Tuesday 2 June 2020

For over $2m, undated African sculpture goes on sale at Sotheby's

The Clyman Fang Head, c/o Sotheby's.

With its provenance taken from 1931, a piece described as "African reliquary" sculpture provides no details of origin. Sheduled for sale at Sotheby’s evening of contemporary art in New York' June 29, the statue known as The Clyman Fang Head is also from an unknown artist.

Clearly, the sculpture has all the suspicions of going under the hammer without its origin known. The provenance available include its movements from one collector to another after it first appeared in 1931. In fact, the name of the sculpture is derived from what appears as its second or third collector.

More interesting, the sculpture is not dated to any period, which makes it complex to place either as ancient or modern African art piece. From Sotheby's press statement, no date, artist or cultural location in Africa was mentioned.

 “We are excited to present the exquisite Clyman Fang Head to a new audience of collectors for the first time in our Contemporary Art Evening auction," David Galperin, Head of Sotheby's Evening Auction of Contemporary Art in New York stated. "Beyond its renown as a legendary icon of classical African Art, what struck me about this singular sculpture when I first saw it in the Clyman home alongside their collection of Post-war art was how its form appeared so radical and purely modern."

With presale estimate of between US$2.5 million and US$4 million, the piece is being featured alongside masterpieces from artists such as Clyfford Still, Francis Bacon and Jean-Michel Basquiat. "The sculpture last appeared on the market in 1992 when the Clymans acquired it at auction in New York," Sotheby's disclosed.

While the date of the work, its cultural or religious link to specific place in Africa and artist are unknown, the provenance tracks index collection to Charles Ratton, the popular Parisian patron of African art. The provenance explains how, in the 1930s, the head was acquired from Ratton by a modern art curator and writer, James Johnson Sweeney. And with the assistance of Ratton, Sweeney "organized the legendary 1935 exhibition African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York."

Other group of art from Africa for the auction include what Sotheby's described as from "Kota artists," Central Africa.

However, nothing suggests that The Clyman Fang Head belongs in the Kota artists.

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