How African Art Meets Contemporary Artists

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African and Oceanic artworks capture the imagination of artists today. The charm lies in their vitality: objects such as sculpted masks made to be worn during festivities, or wooden figures built to guard people’s huts are inextricably linked to the lives of their makers. Earlier this month, the Galerie Charpentier at Sotheby’s in Paris exhibited highlights from the upcoming African and Oceanic Art and Contemporary Art sales to be held respectively on 21 June and 6–7 June 2017 in Paris. Click ahead to see highlights and to read Sotheby’s Carolina Mostert’s insights into the influence of the works.

Art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas
15 May 2017 | New York

Art Contemporain Vente du Soir
6 June 2017 | Paris

Arts d'Afrique et d'Océanie
21 June 2017 | Paris

How African Art Meets Contemporary Artists

  • Claude Viallat, Untitled, acrylic on felt. Estimate: €10,000-15,000. From Contemporary Art Day Sale, Paris, 7 June 2017.
    Akan head, Côte d’Ivoire. From African and Oceanic Art, Paris, 21 June 2017.
    Dogon statue, Mali. From African and Oceanic Art, Paris, 21 June 2017.
    Untitled is not stretched over a frame, as a canvas typically would be. Claude Viallat liberates the surface, choosing not to mount it but to leave it unrestrained. The Dogon figure standing before the work seems to hint, with irony, precisely at the absence of traditional stretchers. The outstretched arms imply a prayer: they mean to pull closer the clouds whose rain will purge the world of evil. In opposite ways, the statue from Mali and the Contemporary artwork made out of felt evoke the same thing: freedom.

  • Female Statue, Lake Sentani, Papua, Indonesia. Estimate: $1,000,000-1,500,000. From Art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, New York, 15 May 2017.
    Simon Hantai, Mariale, MD 4, signed and dated 62, 1962, oil on canvas. Estimate on request. Contemporary Art Evening sale, New York, 18 May 2017.
    African and Oceanic artworks capture the imagination of artists today. The charm lies in their vitality: objects such as sculpted masks made to be worn during festivities, or wooden figures built to guard people’s huts are inextricably linked to the lives of their makers. 

  • Bioma statue, Papua New Guinea. Estimate: €50,000-70,000. From African and Oceanic Art, Paris, 21 June 2017.
    Jean Dubuffet, Deux personnages coiffés de chapeaux, signed with initials and dated 62, 1962, gouache on paper. Estimate: €150,000-200,000. From Contemporary Art Day Sale, Paris, 7 June 2017.
    For Jean Dubuffet, the works hung on the walls of psychiatric hospitals drawn by mentally ill patients carried a spark. He called this art brut, because it clung, desperately, to life. The detailed carvings running through Bioma, the statue from Papua New Guinea exhibited alongside Dubuffet’s drawing, add a layer of meaning to its elongated body. These details are seemingly lost in Dubuffet’s Deux personnages coiffés de chapeaux. Yet the hats draw attention to the personnages’ heads. In this they recall the chiseled decorations encircling Bioma’s face, whose neat geometry also praises the treasure of man: his thinking machine.

  • Kongo-Vili statue, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Estimate: €100,000-150,000. From African and Oceanic Art, Paris, 21 June 2017.
    Lega Mask, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Estimate: $100,000-150,000. From Art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, New York, 15 May 2017.
    Franz West, Adaptive, 2002, epoxy, foam, plaster and paint. Estimate: €80,000-120,000. From Contemporary Art Day Sale, Paris, 7 June 2017.
    Tsogho/Eshira seat, Gabon. From African and Oceanic Art, Paris, 21 June 2017.
    The African mask Nabaka takes its name from a stream that crosses the Congo region in Africa. Many other streams interrupt its flow. As waters join and separate, the land takes form around their weaving course. Franz West’s amorphous sculpture is shaped by the interaction of epoxy, foam, plaster and paint. Sitting hunchbacked on the floor, Adaptive is not imposing: it merges with the space it inhabits, like water in a riverbed.


  • Franz West, Adaptive, 2002, epoxy, foam, plaster and paint. Estimate: €80,000-120,000. From Contemporary Art Day Sale, Paris, 7 June 2017.
    Ngbaka mask, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Estimate: €200,000-300,000. From African and Oceanic Art, Paris, 21 June 2017.
    Martin Barré, 82 – 84, 104 x 100, signed and titled, 1982-1984. Estimate: €40,000-60,000. From Contemporary Art Day Sale, Paris, 7 June 2017.
    The sharp geometry of Martin Barré’s canvas clashes with the gnarled appearance of Adaptive. The title 82–84 refers to the years when it was painted, between 1982 and 1984. So the simple straight lines drawn by Barré can be seen to mark the passing of time: something that cannot be molded like space, but is unchangeable in its linear, relentless progression.

  • Simon Hantaï, Meun, signed with initials and dated 68, 1968, oil on canvas. Estimate: €120,000-180,000. From Contemporary Art Evening Sale, Paris, 6 June 2017.
    Bamileke dance cap, Cameroon. From African and Oceanic Art, Paris, 21 June 2017.
  • Carlos Cruz-Diez, Physicromie no. 1024, signed and dated Paris 1983, 1983, acrylic and plastic on panel. Estimate: €80,000-120,000. From Contemporary Art Day Sale, Paris, 7 June 2017.
    Aztec figure of a Corn Goddess, circa 1300-1500 AD. Estimate: $150,000-200,000. From Art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, New York, 15 May 2017.
    Maya sculpture of a serpent, circa 550-950 AD. Estimate: $150,000-250,000. From Art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, New York, 15 May 2017.
    The Aztec figure is shaped as a woman to represent the Corn goddess; the sculpture delineates an animal meant to evoke a Mayan deity. These artworks are the material embodiment of incorporeal spirits. Similarly, through acrylic and plastic lines, Cruz-Diez’s Physicromie explores the physical dimension of a bodiless thing: colour.

  • Takashi Murakami, Untitled, signed and dated 2012, acrylic on canvas. Estimate: $150,000-200,000. From Contemporary Art Evening Sale, Paris, 6 June 2017.
    Andy Warhol, Pat Hearn, signed and dated 85, acrylic and serigraphic ink on canvas. Estimate: €300,000-400,000. From Contemporary Art Day Sale, Paris, 7 June 2017.
    Chokwe Female Statue, Angola. Estimate: $1,500,000-2,500,000. From Art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, New York, 15 May 2017.
    Lumbu reliquary figure, Gabon. From African and Oceanic Art, Paris, 21 June 2017.
  • Andy Warhol, Pat Hearn, signed and dated 85, acrylic and serigraphic ink on canvas. Estimate: €300,000-400,000.
    Chokwe Female Statue, Angola. Estimate: $1,500,000-2,500,000. From Art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, New York, 15 May 2017.
    Chokwe is a fertility statue whose substance is not restricted to female sexuality. Traditionally, the Chokwe tribe from Angola recognises mothers as the ideal women, praising the fundamental role they play in raising future leaders. Andy Warhol was known for his fascination with mass production. It informed his portrayal of both objects and people. The fact that Pat Hearn appears several times in his canvas seemingly undermines the person’s uniqueness. And yet Warhol’s serigraphy focuses on one of the most distinguished art dealers of the 20th century. Pat Hearn might be the portrait of just another celebrity. But by immortalizing her, Warhol also commemorated the immense contribution she made to the art world. In this, the pop artwork recalls Chokwe: both pay homage to women devoted to their communities.

  • Takashi Murakami, Untitled, signed and dated 2012, acrylic on canvas. Estimate: $150,000-200,000. From Contemporary Art Evening Sale, Paris, 6 June 2017.
    Lumbu reliquary figure, Gabon. From African and Oceanic Art, Paris, 21 June 2017.
    Takashi Murakami’s signature superflat style is inspired by Japanese anime and manga. ‘Superflat’ refers to the characteristic two-dimensionality of the cartoon characters featuring in these media. But it might also imply a pungent reference to the shallowness of consumer culture. Emptiness is a key feature of the reliquary figure from Gabon exhibited nearby Murakami’s Untitled. The concave space held between the figure’s hands is the repository for sacred things, such as a dead person’s bones. Lumbu is the case of a useful object becoming an artwork, whose practicality is turned into a thing of beauty. In this, it is a key to Murakami’s art: the superflat aesthetic is actually motivated by a harder, cultural critique.

  • John Armleder, Calamintha Nepeta, signed, titled and dated 2008, mixed media on canvas. Estimate: €60,000-80,0000. From Contemporary Art Day Sale, Paris, 7 June 2017.
    Bas-Sepik mask, Papua New Guinea. From African and Oceanic Art, Paris, 21 June 2017.
    Uli statue, New Ireland, Melanesia. From African and Oceanic Art, Paris, 21 June 2017.
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