Up until the early 1990s Great Britain had quite a number of tribal art dealers, auction houses ran specialist sales and London was central to collecting tribal art. International shifts in the art market moved this centre to New York. Now, for many, Paris is seen to be the centre for tribal art however, there is a very special art fair in London that is highly worth visiting.
Known as Tribal Art London ( www. tribalartlondon.com ) this fair was established by Bryan Reeves almost a decade ago as Tribal Perspectives and has excelled in bringing together specialist dealers in all areas of tribal art. This select group of just under twenty dealers have a wonderfully diverse array of objects all in one venue which gives the visitor an ideal chance to assess comparative objects, Fijian clubs for example, and at the same time receive advice and learn more from some of the best experts in their respective art fields.
As soon as one enters the prestigious Mall Galleries on Pall Mall there was a fine selection of exceptionally hard to find and highly sought after tribal art publications presented by book dealer, Charles Vernon-Hunt. African art, as would be expected in Europe, dominated the offering, including a large set of hand billows displayed by Bryan Reeves, which was, perhaps, the most aesthetically intriguing object combining utilitarian functionality into the visual form of a giant animal head.
Wayne Heathcote had an interesting Maori tekoteko figure sourced from a recent Bonhams auction while the Oceanic Art Society’s Chris Boylan had the strongest representation of Papua New Guinea art.
Several dealers came from Europe, Finette Lemaire and Louis Nierijnck among them. Louis’s Northern Laos shaman masks simply made of bear skin stretched over gourds, holes cut through for eyes and mouth, with wiry black fur across the surface, were memorable. The stuff of nightmares indeed. Reuben Reubens, a long standing member of the British tribal art scene had plenty of diverse material including an impressive series of smooth, patinated African divination bones. Only a fair such as this can show the eclecticism of the world’s tribal arts proving these arts to be fascinating to every viewer. Adam Prout had a strong Kalash figure in a squatting stance with a very stylised and attractive face. Art from this area of northern Pakistan (Swat Valley to the Chital region) has from time to time been attributed to Polynesia as some patterns are similar to those found on Austral Island paddles.
A central area was set up with seating, food and drinks could also be purchased making the fair a place to also discuss art, meet new people, to relax between studying tribal art. This specialist art fair is hard to beat: exceptional works of great quality for the serious collector are displayed side by side with decorative objects that make collecting more accessible to many. The fair’s timing coincides well with Paris’ Parcours Des Mondes making a visit to London very rewarding for OAS members.