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When I was fourteen, I was struggling with a strict Greco-Latin curriculum, and my father enrolled me in evening courses in art school to offer me some distraction. I began painting the following year, and I was an art instructor by the time I was twenty-one. In 1977, while visiting Joseph Henrion, a sculptor and collector of Kongo art, I saw two Shoowa embroideries and was fascinated by their power. I was driven to comprehend their geometric designs, and I would subsequently see twelve thousand of them and own several hundred. The next year, while visiting the Cairo Museum, I was able to visit its storage and see cases fi lled with piles of small, archaic tribal sculptures, cracked and crazed so fi nely that their trunks absorbed light like dark velvet. I began to think about Sub-Saharan Africa, an artproducing area I had never really considered before. Henrion introduced me to the most important players on the Brussels tribal art scene at the time, most notably Willy Mestach, Pierre Dartevelle, Marc Leo Felix, Philippe Guimiot, and Martial Bronsin.
Last December, I received an email from an unfamiliar woman about reviewing a book that had been produced on a private collection of Native American art, a copy of which was in the mail to me. “I’ll keep my eye out for it,” I said. “You can’t miss it,” she said. Truer words have never been spoken. In due course, a hefty package arrived and from it emerged a three-volume slip-cased edition weighing nearly twelve pounds. What was in its pages was even more impressive. I’ve been editing this magazine for almost twenty-five years and I know most of the players in this field, at least by reputation, but how could I possibly not have heard of this Steven Michaan, who had built such an extraordinary collection of art from the Arctic, Northwest Coast, and Woodlands? I knew many of the pieces, but not the collector. This had to change...
Read the entire Steven Michaan interview by downloading the PDF below!
Dr. Werner Muensterberger, who has published widely on psychoanalysis and contributed notably to the literature of tribal art, is a seminal collector of African art in our time. He bought his first piece as a young teenager, and at the time of this writing, his collection obtains its eighth decade. The trajectory of Dr. Muensterberger’s biography encompasses the fore- thought and happenstance that great minds historically have conjoined to build great collections. Born on the threshold of the marriage of the modern and primitive, he was destined to fill a role in identifying its aesthetic. His lasting contribution to the field includes a number of publications on tribal art and collecting, prominent among them Sculpture of Primitive Man, (1955, dedicated to Baron von der Heydt) and, most recently, Collecting: An Unruly Passion (1994)...
Ralph Nash - Tribute
Ralph was born in Germany in 1928 and moved with his father, mother, and brother to Cape Town, South Africa, in 1934. He had a chance to view African art collections there when he was only ten or twelve and developed a lifelong fascination with this material. After his education, he became a well-known fashion designer specializing in women’s shoes. The South African firm he worked for sent him to Europe and New York several times a year, where he could engage in his interest in African art as well and carry out his work in the fashion industry. By 1961 he had became so disenchanted with the South African political situation that he moved to London and became a fashion consultant for companies such as Lord & Taylor and Sachs Fifth Avenue. He established close relationships with major African art dealers and collectors in Europe and New York, and provided material for many New York dealers, John Klejman in particular.
Mary (Polly) Nooter Roberts - Tribute
The field of African art lost a major scholar with the passing of Mary Nooter Roberts in September of 2018. She managed to pack remarkable life experiences and accomplishments into her fifty-eight years. Dr. Roberts, most often known as “Polly,” worked doggedly to bring a deeper understanding of the art of Africa to wider audiences through her teaching, most recently as Professor of World Arts and Cultures at UCLA, her many publications (often working jointly with her husband, Dr. Allen F. Roberts), and her museum work at multiple institutions. She had an early introduction to Africa, living in Liberia with her parents. Her father, Robert, worked for the Foreign Service and later the World Bank in different parts of Africa, and her mother, Nancy Ingram Nooter, was an anthropologist and visual artist. Both parents became active collectors of African art and continue to reside in Washington, D.C. Polly studied at Scripps College, majoring in philosophy and French literature, but began graduate studies in art history at Columbia University after visiting her parents in Tanzania. She completed her doctorate in 1991, spending two years of extensive dissertation fi eld research among the Luba people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. During that time, she underwent a rigorous Luba initiation, working in consultation with a woman diviner to access deeper levels of traditional knowledge. Later, she also conducted fi eld research in Senegal, focusing on the arts of a local Sufi movement. While at Columbia, Polly met her husband, Allen, as well as Susan Vogel, who later hired her to be the first staff member at the nascent Museum for African Art. Her first major exhibition, Secrecy: African Art That Conceals and Reveals, was mounted in 1993. A second groundbreaking exhibition there, Memory: Luba Art and the Making of History, was a collaboration with her husband in 1996. (...) Find the entire article in the Winter Issue of Tribal Art magazine (T90).
George Ortiz - Tribute
“Marvelous!” George Ortiz, enfant terrible and collector extraordinaire, would exclaim as he held a new treasure, his radiant expression infused with delight. A private scholar with unbounded passion, he built a superb collection and magnificent library mostly on the art of the ancient world and Middle East, but also elsewhere if a special object attracted his attention. His father was posted to Paris as a diplomat, so George was born in a house on Avenue Foch. His mother was the daughter of Simón Iturri Patino, known as the “tin king” of Bolivia. He first visited Bolivia when he was ten and had fond memories of horse rides in the Andes. An English nanny taught him excellent English, augmented by a few years at Downside, a Jesuit school in the UK...
Alessandro Passarè (1927–2006) was one of those individuals for whom daily connection with art is an essential and primary need. Son of an orthopedic equipment retailer, he wasn’t introduced to the concept of aesthetics during his time in school, but discovered it during the course of a number of trips that, propelled by a vivid curiosity, he began to take at an early age. He was barely twenty when he became aware of his compelling attraction to art — especially contemporary art — an unusual trait for a young man who had grown up in the bland middle class of Milan. Immediately after completing his medical studies, he started a practice in Brera, Milan’s art district, and in his spare time he hung around Bar Jamaica, a meeting place for artists, writers, and intellectuals, and center of the cultural fermentation that the city was experiencing at that time.
About ten of us are waiting in line to get in. I hear peacocks and parrots cawing in the distance, and the scents of nature and fl owers fill the spring air. A few minutes later, Steffen makes his appearance. His firm and friendly handshake, his self-assured demeanor, and his broad and sincere smile invite us to follow him. His house is located a few meters from the entrance to the Pairi Daiza, the famous animal park a few miles from the city of Mons in Belgium that has recently been named the best zoo in Europe. As I passed through the door to his place, I had the impression I was entering into a palace of a thousand treasures. Unusual sculptures were everywhere, illuminated by enchanting light fi xtures. A collection of korwars adorned the mantelpiece and Buddha statuettes were grouped together in a recessed niche, side by side with old maps. A group of shrunken heads elegantly lined up on a cabinet echoed the New Guinea fi gures and the Australian shields visible in nooks elsewhere in the room. In front of a library overfilled with books on exotic voyages, a superb albatross appeared to be flying off above our heads. The sounds of Gregorian chant, for which, he later told us, he has a particular fondness, were the musical backdrop to this scene. The ambience certainly was conducive to speaking in confidence.
In a field where an abiding question is, “Why are there no young collectors?” Javier Peres stands out, not only as a remarkably active collector who is in his early forties, but as an individual who is unusually passionate about African art. His contemporary art gallery, Peres Projects, is currently based in Berlin but has a presence at just about every art fair of any consequence. This grew from smaller spaces, fi rst in San Francisco and then in Los Angeles, New York, and Athens. Wherever his base of operations has been, Peres has made a splash on the international art scene with his bold selection of artists and artworks and his hardcore style as a gallerist. Over the years his stable of artists has included such names as Terence Koh, Bruce LaBruce, assume vivid astro focus, Joe Bradley, Dan Colen, Dash Snow, Agathe Snow, Kirstine Roepstorff, Alex Israel, David Ostrowski, Brent Wadden, Leo Gabin, and Mark Flood. His artists’ works have been included in such prestigious juried events as the Venice Biennale, the Whitney Biennial, the Tate Triennial, and the Sao Paulo Biennial, to name just a few of their accolades. While his work with contemporary art is famous and even infamous in the art world, his relationship with African art has been little discussed but has long been a major part of his life and his aesthetic perception. We recently paid a visit to his beautiful Berlin apartment, had a cup of tea in a Peter Shire mug, and talked about the truly remarkable collection of African art around us, which comfortably shared the space with large canvases by major-name contemporary painters, many of whose notable careers he helped build.
Long known to a small circle of cognoscenti, Pierluigi Peroni’s boundless love for small African art objects has gained in notoriety since the publication in August of 2015 of the book Micromonumentalité (5 Continents Editions), which is devoted to his collection. More recently, in the spring of 2016, a selection of 300 of his objects was presented to the public in a temporary exhibition at the Jagiellonian Library in Kraków, accompanied by a catalog titled Small: Hidden World of Africa. Having thus come to our attention, we were anxious to meet him and learn more about his interests. The opportunity presented itself in Paris last autumn, and our conversation was animated, to say the least. Tribal Art Magazine: You are originally from Italy, a country that has demonstrated relatively little enthusiasm for tribal art. How did your interest in African art develop? Pierluigi Peroni: I was born in Gallarate, in the province of Varese, but Italy isn’t where I discovered tribal art. I came across it in my travels. When I was very young, five or six years old, I began to accompany my grandfather, who was a hunter, on his trips to Africa. We went there two or three time a year for many years, and we visited Namibia, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Botswana, Zimbabwe, the Congo, Burkina Faso, and Cameroon, to name just a few places. All that to say that these hunting expeditions, which happened some fifty years ago now, afforded me the opportunity to visit some extremely remote places.