Who is the most collectable living artist

Introduction for collectors of African art
(and for those interested in becoming one)

What is the attraction of traditional African art and what are the criteria for collecting? Here is an attempt to provide a brief overview of the background to this art form.

Although the old archaic art forms have largely disappeared in Europe for a long time, the longing for it remained
Originality and naturalness evidently preserved and perhaps explains the often wondrous touch of European viewers when looking at traditional African works. The archaic European art forms and the traditional African art forms seem to have similar roots: Original European art was once strongly oriented towards religious content, in pre-Christian times magical objects, talismans and ritual objects represented the majority of European art and art Zeit are numerous cave and rock paintings preserved from Europe as well as from Africa, which are miraculously similar to each other, even though they were created many thousands of kilometers apart.
Only over the centuries In Europe, individual art developed from the mainly Christian-religious themes, this then increasingly as an expression of the personality of individual artists, i.e. a development that has led to art becoming independent - detached from religious functionality and purpose. However, the connection of people with religious topics - the search for the origin - is elementary and common to all peoples, as is the search for the deeper meaning of life and death. In Europe these religious themes represent only the basis of art history, but in traditional sub-Saharan Africa they have been the mainstream until recently.
In Africa, many archaic rites have survived into the 20th century (in some cases also to the present day); and just this originality, as Motivation to create the masks and figures, grown from centuries and millennia-old tradition, has a magical charm that quickly engulfs the outside observer. Most of the masks and figures thus originally had a cultic, religious meaning and were created for the purpose of a specific function. However, it must also be noted that the sole ritual or religious use by no means applies to all types of African art. B. as drinking vessels, drums or musical instruments do not necessarily have magical or direct religious effects. But it is precisely here that there is a deep connection to beautiful shapes and it shows that the African artists - so far within their society - can also enjoy a great reputation. Certainly, many decorative elements on everyday objects have their origin in religious forms, from which, however, independent styles and derivations often emerged that were integrated into profane use.
The often held general view that an artistic form is only valued in Africa when the object in question has a ritual effect can probably be shelved. Most African peoples also enjoy the form in general - and in particularly artistically expressive objects. Because in addition to very simple shapes that can appear raw and unpolished - and precisely because of this often develop a strong charisma - there are many refined objects - some of which are executed with unexpected craftsmanship and artistic skill - which, in their completion, effortlessly with the works of the highly developed measure European art. This also includes the prestige pieces that are supposed to increase the reputation of individual dignitaries as well as the refined courtly art of the ancient African kingdoms. How else can the enormous effort involved in making masks and figures be justified if a certain spiritual effect could also be achieved with simpler forms? Art and ritual function often seem to dissolve and good African art objects are often much more than purely cultic curiosities; they are, in fact, the grown forms of a root of human cultural heritage.

The religiously motivated objects of African art can be broadly divided into the following types:

1. Ancestral figures: This includes most of the human figurative representations. Ancestral figures have the function of indirect communication with the pantheon of ancestors in general, therefore ancestral figures are usually not to be understood individually but in a generalized way. More rarely there are also individual ancestral figures who serve as mediators in the meantime, during the death of a person until they are accepted into the circle of ancestors (e.g. with the Lobi).

2. Fertility figures: In most African cultures, human fertility is of paramount importance. In the event of death, only one's own children can ensure the ritual initiation of the deceased parents into the circle of ancestors; those who have died childless have to come to terms with permanent residence in the intermediate world. Owning these fertility figures is intended to prevent the spouse from childlessness.

3. Fetishes or magical figures: So-called fetish figures can be used both for defense against damage and for offensive magic. Fetishes are initiated like humans and then have their own soul, mostly recruited from the circle of ancestors or nature spirits.

4. Dance outfits and masks: Masks often have the function of evoking or internalizing nature spirits that are contacted through complex dance performances. The mask and the dancer together can serve as a medium to establish direct contact with the nature spirits or even to be temporarily inspired by these spirits. The mask dance is originally the attempt to influence the forces of nature to the advantage and benefit of the community. The spirits that are responsible for certain illnesses can also be influenced by this. Many dance attachments also have a similar function.

5. Divine representations: The main deities or the superordinate deity are not represented directly in person for most ethnic groups and are usually taboo even for direct ritual contact. The numerous sub-deities can, however, serve as mediators and are also represented figuratively. A well-known example here is the depiction of the Tji-Wara ancient antelope among the Bamana, who once taught people farming as an envoy of the gods. The dance of the Tji-Wara dance attachments focuses on the blessing of Tji-Wara to ensure the fertility of the sowing. Numerous sub-deities are also represented by the Yoruba.
In the course of time, however, many divine representations have been so modified by abstraction that they have been incorporated into the formal canon of many works that today the original assignment to a certain deity can often only be interpreted.

The profane objects are divided into:

1. Prestige objects: e.g. B. artfully decorated stools, carved structural elements, figurative veranda posts or entrance surrounds. Likewise, figures of horsemen and warriors, which are reserved for dignitaries and are intended to demonstrate their power.

2. Objects of use: Carved drinking vessels, mortars, simpler stools, carved caskets, milk vessels and much more. B. the raphia dresses of the Cuba or the kente dresses of the Ewe.

3. Weapons: Many weapons have prestige character and are decorated accordingly and thus designed in an artistically appealing way.

Of course, there are also flowing transitions to ritual and religious purposes with profane artifacts, so a sharp demarcation is not always possible.

The great variety of different styles and art movements within Black Africa is also striking. The enormous size of the African continent and geographical features have contributed to this multiple development and it is very difficult to speak of classical African art in general. While the large rivers have a connecting effect, the mountain ranges in Eastern Africa and the vast rainforest areas in the center tend to separate and have contributed to the development of different, independent cultures and art forms. The African styles are not only unique within the African continent, they also hardly find a comparable counterpart outside of Africa. The styles of the individual ethnic groups are mostly unmistakable and have probably been carried on in their respective basic forms for centuries - if not longer. These style features seem to be a part of the innermost core of cultural affiliation and community of an ethnic group and the assumption is made whether the individual styles represent a kind of original matrix that embodies the cultural origin of the respective ethnic group.
For this reason alone, a general, comprehensive consideration of African art is quite difficult, but we still try to give a small overview here.

A typical feature of a real African work of art is often the complexity and expressiveness, paired with deliberate disproportions and formal contradictions, which make certain demands on the viewer, which often leads to the fact that the real art does not "wear out" easily or even quickly becomes boring . Rather, it can be said that initially foreign - and in the European sense not always only superficially "beautiful" perceived art - can lead to a gradual maturation of the point of view in order to then arouse personal feelings that were not yet apparent at first glance.

In the gallery we endeavor to determine the original context of the masks and figures and to describe them briefly.

Some fundamental considerations of the general relationship between African and European art

Even in the 19th century, African art was often viewed from a European perspective as a curiosity and was mostly underestimated. These works by African artists were often not granted an independent artistic character. Inaccurate, often crude representations and abstractions - which are so typical in African art - were simply interpreted as technical inability. One was sure to be able to look down on the art of the primitives - here primitive as a negative term in the sense of "raw" or "simplest". In the 20th century, the European perspective changed drastically: Modern artists began to be inspired by African art and it was adapted on a large scale. Some of the most famous representatives are e.g. B. Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, Amedeo Modigliani to name just a few artists.
Paul Klee interpreted the raphia fabrics of the Cuba, Picasso probably tried, among other things. on the masks of the Lega to compose his painting 'Les Demoiselles' and Modigliani inspired the Ngil masks of the Fang for his abstract, elongated portraits in limestone. These works soon belonged to the highly esteemed works of European art and are still traded at the highest prices today. Not least in this context the interest in the African originals was aroused and now they no longer seemed so strange and at least noteworthy. Due to the now changed perspective of the Europeans, the originally negatively assessed properties of African art were even turned into the opposite: abstraction became legitimate as an artistic stylistic device, primitivity was now recognized as originality. It is entirely permissible to put the better pieces of African art on a level with modern works of European art.
Of course, these European works are not clumsy imitations either, but rather should be viewed as independent through the amalgamation of European stylistic devices, colors, shapes and materials.

Now, analogous to modern European art, the value and importance of abstraction in African sculpture was recognized: In African art, abstraction is an essential stylistic device for the representation of spiritualization and superordinate forces of nature; Most of the figures and masks do not represent portraits of living people or animals, they are rather media for maintaining contact with these higher-level institutions. In European painting, too, people increasingly began to reflect on the representation of higher-level, also spiritual sensations through abstraction, as had been common in original African works for thousands of years.
It was only this maturation process in the consideration of disproportion and abstraction that led to the necessary understanding of art in Europe, which was necessary for the re-evaluation of African art.
The key works of the great abstract European artists have long been deeply imprinted in the collective memory of Europe and, in the feedback of their original inspiration, allow African works to appear more familiar.

The current European concept of art is difficult to grasp; Essentially, however, expressiveness, originality and the assignment to a certain artist - integrated as much as possible into his overall work - represent the characteristics of art that is worth collecting. Traditional African art, however, has a difficult time in this last point, because in most cases there is no signature and therefore no assignment to a specific, personified artist. While European art has long been a very individual expression of individuals or artists, the artistic creation of Africans is predominantly the expression of community and the continuation of traditional forms, behind which the individual artist is personally inferior. European art is vain and geared towards material value, while African art aims at more than just vanity; the ritual use and the effectiveness of the object are often (but not always) in the foreground, i.e. the functionality in the sense of community and tradition . However, traditional African art also predominantly has a socially motivated background, which binds the African carver in his design to a certain framework.
Within this predetermined canon of forms, some particularly fine and high-quality objects protrude again and again, which were often reserved for dignitaries as possessions, i.e. also had to fulfill the function of prestige objects. Particularly talented - and therefore well respected - artists of African art were often able to distinguish themselves through exclusive commissions from high-ranking personalities, and especially with prestige objects, a direct parallel to the motivation that is also inherent in European art creation can be seen: the prestige and vanity of Owner of the extraordinary works of art created in this way.


Since most works of art of African art were created anonymously or the artists can usually no longer be traced from Europe, the provenance has to be indicated instead of the signature, i.e. the origin of the piece within the non-African market and the European previous owner, established. Evidence of the actual ritual use, including old pieces, is quite difficult, however. In very few cases there are photographs or credible witness statements, only the signs of use and the signs of aging can then serve as criteria, as can detailed stylistic considerations. Often, however, these very old pieces were originally only collected as curiosities. In the past, greater importance was attached to perfect preservation and traces of use were rather a hindrance or disparaging. For this reason, clear signs of wear and age were avoided and the more impressive, completely preserved piece was often given preference. Therefore, even with some demonstrably very old, museum pieces, the use in the cult is by no means always unequivocally secured and production for the market in the colonies was already more than a hundred years ago. It is generally a double-edged sword to classify these African works of art today solely according to age and possible ritual use, here still shows the one-sided European approach that only sees pieces that have long been used in cult as legitimate art. Here the circle of evaluations seems to come full circle, because the ritual function so highly respected by the Africans is today often the non plus ultra for the European collectors, even though these collectors do not belong to the African cults themselves.
Most Africans are a bit surprised and sometimes amused when they learn that an African fetish in Europe is set up in the bedroom (in large parts of Africa this would be unthinkable, even if the fetish no longer has any magical power) as well as masks of the Bwami secret society of the Lega adorn the walls of the European living room (these masks had the function of the identity of the members within the federation, figuratively speaking, expired identity cards of complete strangers are nailed to the wall). From an African point of view, these are all abstract excesses of the misappropriation of African art. Conversely, products of European production are also used as status symbols in Africa, e.g. B. cell phones or transistor radios or other electrical devices, even if they are no longer functional or their original use is not exactly known. A peculiarity that is then viewed from Europe with good-natured amusement.
Many of the objects actually used in the cult, or at least pieces designed for a cult, show a strong charisma and a special aura that can hardly be imitated and is the essential criterion for the first selection of so-called real pieces.
Overall, however, the trend seems to be developing somewhat more strongly against the one-sided evaluation of African art on the basis of European collection origins: The uninfluenced, objective evaluation of the artistic statement and originality without the aid of the previous evaluation - the most illustrious previous owner of an object - represents a challenge, the more and more demanding collectors - and equipped with the necessary background knowledge - seem to prefer that one should actually not allow one's own view and taste to be completely obscured by previous assessments.
Incidentally, it is not always easy to distinguish between ritual and profane uses, as several purposes are often possible. So are z. For example, the so-called caryatid stools were often not originally designed as seating furniture: Rather, these stools symbolically serve the function of an ancestor as a seat during important gatherings. However, if the stool is replaced, or in the meantime during the meetings, it is customary to continue using it as a normal stool. Many figures can also be designed as ancestral and ritual figures, as well as used as children's toys. A twin figure figure (which actually represents a deceased twin) can a: be acquired from the carver for the original use in the twin cult, b: act as a children's toy, c: be exported as handicrafts. Even an authentic carver occasionally uses several sales channels, which does not make the classification any easier: The basic distinction between "made for cult" and "made for sale" can sometimes hardly be answered unequivocally, especially if the piece in question is only in use for a short time should have been located and no significant signs of use are recognizable. In addition to the above-mentioned basic division into "made for cult" and "made for sale", there seems to be a third variant: Made for cult, but with the foresight of a later sale as an authentic original after the object actually has a Has been used ritually for a long time: Here, the piece in question is simply exchanged for a new piece of work earlier than would have been absolutely necessary in order to maintain a good state of preservation and to generate occasional income from the sale of real pieces (these are then objects of the highest authenticity class). This method is actually particularly coherent and quite obvious to the "African way", because it literally offers itself to draw double benefits from good and lavishly carved pieces in this form.
In some cases, however, decorative motifs were commissioned by European dealers that had no tradition in the carving region concerned. For example, decorative elephant masks were in demand in the Cameroon grasslands and were carved as commissioned work for export (the elephant motif was probably particularly good for sale in Europe). After some time, however, the people in the grasslands took a liking to the elephant masks themselves and began to integrate this new type of mask into their ritual mask dances. The result was a paradox related to age: an old Cameroon-style elephant mask from the colonial era was certainly only designed for export, while the more recent elephant masks mentioned may include real, i.e. danced pieces.

Age / African concept of time

In the African cultural area, opinions on age in general and on the calculation of time in particular are often completely different from the European point of view. The view of life of many African peoples is tied into the belief in a timeless existence, rooted in immortality, of most individuals and also of the communities that have emerged from it. The cycle of nature of decay and renewal is also projected onto people, who consequently live integrated in a continuous process of creation, which is also represented within the individual phases of life through initiation. Initiation is a form of death and rebirth within the individual life cycle. The individual life is only the continuation of the life in the tradition of the ancestors and after the initiation to the adult the still young man already belongs to the mature, full-fledged members of the tribe. In the following, the man in question, depending on his earnings, can be counted among the elderly at a relatively young age; the actual age in years is relative and rather subordinate here. Cult, religious objects also represent the continuation of a long chain of previous objects. After an object has been used and initiated in the eternal successor of a previous piece of the same type, this piece is considered old. Likewise, these ritual objects are often subject to a life cycle that represents the rise, flowering and decay. As soon as the power of the object decreases, it is replaced by a new successor, which is then also considered old immediately after being used - and after the power of the predecessor has been transferred. The discarded object is then useless unless it is re-initiated and is usually exposed to rapid final decay. The care and preservation of useless, worn objects does not seem expedient, often only the objects in use are cared for and valued. The discarded piece, which is now ineffective and "inanimate", was occasionally buried, thrown away or simply sold in the past.
In fact, most of the good pieces actually show at an early stage an expression of maturity and dignity that an artisan piece is completely lacking even after a hundred years of storage: the latter will always look "new", the former, however, is divided into relatively young ones via the patina and charisma Years with the viewer on a higher level.
It can also be observed that with good pieces signs of use and aging usually represent an appreciation and an artisanal imitation - after it has been damaged or negligently stored or artificially aged - usually only looks shabby.

Outlook for the future development of African art

In 1989, the Dogon tribe in Mali was declared a cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO and this measure finally resulted in a completely changed view of the original African religion, tradition and the value of African art, even for many non-Africans. The official nomination of the Dogon tribe as a UNESCO World Heritage Site now officially puts Dogon art on the same level as major European works and thus - certainly rightly - also brings about an overriding appreciation of African art forms in general. African art has long been beyond all doubt to represent an inferior curiosity in world art. Gone are the days in which the African tradition was looked down with compassion and arrogance, and when it was only researched for the purpose of proselytizing - and thus often its partial destruction.
Recently, however, the intangible heritage of some African peoples has also been honored by UNESCO, here are just a few examples:

The tradition of the Ifá oracle of the Yoruba tribe / Nigeria 2005

The Oral Tradition of the Aka Pygmies / Central African Republic 2003

The Makishi Masquerade / Zambia 2005

The Mbende Jerusalema Dance of the Shona / Zimbabwe 2005

It will be interesting to see which other African ethnic groups - and thus also their art - will receive the status of the cultural heritage of mankind in the future. The large Congo Basin and its surroundings, which are culturally extremely complex, leave considerable room for speculation (here, the tribes of the Lega, Luba, Songye, the tribes of the pygmies, or the Cuba tribal complex should be mentioned), this is all the more reason more interesting if one should already be in possession of attractive objects of the respective ethnic groups before the discovery of UNESCO.

Due to the increasing demand for traditional works, the number of copies and imitations has continued to increase over the last few decades. However, since many cults are still actively practiced, are also in the course of the 20th century. Many good and also very good objects were created that make collecting worthwhile if you - with careful selection - maintain trustworthy contacts. African society is on the move in many places and one can only speculate about the future of traditional tribal art. Since African society is in a constant state of flux, fundamental changes are to be foreseen: Old cults will die out, others will rise again, and the establishment of new rites and religious customs can also be expected. It remains to be seen how strongly urbanization and economic development act as a catalyst here, but the ultimate end of ritual African art is the least imaginable.

In addition to traditional art, completely new and independent art forms are also establishing themselves in large parts of Africa, which are only partly rooted in historical forms.
What these modern works have in common is their commercialism and that these works are mostly deliberately created for the non-African market. One of the pioneers was George Lilanga, who founded the movement of naive African painting in Tanzania. The stone sculptures of the Shona in Zimbabwe are now well-known abstract objects of contemporary African art. In addition, other modern art forms have emerged that are highly individual and personal and in turn represent a feedback with modern European art.

Uwe Schade, Wolfenbüttel, in winter 2008/2009