite a lot of money.
In my view you can not make it a
price point. You have to make it a quality spectrum. The
small collector can get their hands on the 2's, 3's and 4's because they
are not expensive and easier to assess on a quality basis. When
you get to the middle range, the 5's and 6's in the quality spectrum
then it becomes more difficult because people are being asked to pay
plenty of money for something that isn't great. At that point the small
collector can't afford it and the big collector says, "Are you telling
me this is a 6? I only want an 8 plus so I would rather wait and
pay $120,000 for my Bembe than get a so-so example." So if the
middle market is defined as a price point the question is a little
meaningless, but if it is defined in quality terms then the middle
market is always a problem. The middle market always gets hurt and
would be hurt now.
steady appreciation over the past years, what do you see happening to
the market for tribal art in the next 3 to 5 years?
optimistic. I do think there are grounds for caution because the
American market, which has always been an engine in the art market, has
not developed so much in terms of younger collectors. I'm starting
to see some now, but in a slightly different pattern than emerged in
the 70's and 80's where you had a very broad base. Today you have
a got certain number of strong players. Some at the top of
the market and some near the top that is active and able to support a
significant part of the market. I think you have a different kind
of player now. The professional class like Doctors, Psychiatrists, etc,
has a tough time competing on prices anymore. So you're looking
to people who have much more significant means but consequently become
bigger players since they can buy more and more often.
It is not a
secret I worked with Bill Ziff. He had an appetite to buy not only
some terrific things but to buy them in depth. He bought
many things in a way most collectors were not able to do, so we had a
major player. In Klejman's early days you had a similar phenomenon.
In the 1960's there were fewer players but there were meaningful ones like Jay Leff, Rockefeller, and the
De Menil who could spend a great deal of
money and buy frequently. After that it became more democratized
and broader based. I think it has shrunk again where you have many smaller players. I think the middle market is probably weak
extends its sincere gratitude and appreciation to Lance for offering
his insightful and timely views!
Entwistle France SARL
L & R Entwistle and Co Ltd
5 rue des Beaux
Arts 144 New Bond Street
Paris London W1S 2TR
T +33 (0)1
5310 0202 T +44 (0)20 7499 6969
F +33 (0)1
4326 3030 D +44 (0)20 7290 3682
Conservation, Purchase Advice, Selling Advice and Sales