Taking The Mystery Out Of Buying African Art

Commanding record auction prices, art from the Motherland has grown in popularity and profitability.But how can you tell the authentic from the faux?

business a long time, who has reliable taste, customer references and knows which African dealers have authentic merchandise,” suggests de Monbrison.

Handle the objects. Don’t be afraid to look at them inside and out. Thompson says even at premier auction houses such as Christie’s or Sotheby’s, you can ask to have an object taken out of the glass case in order to inspect it. “It’s important to touch, smell and look at the piece After all, you’re going to be living with it,” she adds.

Go to auctions. Serious collectors should get on the auction circuit. Auction schedules are listed regularly in Tribal Arts magazine, a quarterly journal published in both English and French, African Arts magazine and Art And Auction magazine, a monthly which covers auctions worldwide. Or you can subscribe to auction house publications.

Take a trip abroad. If you’re really serious about collecting African art, most, of course, is in Africa. But what you’ll see depends on where you go. The commercial market is strongest in Europe, particularly Paris and Brussels. Post-colonial ties remain strong, as does the tradition of collecting. Paris has at least 20 well-established African art dealers, all concentrated in the same neighborhood on the Left Bank; Brussels has 10. “Make a trip to Europe once a year,” suggests Helene Leloup. But there are major collections and museums in the U.S.–from the Smithsonian’s National Museum for African Art in Washington, D.C., to the Museum for African Art in New York.

African art continues to be vibrant. Contemporary African art incorporates western influences in imaginative ways. “Colonialization passed through the African continent like water over waxed canvas,” says dealer and auction expert Pierre Amrouche. “Africa is now reappropriating and reintegrating its own art,” he adds. Contemporary African artists are becoming more prevalent, identifiable and accepted. Brown suggests that it is because these contemporary African artists have learned to draw upon images that neophytes are more familiar and comfortable with.

Experts recognize the phenomenon in the rush to buy African art. “People are buying it for different reasons–as a work of art, for prestige, for the pleasure it gives or as an investment,” says Simpson. “Artists feel more vibrant around it.”

Simpson says he’d like to see more African Americans become major collectors. And he feels this will become more of a reality as the educational process becomes more accessible. “I’d like to see us get more involved. Look and see the wealth that you have in this art; that is who you are.”

The Spirit of African Design
African Americans are searching for pieces they can “live with,” pieces they can incorporate into their personal living spaces, whether at work or at home. A new book, The Spirit of African Design by Sharne Algotsson and Denys Davis (Clarkson Potter; $35) taps into this desire and shows us how to integrate our heritage into our spaces in a variety of striking and aethetically pleasing ways. Filled with wondrous color photographs, the book explores the origins of all kinds of African art, from utilitarian

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