African Tribal Art
African art was originally collected by Western explorers and slave traders because nothing quite like it had been seen before. The objects were usually regarded as curiosities with no particular artistic value.
In time, many pieces made their way into various European museums as trophies of conquest through war and religious conversion. Eventually African art was discovered by artists such as Picasso, Matisse, Giacometti and Braque who started incorporating the unusual geometric lines and shapes into their own work, resulting in what was becoming known as “cubism”.
Along with the success of these and other European artists came the validation of the African art itself. As original African objects found their way out of collections and into the influential auction houses, the prices and status of these extraordinary antique African works started rising dramatically. Of course the original creators were simply making functional, yet powerful masks, statues and other items to be used in their daily life in the village. It is doubtful these men had any sense of how they were affecting European art.
Authentic antique African art has increasingly become an excellent investment to the collector because unlike other investments, the value is rarely diminished.
I wrote the above article with the help of Jackie Lewis-Harris, then Assistant Curator of the Arts of Africa at the Saint Louis Art Museum, in 1998 and it was subsequently published in
Debrett's Wealth of Asia magazine. Douglas Yaney
Today investment in excellent quality African art is even more important because, unlike many other investments that we have all seen vanish into thin air in recent years, African tribal art is something we can actually hold in our hands as we feel the smooth patina of wood that has been handled by many generations of hands in the past. For as long as we have these extraordinary objects in our care, we can admire and enjoy the beauty of the many wonderful and unique styles and forms . We are offered the privilege of being the guardian of fragments of history, savoring and protecting them until we're ready to pass them on to the next generation.
My advice is to always buy what you like....that piece or style that catches your eye for one reason or another. This way you can never go wrong.
To learn more about collecting authentic antique African tribal art, it's good to start developing your own library of books that you can use for inspiration and for comparison purposes. Other good sources are museums with African art collections. You may not be able to handle the pieces personally, but you can view them to see what an excellent patina looks like, or how a museum piece compares in style with one you may be thinking of purchasing.