Caskey Lees changed the opening night formula. The
de Young (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco) no longer hosts it, meaning the $150 donation fee disappeared.
The entry fee was lowered to $60, and was free altogether, if you had the
email coupon. That's more like it, and in fact, it changed everything. Dropping the
formal black tie white glove exclusionary museum donor model, for a more festive one, was
long overdue and increased attendance proved it.
entrance foyer was bustling with energetic visitors, live music and Belly Dancers. The parking lot was
overcrowded and so were the lines for
the bars. The food from the buffet was snatched up so quickly,
that by the time I got there the tables where all but empty.
Ironically that may have been better for the dealers, as opposed to having
customers who never leave the food
court. In previous years the majority of open night visitors glued
themselves around the
food until they felt they had consumed roughly $150 worth of shrimp or
whatever (no kidding). Gone is the opulent food presentation on opening night that
often overshadowed the art.
added feature to this year's venue was a lecture series sponsored by FEA (Friends of Ethnic
Art) at the Firehouse on Sunday. It was organized by Dave DeRoche; speakers included Sam Singer, Michael Hamson, Christina Hellmich
and Mark Blackburn to name a
few. I understand
it was video taped, hopefully FEA will post a link on their site?
happening concurrently with this show was the American Indian Art show in
its 32 year. Also known as "The Marin Show" about a 35 minute drive north.
were probably planning on the same number of opening night visitors but
there were far more; at least double the volume it seemed. Knowing this next year, they'll
presumably have more food and drink to accommodate
the expanding crowds. Self-serve beer and wine might be an efficient
idea for flash crowds like they had. None of us want to spend
one third of the opening standing
in a bar line instead of looking at art. A friendly suggestion to
make it better for everyone. The enthusiasm "felt" like
Mason Festival Pavilion Opening Night
that the crowds, energy and
enthusiasm shown opening night, dwindled during the remaining days
however. General hopes were that buyers might be returning
to "hard assets" like art, gold, real estate etc., since many
had been hurt and disillusioned in the stock market. Show
sales suggested otherwise.
I've written before, the show has been in slow decline since 2008 and sadly that
is still true today. More high quality dealers are leaving and not enough good ones are signing up.
Robert Brundage told me it was his last year exhibiting. I've learned that
Bruce Frank does not plan to return either. Bruce was one of
the show's best anchor dealers, so he and his art will be especially
missed in that case.
"The Market" was the most common topic of
discussion among dealers who were eagerly comparing notes and experiences. The
conclusion, is that economic forces and polices have disemboweled the
market. Your average middle class buyer is MIA. That
hurts since it was the middle class "Art Lover" who often supported the
dealers, but can no longer afford to buy. At
this point it is no exaggeration to say
that, we are not only in a
"buyer's market", but an "extreme buyers"
market-- the likes of which I've never seen.
One might assume there to be extreme buying opportunities also.
obvious contributing factor to weaker sales is the stronger dollar versus
the euro and other currencies, making our goods less affordable and
down cycle may
be a normal facet of the market, but this time it has been long-lasting, and seems
like the new reality. The sellers of Tribal
Art vastly out number the buyers, leading to depressed prices, and some
depressed dealers. The
candid ones will tell you they are often talking losses on sales to make ends meet.
Mail Article to check out that relates to this topic of lower prices: "Have
Art Prices Peaked? Auction Houses report falling profits as the
value of even Picasso's tumble" .
night, taken while standing in the bar line.
is difficult to talk about the show without flashing back to better days. It
was not that long ago that competition among buyers was fierce.
I'm talking when the doors opened, the booths looked
like anthills of customers and things would sell and vanish in a
heartbeat! That was especially true at the Santa Fe Ethnographic
shows. Often, if a customer hesitated on a piece or walked
away for an instant, another alert customer behind him would snap it up
immediately! At Fort Mason, deals were constantly made and cut right
in parking lots. It doesn't feel like any of us will see a
repeat of those good-old-days. Right now, economic forces have created fierce competition for
"customers". So, we are stuck operating in the market we have,
rather than the
one we want.
theme so often talked about among soul-searching dealers is how to attract
"new customers" into the business and from where and how the next resurgence
of interest will emerge?? Historically we've seen periods of broad
swelling interest in Tribal Art when the public got on board with
collecting (the 1950s, the 70s, the 90's and up to 2008). With the
world and it's economy in upheaval, and terrorist activity increasing, it
may become unsafe to even land at an airport, or take the subway to get to
has been a MASSIVE demographic shift away from cultural artifacts.
In past decades Tribal Art was eagerly collected, studied, and used for
It was a popular trend for years. Now it seems the "Millennial
Generation" or (generation Y- ages 15-35 I guess) don't give a flip
about it and if they do they can't afford it since many are still living in
their parent's basements. The time to be a
collector was in the 1960's-80's when a volume of GREAT art was available.
Fast forward to now, the supply of high quality great things
(masterpieces) is scarce and the prices outrageous. That's an
impossible combination for getting a new generation interested and on board.
The millennial generation grew up on video games and social
media, not learning about art and or cultural artifacts.
Fortunately, the outlook is a little better in Europe since knowledge and
passion is still effectively transmitted to the next generation. A
next resurgence of interest can't be forced but must happen on its
own. Much of America is so superficial that it would take a major pop
star to start collecting, instagramming and tweeting about Oceanic and African
Art to make it "cool". The lemmings would follow and create the
trend, but surely a low probability of happening.
festive Belly Dancers whirling and agitated hips and coin jewelry to
Belly Dancers in Middle Eastern tribal attire
of an India Exhibition in the Foyer.
Exhibition cont. Kind of ho-hum for me.
Boyd has the first retail booth at the show entrance. That's
collector Michele Grandsard from Antwerp who always attends.
Boyd with customers
Lowe with another fabulous display of Japanese Antiques.
night- harsh lighting) Mark Assayag, his wife and Robert Ross (right).
Mark's booth was right off the food court and bar making it busy all night long.
Assayag showing a piece to Daniel Rootenberg (right)
Assayag) New Guinea Turubu Barak mosquito mask.
Assayag) This is Mark's second year at the show and it was exciting
to see his pieces. He brought a sampling of the
New Guinea Art from John Friede's collection he purchased. In a shrewd move,
he was able to purchase the balance of Friede's collection and called
"checkmate", shutting out others who used it as a "honey hole"
for so long.
and Lin Willis
Solomon (left) and Jim Willis. I remember when I interviewed Jim, he
told me that you really never retire from this
business. He surely practices that philosophy, selling and
turning over more inventory than most of us!
night crowd) Gregory Ghent and collector Jeffrey Clifton (right).
lines for the two bars backed up into dealer's booths, encroaching on
waiting in line, a seasoned collector told me "the show has a handful of good dealers
who consume most of the oxygen in the room and then there is everything else".
While that statement is overall unfair and not quite accurate, it is a
belief held by many, especially the old guard of collectors.
& Sandy Dale's booth) Ted Trotta and Anna Bono
& Sandy Dale)
& Sandy Dale) A poor photo- but I was struck by the scale and
detail of Trobriand Island drum (far left) with applied lime paint.
Murray) Outstanding trio of Korwar figures.
Galleries) Ron and April Dammann
Boylan- Sydney) A bold colorful display. One of the most
visible booths in the show right off the food court. In past years
it was occupied by Marcuson & Hall.
night) still standing in the bar line, wondering if this would be a good
week to stop drinking.... NO.
Abram Galleries) We'll see more of.
Stephenson African Art) With a collector considering a Yombe female
Stephenson African Art) This Yombe female was his catalog
Stephenson African Art) A tense Congo Power figure also. I believe he
sold both of these at the show. He had another cool Yombe figure
with arm in the air but the photo didn't come out...
Stephenson African Art) This Mossi mask with bold layered old paint
was an Ironsmith's Shirine Mask, according to Michael Oliver.
assigned photography grade is a low D+. Lots of
different lighting conditions and I didn't want to use a flash. Most photos were on the fly and on the move while being
interrupted and distracted.
I kept this one since you see a full view of their booth.
Heathcote) Lots of great objects here. Nias Island royal
seated ancestor figure "Adu Zatua".
Heathcote) Important published Maori figure with auction
history. A graphic painted New Guinea Highlands shield with
Heathcote) Another view
Heathcote's Booth) Jack Sadovnick talking with visitors.
We were pleased to see him back and recovered from health issues.
Wolf- Los Angeles) who we will be visiting again later.
the "context" of this review, it is not done for myself or the
dealers, but rater for the thousands of people who couldn't attend the
show but who expect nothing less than the unvarnished truth as I see
it. The folks in my audience expect honest reporting and not a
flowered version of the market or events.
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