In the 20th century, many European and American artists became increasing interested in the artwork of primary cultures from sub-Saharan Africa, the Pacific Islands, ancient Mesoamerica and North America, often adding these works to their personal collections. Sotheby’s upcoming auctions The Collection of Howard and Saretta Barnet and Art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas (both 14 May, New York) present a unique selection of works that were owned by some of the 20th-century's most daring artists. Discover the stories of these artworks and their owners below.
1. Wolfgang Paalen Shaman’s Mask
This shaman’s mask was collected in southeast Alaska by the artist and influential theorist Wolfgang Paalen, who travelled there in 1939. During the few months which Paalen spent on the Northwest Coast he assembled a remarkable collection, which in addition to these masks included the famous Chief Shakes house partition screen, now in the Denver Art Museum (inv. no. 1951.315). Paalen illustrated the Barnet mask and other objects collected during his stay in the special "Amerindian Issue" of his journal DYN, a publication which was notable for the influence it had on the then emerging artists William Baziotes, Robert Motherwell, and Jackson Pollock.
2. Maurice de Vlaminck’s Baule Figure
The present statue is a dynamic masterwork by an accomplished sculptor, and an unusually large and fine example of the sacred art of one of Africa’s key classical cultures: the Baule of present-day Côte d’Ivoire. It once belonged to the Fauvist painter Maurice de Vlaminck, who was at the very center of the “discovery” of African art by Europeans and the introduction of African artistic concepts into European modern art. As one of the earliest and most influential European proponents of the appreciation of African art, Vlaminck transmitted his fascination with the plastic originality and expressiveness of African forms to other artists with whom he was closely associated, including Andre Derain, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso.
3. Andy Warhol’s Guro Pulley
Known as a particularly eclectic collector, Andy Warhol gathered an enormous number of works of art and objects ranging from paintings and drawings by his fellow artist friends to Art Deco jewelry. After Warhol’s death in 1987, Sotheby’s sold most of these artworks and artifacts in one of the most celebrated estate sales of the twentieth century, spanning three days and featuring no less than 10,000 lots. Among the small number of African sculptures in Warhol’s collection was this sensitively-rendered Guro heddle pulley.
4. Earl Horter’s Bamana Mask
An American artist working in the early twentieth century, Earl Horter was a proponent of the ideas in modern art percolating in Europe at the time. Like fellow Philadelphian Dr. Albert C. Barnes, Horter not only collected modernist masterpieces but also took an interest in the cubist forms of certain African traditions. Horter enthusiastically loaned this Bamana mask to MoMA director Alfred Barr for his audacious landmark exhibition African Negro Art, held at the museum in the spring of 1935. The mask, closely related to one that Barnes acquired, was photographed by Walker Evans for his famous portfolio of objects from the exhibition.
5. Tristan Tzara’s Bete Mask
This highly geometric mask from the Bete people of present-day Côte d’Ivoire passed through the hands of several revolutionary twentieth-century artists, including one of the founders of Dadaism, Tristan Tzara. Remembered primarily for his philosophical contributions to the movement, Tzara published important manifestos on behalf of the group and organized early Dadaist performances at the famed Café Voltaire. During these performances, Tzara incorporated elements from traditional rituals of African and Oceanic cultures, by which he was endlessly fascinated. Before this Bete mask came into Tzara’s possession, it may have also belonged to the Fauvist painter Maurice de Vlaminck. At an auction of Tzara’s collection in 1988 the mask was acquired by Arman, the French Nouveau Realist who shared the Dadaists’ interest in using everyday objects to create ready-mades.