|Someone made a comment to me once that I slightly disagreed with. The statement was: "The only fakes come from
Indonesia". I understand where the person was coming from when they made this statement, but I'll try and attempt to
explain my thoughts on this subject.
While the carving of African objects that are undeniably meant to deceive is unfortunately now done in other places in
the world, including places like Indonesia and even Europe, what I'd like to focus on are the carvers in Africa. I think
that there are some excellent carvers in present day Africa, many of them may have descended from a line of master
carvers and may be master carvers themselves, while many others are simply just talented artists.
These skilled 'modern' carvers are able to produce carvings in traditional style and make them look as if they are old
and used. I have seen some very beautiful objects that fall into this category, objects that compare very favorably even
when compared to a similar object that has been vetted as old and ritually used.
Sometimes old and ritually used objects posses a beauty that is more than skin deep, there is a quality about them that
is more than aesthetics or patina... they have a spirit (for lack of a better word). It's impossible to duplicate this quality,
even though a carefully carved modern work can often times come close.
Does anyone care that these modern carvers are capable of producing jaw droppingly beautiful works? Does their
name mean anything? Not so much, even though this is not always the case.
What people care about in the Western world is if the object is old and if it has been used, and yes, aesthetics and
beauty come into play in the equation as well. Sometimes "beauty" can be overlooked if they think an object is old and
used or have another desirable quality...provenance. I've seen my share of objects that I personally think don't merit
much attention in auction catalogs other than the fact that they passed through the hands of someone influential or
These modern day carvers may love the carvings they produce and put their soul into them, but they have not been
afforded the notoriety that native artists from other cultures have been given in the modern world that are currently
producing works for the collecting market, specifically American Indian artists. So, since they can not sell works based
on their skill alone under their own name, they often work for a workshop producing objects anonymously that are
made specifically for the collecting market. Just as with any supply and demand market, they produce works that will
sell, objects that are desired.
So far no faking going on here. Just because an object is made in a traditional form and made to look old doesn't make
it a fake in my opinion, unless the specific intent in making it look old was to represent it to a potential buyer as old and
authentic . Where does the faking begin? The faking begins by the first person telling someone else that the object is
old and authentic when they know this is not the case. Of course, this person may be the person who carved it, but it's
usually the person who acquired it from the carver who plans to sell the object to someone else, the person who has
the relationships with the "end users". Money talks, and if they can take an object and tell someone it's old and make
them believe it then they stand a better chance of making more money from it. They may pay the carvers a higher price
for these objects, but still, it's all about money.
Earlier I mentioned the fact that most African carvers have not been afforded the notoriety that many native artists from
other cultures have been given. Why is this? In my opinion it's all about proximity. Native American artist are closer to
galleries in the United States and Canada that can take an artist and catapult them into superstar status. This week I
attended a talk that was sponsored by the Douglas Society of the Denver Art Museum. This program featured Preston
Singletary who is of descended of the Tinglit culture. Preston produces objects that are inspired by traditional forms of
his people, but he produces them in glass. His works are breathtakingly beautiful and also very expensive, some of
them run into the 5 figures. Anyone who has been to Seattle or Vancouver and been to the galleries that represent
modern day NW Coast Indian carvers can attest to the fact that these artists are producing modern versions of
traditional objects and selling them for 4 and 5 figures with no problem.
An example of a modern African carving based on a traditional form that I have in my collection that I personally think is
absolutely beautiful is linked below:
Do I know who carved it? No, but I wish I did. Does the person who originally acquired it in Africa know who carved it,
possibly, but the name of the carver is unimportant and doesn't add any value to the object so it's not necessary to
keep it with the object in most cases.
Another example of an object that more recently came out of Africa that I really LOVE is my Baule monkey figure:
The same things apply to this figure. I don't have any history on this figure and it probably wasn't sold with any history
to the person I acquired it from. Maybe this figure was traditionally used, maybe it was made specifically for the
collecting market, to me I don't care because I fell in love with it and paid a price that I thought was reasonable for it. It's
the most visually intriguing and appealing one of these figures I've personally ever come across.
On the cover of the Calmels Cohen (PARIS) June 2004 auction catalog there is a Baule monkey figure. In the auction
catalog, pages 90 - 93, it states "This statue of Gbekre is probably one of the most impressive known today". The
auction estimate is 250000 - 320000 euros, it was from the collection of Renee Graff. Interesting, but to me it's not one
of the most "impressive" figures I've ever seen. But as long as there are objects like this circulating around the high
end market and people willing to pay the prices for them, more power to them.
Image of the figure I mention above:
(It's a quick shot with my digital camera)
I guess the LONG WINDED point I'm trying to make here is that there are some very talented artists in Africa, and in
my lifetime I hope to see a Baule carver be able to market a Baule monkey figure such as the one I have in my
collection under his own name, or any other native African artist from whatever culture be able to market their carvings
that are based on traditional forms under their own name and people will desire to collect them and pay fair prices for
Yes, there will always be a high end African art market that deals in objects that have been held for many years in
collections or that have been circulating in the market for years. My hopes are that someday you'll see "Baule monkey
figure - carved by Sikousu Jemou" (making a name up), and this will mean something and people will desire to have
one of his carvings and he can obtain international notoriety and reap the financial rewards because of the beautiful
works he produces and he will no longer have to carve objects anonymously in workshops that will most likely end up
trying to be misrepresented to someone as something they aren't, when they could be so much more.
Someday I hope the African art collecting market can move on from worrying about fakes and age and hopefully begin
to focus on wonderful objects from talented carvers for what they really are.
**For some additional thoughts on this subject, please see my STATEMENT about my website and my collecting
***Authenticity is something that I do look for as often as I can, and my ultimate goal is to move towards collecting
many authentic pieces, but still pieces that I can afford and enjoy. You pay more for authentic and documented pieces,
and that is a trade off you must be willing to take into consideration as a collector growing your collection.
More on this topic soon...
Another person who I think lays it all out pretty well is Joe Maierhauser, he mainly deals in New Guinea art, but he has
a nice write up on his website that I personally enjoy and I've provided a link to it below:
|My thoughts, at least a few of them, on the topic of "Authenticity"