La Gazette Drouot
Enchères - The Kerchache spirit
The Kerchache spirit
The Anne and Jacques Kerchache collection offered a journey that was not restricted to Tribal Art alone, but also encompassed living creation and other fields
Jacques Kerchache was above all a superbly acute eye served by an immense culture, and spurred on by limitless curiosity. The collection he gathered together with his wife Anne is the reflection of this all-out passion. The total of €7,508,240 including costs fetched by the collection thus covers a wide range between African masterpieces and more modest pieces. In the interview he gave to La Gazette, Pierre Amrouche, one of the specialists for the sale, said that the dispersion was important because it meant that objects could be acquired "representative of the taste and spirit of a man who made a fundamental mark on Tribal Art at the end of the 20th century." (See The Event, page 47 of Gazette no. 22). This meant that for a few hundred Euros, many numbers in the catalogue provided a chance to buy objects whose aesthetic quality alone qualified them for the very special world of this tireless militant for Tribal Art. The exhibition at Drouot-Montaigne, magnificently staged by Nathalie Crinière, truly conveyed the spirit of a collector haunted by the image of death – he was, after all, very ill – but never morbid.  The erudite and intellectual man always shone through as much as the man of the field, tormented by questions of why and how. The auction started with the heart of the collection, African Art, which attracted the lion's share of the sale's six-figure bids. On this occasion, the Musée du Quai Branly paid tribute to one of the people who enabled the museum to exist by pre-empting the most expensive lot in the sale, the Chokwe statue reproduced on the right-hand page. This king garnered the trifling sum of €1.2 M, thus setting the world record for a Chokwe sculpture. It was brought back between 1893 and 1894 by a missionary who had himself received it from a Chokwe chief at the Quibicolo mission in northern Angola. As the Byeri Fang reliquary female figure (see photo page 44, Gazette no. 22) found no takers, second place was occupied at €500,000 by a Hemba statue (Democratic Republic of Congo) in wood with a glossy black patina, encrusted in places (h. 63 cm).
This effigy of a male ancestor probably comes from the Kubangula region, north of Luika. In his book on the Hembas, François Neyt writes: "To our eyes, the balance of the forms, the carving of the face and the serenity of this ancestral effigy with its hieratic feel make for the very model of the art of these people."  €230,000 went to a Mumuye statue (Nigeria) in wood with a dark patina, with traces of kaolin, fibres and pearls (h. 108 cm). This long, anthropomorphic character has the rare feature of being carved with a single arm. According to Kerchache, "We know of only two examples of one-armed statues; they represented a particular ancestor or spirit." The small, spherical head is reduced to the essential, all expression in the end residing in the balanced proportions and powerful volumes. Another Mumuye statue went for €210,000, doubling its estimate. This wooden piece (h. 82 cm) represents a standing figure with tapering forms. The small head, again perched on a high neck, is in the form of an inverted triangle, surmounted by a high chignon symbolised by an incised sliver of wood. Small ridges can be seen running over other parts of the sculpture, probably traditional scarification.
€ 34 721.
Odobenus rosmarus, complete skull of a male walrus with tusks, h. 80, l. 24 cm.
According to the catalogue, two Kota Mahongwe reliquary figures constituted "eminently Kerchache objects". These archaeological figures, found and removed by Kerchache himself in the Mekambo region of Gabon, in around 1965-1966, illustrate not only the man's adventurous itinerary (see The Event, Gazette no. 22, page 45), but also his taste. The one reproduced on page 79 was the most sought-after, and at €200,000 doubled its low estimate. The base of this reliquary figure has been preserved virtually intact, which is unusual for a piece buried underground. This was not the case with another reliquary, which sold for €160,000, surpassing its estimate. It has an extraordinary shape, a superb oxidised patina and unusual details in the composition, like the arch joining the eyes to the curve of the nose, whose staple comes out in the middle of the dorsal vein on the back. At €160,000, the estimate was doubled for a large majestic Urhobo female figure (Nigeria) in polychrome wood, with a number of chips and flaws (h. 175 cm). The wide shoulders are joined to the convex chest, the head carries the remains of a three-crested headdress, while the arms are ornamented with wide bracelets.  Another estimate was doubled at €150,000 for a Tiv statue (Nigeria) in wood with a dark patina (h. 60 cm). The woman has a dynamic posture: she stands on slim legs, with her arms folded and her shoulders thrown back. The round, naturalistic face expresses a beautiful internal beauty, the mouth with its full lips framed by oblique scarification. The skull is pierced with holes which used to hold hair. €140,000 – yet another estimate doubled – went on the front part of a ritual Dogon arch (Mali) in two-coloured hardwood (l. 50 cm, h. 45 cm). This features a horse's head, which originally extended a large recipient with flanks historiated with figures. The sculpture is covered with a thick slip many hundreds of years old, consisting of ornamental pigments applied in wide alternating red and black bands. The head is stylised and wears a bridle. Somewhat eroded, a Waaga Konso funerary post (Ethiopia) in hardwood (h. 200 cm) fetched €140,000. It represents a large stylised hieratic figure, whose head is encased in the portrait bust of a deceased person. 
These types of funerary monument, surmounted with a crest, were commissioned while they were alive by Konso men. These commemorative sculptures were housed in necropolises, by the side of the road. We can also cite the €110,000 – once more a double of the estimate – fetched by a Holo hemp mortar from the River Kwango region (Democratic Republic of Congo), in wood with a dark brown patina (h. 28 cm). This represents a squatting man with graceful arms prolonged by long hands encircling the temples, and whose impressive genitalia resting on the convex base form the pestle.
The top of the sculpture is embellished with a medicine receptacle. Tribal Art was also celebrated outside the African continent. First of all, we can cite the €60,000 paid for a jivaro tsantsa (shrunken) head of the Shuar people (Ecuador, Peru), reproduced on page 47 of Gazette no. 22. This is chiefly distinguished by two long locks of hair literally braided with the warm green highlights of a genuine beetle wing case inlay. Collected in 1970 by Pierre Langlois, during one of his expeditions to the South Sea Islands, an anthropomorphic sculpture of the Namatanai region in New Ireland trebled its estimate at €110,000. The wooden weather-patinated post is carved with a long bust of a male figure (h. 130 cm). An even more spectacular price awaited a statue holding a cup from South-east Asia, perhaps from the Philippines, in hardwood with a black patina (h. 38 cm). Estimated at around €2,000, it aroused competition that took it to a staggering €75,000. This male figure is seated, holding a cup with notched edges. This bid was repeated, at three times its estimate, with a village guardian statue collected in 1968 in Northern Orissa, India, by Jean-Louis Roiseux, sent on a mission to this region by our collector. This is in wood with a thick dark brown patina (h. 86 cm). The figure is in the form of a lingam, the large phallomorphic head, its forehead marked with the point of Shiva, presenting stylised features. It bears witness to the aesthetics and beliefs of a primitive Indian tribe. We can also cite the €44,000 fetched by a small Eskimo statue of the Okvik culture on Saint Lawrence Island in Alaska. This is in patinated ivory (h. 14 cm) and dates from between 250 BC and 100 AD. The body has highly simplified features, all the attention focusing on the almond-shaped head with slanting eyes. Okvik ivories are considered the masterpieces of Prehistoric art from this region.
Angola, Chokwe. King playing the sanza, brown wood with glossy patina, traces of implanted hair, one foot of seat missing, h. 37 cm. Pre-empted by the Musée du Quai Branly

€130,000 for an Indian stela
We now return to India, but to more civilised lands, with the €130,000 garnered by a 7th century stela from Karnataka, in the south of the country. This was estimated at no more than €50,000. Made of chlorite schist, it represents Durga, a four-armed female divinity, sitting in lotus position on a lotus-shaped base in front of a mandorla (h. 93 cm). With Japan, we can cite the €75,000 paid for an astonishing 17th century suit of armour composed of fine leather scales with black/brown varnish; China gracefully represented by €34,000 for an 18th century ink and polychrome painting on silk (143 x 102 cm), showing an elegant young woman leaning on a table in front of a round window overlooking a bamboo garden. Part of the collection formed a genuine "cabinet of vanities". We start with €13,000 for the proof of the engraving by Michel Mozyn (50 x 71.8 cm – Paris, Basset, c. 1680), Stipendia peccati mors ("The wages of sin is death", see page 46 of Gazette no. 22). Pre-Columbian art is shown here on the right, with €70,000 fetched by a Mayan sculpture of the Late Classic period (550-950), in stucco (h. 30 cm), representing a death's head in the jaws of a big cat. At €30,000 the estimate was multiplied by ten for an 18th century Tibetan ink and polychrome painting on silk (157 x 144 cm), representing a livid drawn and quartered demon. Immediately before this, a 19th century Tibetan painting provided a lull, at €11,000, for this ink and polychrome painting on canvas (52 x 46 cm) featuring six models of figures carrying information on points of traditional medicine. An almost life-size flayed figure composition (h. 153 cm) went for €5,000. In a certain way, this echoed the 19th century Burmese portrait sculpture in polychrome lacquered wood (h. 159 cm), showing a starving beggar leaning on a cane (€7,000). In this section of strange things, a sculpture – which would not have been disclaimed by André Breton (Kerchache knew him) – went for €7,000. This was formed by a lattice of interlaced bamboo (215 x 165 cm).

Szafran, Rebeyrolle, Fièvres
Now we turn to contemporary versions of Western art, Jacques Kerchache having rubbed shoulders with living creators. As a young man, he was frequently in the company of the irascible Iris Clerc. With Sam Szafran, he had a close relationship that was "passionate and also marked by sometimes violent quarrels", as the artist says in Jacques Kerchache, portraits croisés (Gallimard, Musée du Quai Branly, 2003). Naturally enough, his work attracted the highest bid for a picture: €132,000 for the charcoal on paper, reproduced on the left-hand page. Another, Escalier anamorphique, a pastel on paper (22 x 15 cm), this time in colours, went for the far lower price of €38,000. The more atypical La Reconnaissance chassée du paradis terrestre (114 x 146 cm), oil on canvas of 1960 featuring a rhinoceros, quadrupled its estimate, at €42,000. The other star of the section was Paul Rebeyrolle, whose oil and mixed technique on canvas of 1981 (211 x 195 cm), Contemplations (Les Évasions manquées), trebled its low estimate at €95,000, thus gaining second place in the artist's international achievements. A bronze by Rebeyrolle, one of the six copies of his Chien hurlant, 1995 (l. 120 cm), went for €34,000. At €39,000, the estimate was once more doubled for a 1961 wood and stone assembly by Yolande Fièvres, entitled Orphée de la mer (90 x 165 cm). This price was a world record for the artist (source: Artnet). Jean Benoit, a friend of the Kerchaches (whose beautifully illuminated and decorated correspondence, eight letters and a greetings card, elicited €7,500), was the author of an exotic wood sculpture of tribal, erotic and fantastical inspiration, which fetched €19,000. Its sober title is Scène mythologique (l. 103 cm). In the realm of the decorative arts, Anne Kerchache's choices focused on pieces by Hervé Van der Straeten. The galaxies of the Cabinet "particules", formed by slices of violet wood fitted into ebony wood veneering, echoed both tribal art and the naturalistic passion of her husband. This unique piece dated 2006 at €32,000 almost doubled its estimate, thus registering the highest price ever obtained in public sales for the designer. In wenge and gilt bronze, a "tray table" in thick grey marble veined with white, enhanced by a bronze plaque and standing on a Cubist base, went for €28,000. The orthogonal composition of one of the eight copies of the low "Mondrian" table in sheepskin parchment and black lacquered wood, like the patina of the base in bronze, attracted a high price at €25,000. Van der Straeten beat a safe investment, Ado Chale, who reached his high point with €20,000 for a table with a resin top inlaid with haematite standing on a ten-legged bronze base with a double stretcher (l. 249 cm). The Kerchache collection mobilised an international audience from old Europe, the United States and China, although the majority of buyers were French. And it is worth noting that private collectors had the upper hand over the dealers. When it comes to passion...

Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 June 2010, Drouot-Montaigne.
Pierre Bergé & Associés SVV. Mmes Collignon, David, MM. Amrouche, Boutonnet, Delerm, Kunicki, Lachaume, Millet, de Monbrison, Portier T., Roudillon, Weil.

La Gazette Drouot N°24 - 18 juin 2010 - Sylvain Alliod
Sam Szafran (born in 1934),
Escalier anamorphique,
charcoal on paper, 81 x 62 cm.
Gabon, Ogooue-Ivindo
Kota Mahongwe reliquary figure, wood, copper, brass and iron (chips, flaws, restoration work),  h. 52 cm
Key figures
for the collection
Catalogue : 422 pages, 403 lots described.
Total of sales:
€7,508,240 including buyer’s premium
One bid over the million mark, 14 six-figure bids, 64 five-figure bids.
The least expensive lot: 30 Euros, moulding of a tetradrachma
€1.2 M, Chokwe king.

Top specialities
Tribal Art
€1,445,599. Angola, Chokwe king playing the sanza
Modern and Contemporary Art
€163,685. Sam Szafran,
Escalier anamorphique, charcoal
Far East
€161,205. Southern India, 12th century
stela in chlorite schist representing Durga
Pre-Columbian Art
€86,803. Mexico or Guatemala,
Mayan sculpture in stucco.
€39,681. Hervé Van der Straeten,
Cabinet "particules"
€34,721. Walrus Odobenus Rosmarus
€16,120. Michel Mosin,
Stipenda peccati mors, engraving
€12,028. South Arabain Peninsular,
Carved iconic stela of a woman's face
€3,472. Greece, Athens,
Silver tetradrachma
€2,728. Panama, Costa Rica, Plusiotis beetles
€1,736. Navajun, Spain,
Sample of pyrites on gangue