Fine tribal and Asian art gets more attention now than ever, but where are the avid buyers of yesteryear? If the (almost) concurrent BRUNEAF and BOAF fairs in Brussels this June were any indication, there’s plenty of solitude for art afficionados to quietly contemplate the works on offer (like Davide Manfredi’s Modang panel, above).
Lately there’s also plenty of solitude for the dealers at tribal art fairs to meditate on their fate and what the future holds. Andres Moraga (below, with Clive Loveless), apparently had ample time to sample a pseudo stogie at Chez Richard on the Sablon, where the fair’s experts, organisers, cognoscenti, collectors, dealers and groupies rub shoulders with the rogues, ruffians and renegades of the tribal trade daily, weather permitting. Weather does not always permit in Brussels, and this year it did. Still, few buyers ventured forth.
For those who feel acronymed-out, BRUNEAF = Brussels Non-European Art Fair, one of the most respected and active international events for African, Asian and Oceanic tribal arts. And BOAF = Brussels Oriental Art Fair, a relative newcomer that looked promising for a few years as it built patronage. Both fairs this year, and also the (almost) concurrent BAAF (Brussels Ancient Art Fair), were subdued events in comparison to years past.
Blame it on the economy, or consider that perhaps the art fairs paradigm itself is flawed or falling behind the times. The concept of fairs perhaps requires revisiting. Seeing that collectors and dealers are not re-visiting fairs in great numbers, one feels forced to consider whether it’s not just the economy that’s changing here. Ways of studying, finding, viewing and collecting tribal art are also changing. Those who assume that fairs are feeling lackluster just because of the economy may be misreading the message of the omen birds.
This is not a review of the Brussels fairs (which I should have written months ago), but rather a musing on the shifting shape of the tribal art trade. There are many forces at play. Auctions. Internet flattening the tiers of information transfer. The ease of travel to every backwater of the world, where Aman Resorts and luxury tented camps now abound. Questions concerning cultural property that may or may not be pertinent to raise. Rumblings among the dealers themselves that the fairs paradigm is problematic. The proliferation of fakes, false information, faux scholarship and malicious gossip in tribal art circles that leaves a bad taste in absolutely everyone’s mouth – – collectors, scholars, dealers and institutions alike. It’s a complex conundrum.
We participate in fairs, visit them, and read reviews from various sources, including Tribalmania, a site put up by a passionate and compassionate eccentric, who goes to great lengths to share information and images generously. Put an RSS feed on Tribalmania. All images here courtesy of Tribalmania, of course. Including my favourite little vignette of BRUNEAF, which speaks of the ineluctable absurdity of it all (above). That’s the impish Renaud Vanuxem with mask, jacket and stuffed critter. Poetic.