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Parcours des Mondes: The Increasing Presence of Archaeology

Published on , by Stéphanie Pioda

Now firmly established as the global leader in non-European art, the Parcours des Mondes is widening its geographical scope to boost the presence of archaeology for its eighteenth edition.

Egypt, Middle Kingdom, 2050-1780 BC, hippopotamus in limestone, 2.7 x 5.8 cm. Eberwein...  Parcours des Mondes: The Increasing Presence of Archaeology

Egypt, Middle Kingdom, 2050-1780 BC, hippopotamus in limestone, 2.7 x 5.8 cm. Eberwein gallery, Paris.
Photo Studio Sébert

Collectors, art lovers, curators and interior designers throng here from all over the world, determined not to miss out at any price on this event dedicated to the arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas, and to archaeology. "It's decidedly the last fair of its kind that still appeals to a very broad clientele," enthuses Philippe Boudin of the Mingei gallery (Paris).

Monomania: A Thing of the Past
"Many people come for the sheer pleasure of it, knowing that dealers have kept their finest pieces for the event," says Olivier Larroque, who will be unveiling an Osanyin divination doll from Nigeria, of which there are only four or five extant examples. Quality, rarity and discovery are the watchwords for highly specialised selections that have often taken years to assemble. Lucien Viola of the Ibis galley (Marrakesh) longs for a patron to buy his incomplete pink granite sculpture of Nefertiti and give it to the Brussels Royal Museums of Art and History, thus completing the group formed with her husband, Akhenaten. The in-depth work of galleries has resulted in twenty or so remarkable exhibitions, like the ones featuring ethnic groups – Yoruba with Serge Schoffel (Brussels) and Baoule with Lucas Ratton (Paris) –, the art of bamboo basketwork at the Mingei gallery (Paris) and sacred masks from Western and Central Africa, bringing magic to the Abla & Alain Lecomte gallery (Paris).

Karo Batak, Sumatra, 18th-19th century, headpiece of a shaman's staff (tungkot malehat), wood, cotton, hair, feathers, h. 32.8 cm. Thomas Murray galle

Karo Batak, Sumatra, 18th-19th century, headpiece of a shaman's staff (tungkot malehat), wood, cotton, hair, feathers, h. 32.8 cm. Thomas Murray gallery.
Photo Don Tuttle. Galerie Thomas Murray, Mill Valley (United-States)

In the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, visitors can stroll between Rue des Beaux-Arts and Rue Guénégaud, by way of Rue de Seine and Rue Mazarine as they explore the selected sixty-four galleries (50% from abroad) in a festive atmosphere. The total number may not have risen since 2018, but the ascent of archaeology galleries introduces a new factor: there are now eight compared with the previous three, including J. Bagot Arqueología (Barcelona), Cahn Contemporary (Basel), Eberwein (Paris), Harmakhis (Brussels) and Tarantino (Paris). "This was what was lacking for a complete overview of all these worlds in our circuit," says Pierre Moos, the event's director. This standpoint also reflects the growing interest of collectors who are now focused on an across-the-board approach and diversification. For Stéphane Jacob, who has been championing Aboriginal art for the past twenty-three years, "more and more collectors of African art are taking an interest in the works of Dorothy Napangardi (€25,000/30,000) and Abie Loy (€8,000/10,000), which go beautifully with 1930s furniture, for instance. People are less monomaniac than they used to be, and my gallery is seeing more young people than some of my colleagues."
If these enthusiasts travel all the way from Australia, the US and the whole of Europe, "it's with the intention to buy”, says Christophe Hioco. They will find simple Egyptian scarabs for €300 at the Ibis Gallery as well as pieces for over €300,000, with the majority priced between €10,000 and €100,000, such as a rare Asmat shield (Papua New Guinea, €75,000) with Michel Thieme (Amsterdam) or sixteen zoomorphic masks (between €3,500 and €35,000) on show with Laurent Dodier (Paris) for his exhibition "Les grands fauves" ("The Big Cats"). South-East Asia is establishing an increasingly sure footing in this huge market. "There are some superb pieces at very attractive prices. This sector looks set to grow enormously over the next few years," says Pierre Moos. Worth looking at, for instance, is a fabulous Batak shaman tungkot malehat staff pommel (Sumatra) at the Thomas Murray Gallery (Mill Valley, US): "Oceania is gradually gaining market share from African art, for which it's increasingly hard to find fine pieces."

Divination cup (Agere ifa), 19th century, wood, h. 25 cm.Serge Schoffel gallery, Brussels

Divination cup (Agere ifa), 19th century, wood, h. 25 cm.
Serge Schoffel gallery, Brussels

Outstanding Provenances
One of the most important aspects of the event is the impeccable quality of the artefacts. All of them have been vetted and established as absent from the Art Loss Register (stolen artworks database), and often have the added bonus of prestigious long-standing provenances. For instance, a Tiki figure from the Marquesas Islands on show at Michael Hamson was collected by the American missionaries Richard and Clarissa Armstrong in 1833-1834 (and has not been seen in the art market for 186 years). Some galleries have carried out their own investigations. "We have retraced the history of this Tatanua mask from New Ireland. It was bought on 7 September 1905 by William Oldman, one of the most prominent dealers in Oceanic art, who considerably influenced his contemporaries," says Theodor Fröhlich (Zurich). A satisfaction shared by Christophe Hioco, who has found evidence that his 2nd/3rd-century Bodhisattva from the former Gandhara region (around €200,000) was sold at Drouot in 1932. It is also a matter of reassuring collectors, given the thorny debate on restitutions, although this was calmed by French Minister of Culture Franck Riester's speech at the "African heritage" forum held on 4 July at the Institut de France. Paying tribute to the role played by Parcours des Mondes in promoting non-European art, he emphasised that the State "has no call to impose restrictive measures on privately owned African heritage pieces, or to limit their circulation or sale”. This was good news for Pierre Moos, who also likes to point out that "over 70% of African art pieces were made to be sold, and that the remaining 30% were bought or exchanged”, apart from the works pillaged by General Alfred Dodds in Dahomey (present-day Benin). Likewise, Alexander Biesbroek (Voorschoten) reports that until the 1980s, "many dealers were authorised by the Egyptian government to sell works with export licences. There was even a store in the museum in Cairo." A salient example is a statue he is exhibiting of Ptah-Sokaris-Osiris from the Late Period (7th–4th century BC; €16,000). This once belonged to a private Swiss collection and, precisely, holds an export licence signed by the director of the Egyptian museum, endorsed by Egypt's Minister of Culture. Serious credentials remain the be-all and end-all of the profession.

Gandhara, 2nd-3rd century, bodhisattva in schist, h. 67 cm.Christophe Hioco gallery, Paris.

Gandhara, 2nd-3rd century, bodhisattva in schist, h. 67 cm. Christophe Hioco gallery, Paris.
© Photo Studio Sébert. Galerie Christophe Hioco, Paris

Three questions for Julien Flak

What led to the decision to exhibit New Ireland pieces? 
I find these works very singular in the Oceanic world, because of their unique exuberance and architectural craziness. They appealed to Western sensibilities early on with their use of colour, their symbolism and their dreamlike quality. There is something truly Surrealistic about them. For this exhibition, which took a long time to set up, I wanted to show a broad swathe of this art. It features Tatanua masks with their large flamboyant headdresses, striking Malagan effigies and friezes, a graceful canoe prow ornament collected in 1894, and a Matua mask over a metre high, carved with an uninterrupted procession of dancing figures.
New Ireland, The Bismarck Archipelago, late 19th- early 20th, Kipong and Tatanua masks, h. 32 cm. Galerie Flak, Paris.

New Ireland, The Bismarck Archipelago, late 19th- early 20th, Kipong and Tatanua masks, h. 32 cm. Galerie Flak, Paris.

Many pieces have outstanding provenances, including German museums…
New Ireland was a German possession until the First World War. This explains why objects collected between the late 19th and early 20th centuries by ethnologists, dealers and colonial administrators ended up in the Surrealists' hands – Breton had some superb pieces on his desk – and in German collections and museums. Until fifty years ago, the latter were able to sell objects that were widely represented. Today, the reserves of collections in Berlin, Leipzig and Bremen are still staggering, with a profusion of objects totally unknown in the market.

What's the price range for these pieces?
I was keen to have a wide variety, between €2,000 and €100,000. It's a niche art that has always been sought-after by a small number of collectors, and is always keenly fought over at auction, but doesn't reach the heights of certain regions of Papua New Guinea.
Parcours des mondes, from 11 to 15 September, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris.
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