This year I didn't
participate in the show since I had an ongoing New Guinea exhibit at my gallery.
However, I was at the show everyday observing and talking to everyone which
gave me a fairly clear perspective.
The show promoters
organized this year with their usual artistic expertise. The show was
attractive from entrance to end, and had the appealing foyer display attendees
have come to expect. Opening night was as lavish as past years, although
attendance seemed down, possibly due to the economy and the fact that the ticket
price had not been lowered from past years.
It seems to me that
what was once an "international" show has been slowly evolving into a "local" one. It was only a
few years ago when you would see "top tier" dealers from the Paris and Brussels
galleries exhibiting or visiting the show. They weren't represented at the
show for the most part, which also excluded many of their customers. Just a few years ago
the show was buzzing with the best dealers and collectors from the East Coast
but they were sparse as well. As late as 2007 this popular show was
packed with European dealers mostly because the promoters were giving them
priority. It was truly an international show back then with some stellar
material to draw in visitors. Five years later it has contracted to a kind
of regional/ domestic show and today it is drifting toward the label of being
called a "local show". I've talked to several dealers who said they had to
persuade their out-of-state customers to attending the show this year. The
sad truth is that after three quarters of the European dealers left the show, it
has been suffering from a deficit of quality. That's undisputable. There are still good pieces
there but the "perception" of lesser quality is a dangerous narrative that
may be taking hold.
Overall there was a distinct lack of exciting material which seems to be the new
Paradigm. Unfortunately more key dealers, known for their fresh material
and quality, dropped out of the show. They included, Kevin Conru, Michael
Evans, Ben Hunter, Jim Hart & Loretta Carbonaro, Craig De Lora, Galerie Flak,
Jackaranda Tribal Art, Tribalmania, Lewis Wara Gallery, and others. For
the most part a new mix of jewelry and rug dealers occupied these booths.
If the show continues to lose "tribal dealers", honestly there won't be much
write about anymore.
On the flip side, his year sales seemed "slightly" improved over last year. Customers
seemed to be a bit more upbeat and ready to wade back in the market. I
attribute this to a modest up-tick in consumer confidence. The remaining
tribal dealers seemed to benefit from reduced competition created by the many
dealers which dropped out. This natural process of attrition and
transition seemed to create market equilibrium, a rare first, under the roof of
the "Festival Pavilion" building. In past years the large number of
dealers and vast supply of Tribal Art have always eclipsed the small pool of
buyers. That pretty much changed this year and the dealers that hung
in there found less competition for their pieces.
So the "right-sizing"
of the show took place this year. The market has basically determined the
correct size of the show and the mix of dealers. It was
unrealistic to think that its scale and intensity, seen in 2006 and before,
could be maintained indefinitely, especially in a climate of economic headwinds.
dealer I know of who sold well, exceeding expectations, there were an equal
amount who sold poorly and this included established dealers who
typically sell well in San Francisco..! The trend of Oceanic material
selling better than African continues. To be blunt, the African material
was largely uninspiring. Its pretty clear that San Francisco is not the best city to sell high
end African art-- the customers aren't here. Five years ago it seemed like it was a good
African selling venue but that was
largely because a few "key buyers" were once active in the market.
reshuffled the African and Indonesian vetting committees this year adding Pierre
Loos from Brussels for African. Bringing in outside experts, like I've
advocated, is a step in the right direction but more are needed to replace ALL of the dealers
who formerly vetted.
Some inside baseball..... Some African dealers told me privately that they
resented pieces being removed from their booths during the vetting process by dealers they felt were less qualified.
Often pieces that were vetted out wound up
back in the show making it frustrating for those doing the vetting.
Vetting is like the ugly process of "sausage making" and is best outsourced to
objective independent experts to get their hands dirty.
Many dealers were
still trying to make sales by showing existing inventory familiar to many of us.
This is a very "capital intensive" business often requiring LARGE cash
investments for new material. In this economy, capital is what most
dealers lack, BUT it is the new, undiscovered, and exciting material that
collectors "hope" to see every year. Unless a dealer has very deep pockets
or has access to great material on consignment, they may not be able to
I heard there was
a new collector from southern California who was a new attendee, and a Museum
curator who was lining up pieces to present to their board of directors for purchase.
With those two exceptions, it appeared the same contingent of old buyers were
active. There are always one or two dealers who take the Lion's share of
business. This year a European dealer, sold 18 pieces totaling over $200K.
Half of these pieces had been purchased from other dealers prior to the shows
opening! Nice going-- the Midas touch I guess?
I disagree with some of my colleagues who say sales were
better this year because of an improving economy. Maybe?
Consumer confidence did seem more upbeat, possibly because of a rising stock
market, but we are not out of the woods yet and this is an anemic recovery at
best. The U.S. economy is still skimming the bottom. The GDP growth
rate in 2011 was just 1.5%. Coming out of a recession historically we've
had growth rates of 4-6% GDP. The real unemployment rate "U6" is still
very high at 15% and includes people who have stopped looking for work.
There has never been an economic recovery without the housing market strongly
rebounding and leading the way higher. However, the housing market remains
weak with prices nationally back down to 2001 levels despite record low interest
rates. The spike in gasoline prices alone can throw a wet blanket on any
economy recovery, because for every cent increase in gas prices, a billion
dollars is taken out of the economy. So a one dollar increase in the price
can take a Trillion out of the economy. In central Europe there is
no recovery, just the prospects of a longer recession and an unresolved debt
crisis. The geopolitical tensions in the Middle East get more serious by
the day and it now seems imminent that Iran's nuclear sites will be struck.
Not to be a downer, but a sustained economic recovery seems far from
James Stephenson (Brooklyn) with a rotund and noteworthy Mende female figure
(Stephenson) Pair of Kamba figures from Kenya
James Willis (San Francisco) chatting with customers
Galen Lowe (Seattle) with a fine selection of mostly Japanese art
Galen Lowe (Seattle)
Andres Moraga (Berkley) has been a fixture at the front of the show since it
Andres next to a woven Algerian Woman's wrap, Kaba'il People, circa 1880
(Moraga) This unusual looking piece is a Kuba hat with applied takula
powder, worn by pregnant women for 9 months
Bruce Frank (New York)
always has fresh material of interest to connoisseurs
(Frank) Detail of a
fine Korwar charm with child
(Frank cont.) An
early New Guinea Upper Sepik Pottery bowl and a large Philippine Bulul wearing an
Brant Mackley & friend (Hershey Penn.)
(Mackley) Iroquois False face mask
(Mackley) handsome contents in his display case!
Booth of Gary Spratt and Miranda Crimp (Mill Valley)
Detail of a fine
Navajo weaving which was woven for the Wetherill family at Mesa Verde, Colorado
in the 1880-90, Wool dyed with vegetable and aniline dyes in a classic period
Miranda Crimp always has a terrific selection of Jewelry. The beaded
blouse on the wall is from the Bagobo people of Mindanao (S. Philippines)
These Batak "Singa" heads from Sumatra came from the ends of a large dowry
Photographer, traveler and collector Mike Glad's booth. Mike was selling
DVD's of a hard-hitting documentary he produced called "Recycled
Life". It is about people deriving sustenance from the largest
garbage dump/landfill in
Central America. It is heart-breaking but worth a look.
Mark Johnson's booth
(Mark Johnson) Modang
Leonardo Vigorelli- Dalton Somare (Milan) with a large Maori figure
Small Songye Fetish
(Cooner) Wearing a
18th c. or earlier "European" festival mask. Joel loved to quiz
people where the mask is from.
Joel Cooner (Dallas)
chatting with Christina Hellmich- Curator of the AOA Department de Young Museum
(Cooner) with an
important Dayak panel collected in 1898
Expressive Japanese Oni candlestick
vagina representations! Left: African Bellows, Right: a Columbia
River arrow straightening stone
Tom Murray (center)
next to Raphael Reichert collector, sculptor and Art Professor. During the
show, Tom celebrated his "39th" birthday.
(Tom Murray) Far
right, a pair of Philippine standing Bulul figures made by the noted carver "Tagiling"
Booth of art dealer
Ernie Wolf- Los Angeles
Booth of Wayne Heathcote who was not present at the show. Jack Sadovnic
(left) talking with Bruce Carpenter
a complete New Guinea Vokeo Island mask
GO TO PAGE 2 --->
and photos by Michael Auliso)
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