By Krisztina Turza
A fine and glorious sunny day welcomed visitors to the 13th Parcours des Mondes art fair on 9 September 2014 in Paris. As excited as one can be on his/her first visit to the ‘greatest tribal art show on Earth’, I have to say Parcours exceeded my expectations and truly lived up to its glamour and reputation.
Parcours des Mondes, with last year’s 67 participating galleries, attracted an ever-increasing number of art lovers, collectors and dealers alike. By the end of the second day, many of the galleries that I visited selling Oceanic art, reported most of their stock being sold already. What was the secret behind such success? Well, there were signs in a shifting focus and besides African art the spotlight was on Oceania, Asia and the Americas, reaching out to specific regions such as the Himalayas by various galleries including David Serra with his exhibition entitled ‘Ghurras of Nepal’ or Renaud Montméat Art d’Asie: ‘Art of India, the Himalayas and South-East Asia’ just to name a couple.
Japan was represented via Patrick & Ondine Mestdagh’s spectacular exhibition called ‘Utari: The Ainu, native people of Japan’, whilst India through Galerie Pablo Touchaleaume’s ‘Attired Idols’. Indonesia was huge as well this year with many galleries displaying remarkable artefacts including Galerie Pascassio Manfredi with their spectacular ‘King Size’ show presenting a Timor bed, a remarkable Flores horse and a Sulawesi sarcophagus, or Jonathan Hope ‘Mythical Ancestors’, exhibiting ancestor figures from South-East Asia and textiles from Indonesia, Cambodia and India.
Some galleries specialising in classical archaeology were also invited to Parcours (e.g. Galerie l’Étoile d’Ishtar). This year’s art fair was also more international than ever with almost half of the 67 dealers not being ‘resident galeries parisiennes’. However, Parcours’ strength traditionally comes from the high aesthetic, artistic and quality standards that these participating galeries display, which definitely sets the bar high for up-and-coming dealers and collectors. Despite some of the astronomical price tags, prices asked (and often paid) for some of the extraordinary tribal art pieces still remain significantly below those of
major modern contemporary art and therefore tribal art would still remain ‘affordable’ on a global comparison. And of course, there is the ‘Paris factor’ as who would not enjoy strolling through Saint-Germain-des-Près, by the river Seine or sitting outside perhaps at Les Deux Magots, a cute Parisian café in the 6th arrondissement like I did on most days, therefore the influence of Paris as a cultural capital must have also played a key role as to why this art fair was so successful.
The show was spectacular as expected: dealers displayed their best pieces and collections that they may have elaborated for years and therefore it is impossible to cover all of them in here; instead I would just try to grasp some of those that had the biggest impact on me, as, after all, I was only one of the enthusiasts attending the fair. Some galleries presented thematic shows such as Madrid-based Arte y Ritual with ‘Adam’ (Analog – Digital – Ancient – Masters), which was based on the book with the same title together with a virtual visit and a selection of ancient masterpieces from Africa, the Pacific and America (not to mention that the Casanovas behind Arte y Ritual were one of the few galleries that continued to cater for the guests by offering nibbles and champagne way beyond the opening day, which is always welcome). And then there was Martin Doustar’s ‘Golgotha – Looking to the Ancestors’, displaying rare and unique ritual skulls and relics from Oceania, Africa, India and pre-Columbian America. The exhibition of Kevin Conru, who kindly posed for my camera, created some cheerful moments while admiring his gallery items of exceptional quality, this year focused on New Britain with his show entitled ‘Baining Tapas’ exhibiting a remarkable group of textiles from the Baining people.
One of my favourite exhibitions was Thomas Murray Asiatica – Ethnographica’s ‘Pairs, couples and maternity: The Art of Duality’, which centred around the ancient Austronesian belief according to which any form of life is based on a dualistic concept, and accordingly it included beautifully choreographed pairs mostly from Island South-East Asia. I also liked ‘War! Emblems of Power’ by Indigènes that included inter alia magnificent Maori war clubs (mere pounamu, wahaika and tewhatewha), charms, shields, tomahawks, a Japanese mempo war mask, a nice Aboriginal wunda shield, PNG fighting shields, two Etruscan- Roman and one Corinthian bronze helmets as well. I also very much enjoyed my visits to Michel Thieme’s gallery where I was truly charmed by the exceptional Caroline Islands weather charm (charme de tempête) that is associated with long ocean voyages, possibly representing water spirits. Of course, galleries with substantial Oceanic collection included Australian dealer Chris Boylan, who made an impression with his strong PNG collection consisting of the beautiful ‘korkor’ highland fighting shield and my favourite item called Minja, which was a ritual fertility figure collected by Chris in 1979. Last but not least, I would like to point out how much I adored the high quality New Ireland pieces displayed by Serge Schoffel, Anthony Meyer, Galerie Flak and many others.
The other good thing about visiting Parcours besides the obvious was the frenzy of tribal art-related activities available in Paris. First of all, there is the Jean Novel designed Musée du Quai Branly, the ‘must go to’ museum for tribal art lovers, perfectly situated at the riverbank of Seine, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. Then of course the Louvre’s
Pavillon des Sessions should not be missed either, which is entirely dedicated to ‘arts premiers’ as the manifestation of the ‘unthinkable’, that is the display of ‘pagan fetishes’ taking up residence under the same roof as the Mona Lisa. Musée Dapper can be a good choice, too but it is often closed and welcomes visitors for special exhibitions only.
Sotheby’s extraordinary Trésors Collection Frum auction was conveniently held two days after Parcours, which was a great timing and meant that superb items of Oceanic art from Polynesia and Melanesia were on display at Sotheby’s rooms during Parcours week. There were some record sales out of these truly outstanding 49 art objects including the monumental Uli carving from New Ireland, an ancestral image of a powerful clan leader that achieved the world auction record for an Uli art work, selling for €1,609,500 (US$2,082,194). The pou whakairo Maori statue, considered the apogee of Maori art, sold for €1,441,500 (US$1,864,854), a world auction record for Maori work. Another standout Polynesian piece being offered was a magnificent head of a ‘Staff God’ (atua rakau) from Raratonga in the Cook Islands, which sold for €1,201,500 (US$1,554,369).
Well, after this far from comprehensive report, I can only recommend that you visit Parcours des Mondes this year to experience this form of testament to human genius as well as to fully submerge yourself in the cultural, artistic and culinary pleasures that Paris can offer.