Sotheby’s to Auction The Robert Rubin Collection Of African Art in New York

. February 17, 2011 . 0 Comments

Sotheby’s will offer The Robert Rubin Collection, one of the most important collections of African art to have appeared on the international market in recent years, on 13 May 2011 in New York.

Mr. Rubin (1934–2009) was a founding trustee of the Museum for African Art in New York and a major figure in the field. As a collector, he sought out only the finest examples from each region and tribe available at the time he was collecting. His highly selective collection of approximately 50 works reflects his extraordinary taste and discernment. Among the many highlights is a Dogon Nduleri Male Ancestor Figure by the Master of the Slanted Eyes, the companion to a female figure in the collection of the Musée du Louvre in Paris . The dramatically carved legs and knees of the elongated figure contribute to the dynamic rhythm of the sculpture (est. $800,000/1.2 million). The collection is estimated to bring more than $4 million. Prior to the exhibition and sale in New York , highlights will also be shown at Sotheby’s Paris from 12th –- 15th April 2011.

Robert Rubin first started to collect African art in the late 1970s. He sold his textile business in the early 1980s and turned his focus to expanding his African Art Collection. With newfound time and resources, he was able to take advantage of the increasing visibility and appreciation of African Art. New York was spearheading a shift in perception – for the first time art museums started to show African Art, marking a move away from the traditional anthropological museum setting. In 1978 the collection of former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller was given to The Metropolitan Museum of Art and was housed in the expansive new Rockefeller wing which opened in 1982. Two years later in 1984, the Museum of Modern Art was to hold the groundbreaking exhibition ‘Primitivism’ in 20th Century Art.

A group of influential dealers and collectors helped to create an exciting moment in the field, and Mr. Rubin was fortunate to work closely with many of these important figures. A new appreciation for African Art in the 1970s and 80s helped to bring the highest quality works onto the market. Those years are now widely recognized as a ‘golden age’ for African Art collecting in America. The appearance of major works on the market coupled with Mr. Rubin’s refined eye helped him assemble a true connoisseur’s collection, selecting the best example from each category. It is particularly fitting that the Rubin Collection reenters the market during a period where interest in African Art is at an all time high. Since 2006, the opening of new museums, important exhibitions and the sale of several esteemed collections, have helped to reinvigorate the interest and appetite for African Art, with new collectors in South America, Asia and the Middle East.

Robert Rubin’s knowledge and connoisseurship extended well beyond African art. Coming from a family of collectors, his wide-ranging artistic interests included paintings, sculpture and many other forms of fine and decorative arts. Mr. Rubin was an assiduous museum visitor, investigating and studying any piece that caught his eye with enormous passion. He used this broader artistic education to appreciate the various forms and materials used in African art.

Robert Rubin was a founding trustee of the Museum for African Art in New York which opened in 1983 and is due to move into its new purpose built space on Manhattan’s ‘Museum Mile’ in the fall of 2011. Mr. Rubin was a major figure in the formation of the museum, and used the skills gained in his successful business career to help it become one of the world’s major African art museums over the past 25 years. He travelled to Africa several times with the museum, which helped inform and deepen his understanding of the works in his collection.

Highlights
One of the major highlights from the sale is a Baule Male Ancestor Figure from Ivory Coast, the finest example of this type to appear at auction in recent memory (est. $600/900,000). It was created by a master carver whose attention to detail is unsurpassed in African art. The unusually large (24 in) piece is of exceptionally high quality. It boasts impressive provenance and has also been widely published, including in the prestigious L’Art Negré by Pierre Meauzé in 1967.

A small but refined Boyo Power Figure from the DRC also has notable provenance having once been in the collection of Ruth and Ernst Anspach and French sculptor Arman Arman (est. $60/90,000). The surface of the figure boasts a wonderful patina, attesting to decades of ritual practice in which the piece would have been used.

A Yombe Maternity Figure from the DRC is one of the finest sculptures from the Western Congo ever to have appeared at auction. The masterpiece has been widely exhibited and was formerly in the collection of Philippe Guimiot in Brussels (est. $150/250,000).

An exceptional Eastern Congolese, Possibly Lega, Ivory Mask from the DRC is one of only two examples known in this style (est. $100/150,000). The mask, which was carved from the bottom part of a large tusk, has a deep golden patina with red and white multi-layered encrustation. The sculpture was probably made for a senior member of the secret Bwami society amongst the Lega in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

One of the most iconic works in the collection is a Songye Male Power Figure which is encrusted with copper nails, each of which represents a magical charge (est. $150/250,000). The striking artwork was featured on the cover of Wild Spirits – Strong Medicine: African Art and the Wilderness, in 1989 and has been exhibited widely including in Primitivism in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1984.

A highly cubistic Mano Male and Female Couple from Liberia represents an idealized ancestral couple. It is executed in an extremely rare style and is the only known pair of such figures to survive (est. $200/300,000).

An expressionist Bembe Reliquary Figure is the only known example made with a cloth body and wooden head (est. $150/250,000). The fabric body wraps ancestral relics to form this striking abstract figure. The figure has been widely exhibited including at the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington DC and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York where it was one of the star pieces in the critically acclaimed Eternal Ancestors: Art of the Central African Reliquary exhibition in 2008.

Image: Songye Male Power Figure. Est. $150/250,000. Photo: Sotheby’s.

Category: Fine Art

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