Archaeology and tribal art: transactions under pressure

Stratospheric-level auctions, overheated prices… The market for archaeological and tribal pieces is booming! We retrace the phenomenon of star status for these highly coveted objects. An issue that we examine by seeing what dealers, collectors and members of the scientific community have to say… Ever since the start of the 2000s, the tribal-art market has literally exploded, with its turnover jumping up from €13.7 million in 2001 to €92.1 in 2014. Despite this strong growth, tribal art remains a marginal market, which represents only 0.68 % of the global turnover of art auction sales, in other words, 40 times less than the proportion occupied by modern art, according to a report published by Artkhade, Art Media Agency and Art Analytics in December 2015. Largely in front, Africa and Oceania leave other geographical zones behind in the shadows. Between 2000 and 2014, these two continents represented 64.8 % of lots offered at auctions and 81 % of the sector’s total sales proceeds. Above all, the market’s growth has been accompanied by a multiplication of auctions raising millions of euros in sales rooms. In 2014 alone, fourteen lots went over the million-euro mark, yielding a total of €39 million, in other words 42 % of the yearly turnover of the tribal market at auctions. “The market turned around when the first major public sales were held, first the sale of the Hubert Goldet collection in 2001, then above all the Vérité sale in Paris in 2006 [editorial note: which totalled €44 million at Drouot]. A spectacular sale, on the media and marketing front as well,” explains Didier Claes, African arts specialist. “This was the first time that African objects reached such records, including a Fang mask which went for €5 million. This was an important milestone for the acceptance of this...

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Archaeology and Islamic Art sale at Christie’s Paris

On 6 May 2015, Christie’s Paris is to hold a sale of two collections of archeology and Islamic art. The first, a collection belonging to Léon Rodrigues-Ely (1924-1973), includes objects from Antiquity, and the second, a collection belonging to Joseph Soustiel (1904-1990), focuses on objects from the 19th century. Amongst the lots offered, is found a large Iznik Ottoman ceramic bottle dating from 1580-85, estimated to sell for between €30,000 – €50,000, and a flat Iznik Saban decorated with tulips dating from 1535-45, estimated to sell for between €40,000 – €60,000. The sale will also include a marble Roman goddess dating from the 1st – 2nd century, estimated to sell for between €30,000 – €45,000. The sale is to offer at least 140 lots, reaching a total estimate of €500,000 – €700,000. Lionel Gosset, director of the Collections department, said: “Christie’s are delighted to be able to offer enthusiasts and collectors the opportunity to discover the work of two passionate collectors […] Whether they come from Italy, Iran, Cyprus, or Turkey, these pieces bear witness to cultures that were important to the two...

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Cultural destruction continues in the Middle East

A report by Hyperallergic has detailed the destruction of cultural artefacts in Iraq and Syria following the recent rise of the Islamic State, IS (formerly ISIS). Whilst conflict inevitably brings some destruction of infrastructure, this region is particularly fragile due to its rich history and consequently high number of important archaeological sites and artefacts. The site claims that IS has reportedly made $36 million from looted antiquities, some of which are believed to be up to 8,000 years old. However, whilst the looting of these important sites is a significant issue, what is possibly more concerning is IS’s wanton destruction of entire swaths of culture. IS seems to be deliberately attacking Christian artefacts and heritage, despite Christian culture having existed in the region for almost 2,000 years — thus pre-dating the birth of Islam itself. Similarly under threat is the culture of the Yezidi community and the entire ancient Aramaic language. The group have also destroyed the 13th century Mausoleum of Imam Yahya ibn al-Qasim; an archaeologically significant site that was a rich example of art and architecture during the period. Additionally, sites such as the lost city of Nineveh are also at risk if IS invades the region. With no end in site for the conflict, the ancient and unspeakably important cultural heritage of the region is under serious...

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Stolen gorgon mask returned to Algeria

Tunis, 23 April 2014, Art Media Agency (AMA). A Gorgon mask, a rare artefact which was stolen from its original location in East Algeria in 1996, and rediscovered in Tunisia in 2011, has been returned to Algeria, following information provided by press agency APS. The repatriation ceremony — which celebrated the mask’s passage from Tunisian possession back to the Algerian authorities — was held at Tunis’s Carthage Museum on 7 April 2014. The event represented a step towards diplomatic relations between the two countries, an idea which was re-iterated by Algerian Minister of Culture Khalida Toumi, who stated that the mask’s return represented an “important ethical stand”. The Minister acknowledged that the theft of the artefact — which took place in 1996 during a period of terrorist activity and civil war — was seen by Algerian people as a “stab in the back”. Taken from its original site at Hippone (Annaba), the mask had cultural and historical significance, symbolising the protection of Algerian nation. The mask, made from white marble, weighs 320 kg and was discovered in 1930 by the French archaeologist Choupaut. Formerly a decorative element on a public fountain, the piece was re-discovered in 2011, following the fall of the Ben Ali regime at the home of Sakhr el-Materi, the son-in-law of former Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. The former had kept the piece alongside 165 other pieces — some from the Roman period — considered to be of major archaeological significance. The mask formed a key piece of evidence in a trial against el-Materi, held in January 2012, which saw him sentenced for the trafficking of  artefacts....

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Large collection of Roman artefacts seized in Italy

Lanuvio (Rome), 15 April 2014, Art Media Agency (AMA). The Guardia di Finanza has seized an extensive collection of art and artefacts from a private villa in Lanuvio, south-east of Rome. Around 100 objects, with an estimated collected value in excess of €100 million, have been requisitioned by the Italian authorities. The collection includes terracotta and ceramic vases, mosaic tiles, frescoes, pillars, and other archaeological goods dating from the Roman and Late Antiquity periods, thought to belong to the state. Four people have been arrested for unlawful possession of goods. The collection is to be catalogued by authorities, before being returned to state...

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