Ancient, Folk & Modern Worlds of Art
Live Auction: Sunday, June 12, 2016, 10AM EST
Exhibition: June 10-11, 11AM-5PM
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Material Culture ushers in the summer with an estate sale that brings together excellent findings in many of the auction house’s specialty categories. “June Estates: Ancient, Folk & Modern Worlds of Art” is headlined by a wealth of self-taught art, predominantly from the United States, exceptional ethnographic art from Africa and Oceania, and folk and traditional art from Asia and the Americas. Fine art in the auction encompasses oil painting, watercolor, prints, sculpture and ceramics. Collectors and enthusiasts of antique textiles, rugs, and antiquities will also discover compelling offerings within the auction’s 807 lots.
A number of local, regional and national estates make significant contributions to the auction in the realms of folk and self-taught art. One hundred and seven items come from the estate of the well-known art dealer and pioneering supporter of self-taught artists, Robert Cargo, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Cargo’s impressive collection brings many highlights to the sale. Twelve of the fewer than thirty remaining oil paintings by Roger Rice (Mississippi, b. 1958) are in the sale, arguably led by his “Adam and Eve.” This oil painting on wood panel, at once almost a diptych and a single, cohesive image, carries intriguing commentary on several facets of the Biblical story; Rice, an ordained fundamentalist minister, brings a strong visionary lens to his religious works. Also from Mississippi, Mary Tillman Smith (1904-1955) is represented in three pieces on found materials, a hallmark of her work, two on metal and one on tin. Clementine Hunter (Louisiana, 1886-1998), very well known for her depictions of the plantation life she lived, including important rites such as baptisms and funerals, is shown at auction in her painting “Wedding.”
With sixteen lots, the majority of which contain two or more of his non-naturalistically colored paintings of people and animals, Mose Tolliver (Alabama, 1925-2006) is the most well-represented artist in Cargo’s collection. Bernice Sims (Alabama, 1926-2014), who decided to start painting when she visited nearby artist Tolliver and saw his success, has nine canvases in the sale. Sims became famous for her depictions of remembered civil rights events; some of her paintings at auction have a slight political bent, but most are depictions of everyday rural and small town life. Four paintings by Chuckie Williams include portraits of Michael Jackson, Madonna, and “Wizard of Oz” characters, rendered with a spirited fun-house-mirror sensibility. Other pieces include “Dream Vision,” by Prophet Royal Robertson (1936-1997), two works framed together by J.B. Murray (1908-1988), two cityscapes by Wesley Willis (Chicago, 1963-2003), four softly-colored Biblical scenes by Myrtice West (1923-2010), and five female portraits, predominantly nude, by Joseph Hardin (1921-1989).
Sculpture from Cargo’s collection is highlighted by two of Raymond Coins’s (Virginia, 1904-1998) carved river stone figures. Charlie Lucas (Alabama, b. 1951) has one sculpture in the auction, a welded-metal assemblage depiction of two musicians, along with three of his surrealist animal paintings. Sandra Rice (Alabama, b. 1949) has the largest showing, with nine lots of her fired painted clay sculptures, the most comical of which is arguably her “NBC Headcount.” This series strings nine faces on three parallel lines in a wooden frame reminiscent of an abacus, and in the NBC piece, the heads are those of the journalists Jane Pauley, Bryant Gumbel, Willard Scott, Gene Shallit, John Palmer, Tom Brokaw, Connie Chung, John Chancellor and David Brinkley. This lot also includes 5 original, signed letters from the NBC team responding to Robert Cargo’s letter offering the artwork for sale in connection with NBC’s 35th anniversary year.
Forty-seven lots come to auction from the estate of Myra Yellin Outwater, the Pennsylvanian author of many books on antiques, decorative arts and collecting, including “Cast Iron Automotive Toys,” “Garden Ornaments and Antiques” and “Ocean Liner Collectibles.” Several pieces by Justin McCarthy (Pennsylvania, 1891-1977) display his penchant for painting fashion plates or glamorous ladies, one of his many themes that seems to presage the pop art movement. Folk-art legend “Mr. Imagination,” the artist born Gregory Warmack (Chicago, 1948-2012) is shown in a delightful sculpture “Aquarium,” in which the scales of the six fish are rendered in his signature bottle-caps. Another renowned folk-art sculptor in Outwater’s collection is Sulton Rogers (Mississippi/New York, 1922-2003), with the surreal “Two-Headed Man in Coffin,” a carved and painted wood sculpture of one of Rogers’s “haints” with a functional coffin lid. Other sculptures include three lots of animal sculptures by Miguel Rodriguez (New Mexico) and a “Possum with Two Babies” by Minnie Adkins (Kentucky), all of carved and painted wood.
Other noteworthy art in this category includes 31 works by Miami-based artist Javier Mayoral, whose bright, surreal images are hilariously juxtaposed with explanatory captions, such as “Franz Kafka Wearing His Mexican Wrestling Outfit.” Howard Finster (Alabama, 1916-2001), well known for his distinctive style and incorporation of text, is shown in four pieces, including a cutout board camel, Cadillac, and self-portrait. Seven pieces by Jim Bloom (Pennsylvania, b. 1968) employ a variety of media in their depictions of people, abstract or simply expressionist, highly evocative of action, relationship or mood. A carved and painted wood relief panel by artist and Evangelical preacher Leroy Almon (Georgia, 1938-1997) entitled “Satan Fishing,” shows the devil dangling symbols of corrupting influences such as money, alcohol, gambling and sex above the earth, represented by high-rise buildings marked with names like “Coca-Cola” and “JC Penny Inc.”
The collection of Bob Brand and Liz Werthan, of Philadelphia, supplies the auction with fifty-seven fine lots of folk art by noted artists. Henry Munyaradzi (Zimbabwean, 1931-1998), part of the sculptural movement known as “Shona sculpture” for its inspiration with the Shona people of southern Africa, is shown in two of his sculptures of faces carved in polished stone. From the United States, two lots of William Dawson’s (1901-1990) personable carved wooden statues provide a counterpoint. Mexican folk art is the most plentiful within the Brand and Werthan collection, highlighted by an alebrije-style sculpture of a coyote and its kill, signed by artist Epifanio Fuentes of Oaxaca, Mexico, and an intricate masterpiece diablo mask by renowned mask-maker Juan Horta Castillo (1940-2006). Also worthy of note is a vintage Mexican festival mask of carved wood and leather, adorned with coins and milagro folk charms.
Fine art at the auction is arguably led by a number of oil paintings by 20th century American artists. An untitled oil on masonite painting by Donald Stanley Vogel (1917-2004) centers on two young girls at a balcony railing; one, her face obscured to the viewer, looks out at the trees, water, and sailboat masts, while the other glances back to the interior where a cat perches on a chair. In Andrew Turner’s (American, 1944-2001) “Dancers,” the focus is on the movement of the dancers’ limbs, their faces swaths of the painting’s pastoral color. Glen Ranney (American, 1896-1959) offers another grouping of figures, possibly a family on a day out, while Julius Bloch (American, 1888-1966) is shown in a still life with flowers, dominated by cheery yellow of the vase and blooms; both are oil paintings on canvas.
In fine art prints, Ad Reinhardt (American, 1913-1967) leads with a signed and numbered screenprint on plexiglass, one of his late explorations with black squares as an expression of pure art. George Rodrigue (American, 1944-2013) contributes one of his widely recognizable “Blue Dog” screenprints, signed and numbered. Other American printmakers in the auction include James Brooks (1906-1992), with his vibrant “Concord” from the portfolio “America: The Third Century,” and Jonathan Borofsky (b. 1942), whose “Workers of the Planet Earth” screenprint features the same silhouette as the “Hammering Man” sculptures for which he is most famous. Spanish-Puerto Rican artist Angel Botello (1913-1986) is seen in an original block print entitled “Sentada con Muneca,” in which a woman sits embracing a child, rendered in the more Cubist-leaning of Botello’s protean styles. Photography includes thirty-four lots of fashion photography by Paul Rowland, who is considered a driving force in the content and form of fashion photography in this century.
Contemporary sculpture is led by two striking fish assemblages by Japanese artist Densaboru Oku (b. 1945); these skeletal fish are composed of found objects, metal, and blown glass. Pennsylvania sculptor Steve Tobin (b. 1957) is shown in seven group lots of his smaller ceramic works. Though none are quite literal, all of their biomorphic forms take clear inspiration from nature–the hallmark of Tobin’s work–whether it’s a carefully inscribed pattern of grapes, leaves and vines, or form created by detonating tiny explosives in a block of clay.
The sale boasts an exceptionally strong selection of ethnographic and tribal arts, with many rare and antique pieces. A rare headhunters’ shrine post from Timor Island in Indonesia provides one highlight; called ‘ai tos,’ which means ‘hard wood,’ this post of dense, heavy wood bears two faces gazing in opposite directions and would have been topped with a disc or slab on which to place offerings. Also from Indonesia, a very old tau tau tomb guardian of carved wood originates with the Toraja people of South Sulawesi, who place these figures at the mouths of cliff-side tombs to represent the deceased and protect the living.
African art is led in part by another very old piece, a carved female sculpture made by the Attie or Anyi people of the Lagoons region of the Cote d’Ivoire, her wood burnished by generations of hands to a honey gold. A Baule male figure, also from the Cote d’Ivoire, bears provenance that includes the Helen and Mace Neufeld Collection of Tribal Art. A trove of other rare pieces includes an early 20th century carved wooden sculpture of a ‘Chokwe Chikunza’ dancer from Angola, a rare wooden spirit figure from the small, remote Kaka tribe of southern Nigeria, and, from the neighboring Taraba state in Nigeria, an old magic fetish sculpture made by the Mumuye people. This last “Lalalagana” figure was carved with the head turned slightly off axis, which makes it a very unusual form, which, along with its age, contributes to its rarity. Other outstanding pieces from West Africa are an exceptional Benin bronze Oba figure, demonstrating his authority by reading a decree and wielding an axe, a carved wooden chair for a Vodou priest of the Fon people adorned with lions and mermaids, and an Ifa divination bowl made by the Yoruba people. Also notable in tribal art, but from North America, is an Inuit soapstone spirit figure, carved by Kovinatilliak Takpaungai of Cape Dorset.
Pre-Columbian antiquities take a variety of forms, from gold to textiles. A male figure made of Tumbaga gold by the Tairona people still holds all of its luster despite being many centuries old, dating to 800-1600 CE. This statue, likely representing a chief, was used as a ‘poporo,’ a receptacle to hold the limes which were part of the ritual of chewing coca. Another item that relates to ceremonial consumption is a Taino pestle made of serpentine, which was used to crush hallucinogenic cohoba seeds, and dates to 1000-1500 CE. A wooden ‘sonajero’ staff—equipped with the rattle that gives it its name—originates with the Chimu culture circa 1100-1400 CE, and is capped with a crouching feline figure. Two well-preserved Chancay panels of camelid wool, dating to 1100-1400 CE, are identical lengths from what was likely a single long band.
The superb items made available in Chinese and Asian arts are likewise diverse, led by a magnificent antique cloisonné censer from China, gilt with sky blue enamel and topped with a golden dragon. A fine set of three Chinese hanging scrolls, each displaying a different landscape with trees, mountains and dwellings, come in their original wooden box. An intricately-carved Chinese ink stone, used to grind and contain ink, bears decoration on two of its three stacking layers. Highlights in Chinese ceramics include a a porcelain bowl with the mark of Qianlong Emperor (1735-1796), flowers clustering densely around two figures, and an antique Qingbai vase, a type of white porcelain overlaid with a slight blue-green glaze that was most popular during the Southern Song period (1127-1279).
A series of excellent Sino-Tibetan statues begins with a finely-detailed bronze Buddha inlaid with silver eyes and precious stones; also notable is an antique gilt bronze statue of Yama Dharmaraja, and several grouped lots of Buddha figures dating from 1750 to 1850 from the Matthew Friedman Collection. Friedman, the author of three books on the subject of antique Asian bronze, contributes approximately 75 lots to the auction, a variety of Hindu and Buddhist statues, bronze containers, lamps, bowls and other items, many dating to the 18th or 19th centuries. Three lots of Indian narrative scroll painting, or ‘Pabuji Ki Phad,’ date to the early or mid-20th century. This art form, particularly popular in western Rajasthan, chronicles the deeds of the folk deity Pabuji, a Rajput prince. The paintings are created by priest singers called Bhopas, whose songs narrate the scenes depicted.
An abundance of Asian textiles possesses several highlights, including an 18th century Chinese silk cushion cover with metallic thread, denoted for imperial use by its gold ground color and the five-clawed dragon at the center of the brocade. From Japan, a 19th century silk theatre curtain, embroidered with red flowers and ribbons on a sky blue backdrop, measures more than thirty feet long. Antique Indian textiles are led by an exquisite hand-woven Kashmir shawl that dates to the 19th century, but still comes to auction in its original wooden box, with original label. Over two hundred textile pieces, primarily decorated garments from India, China, Central Asia and the Middle East, are the consignment of a single, North Carolina estate.
Not to be overlooked is the fine selection of antique carpets, an area of expertise for Material Culture. An antique mansion-sized Serapi carpet with a large central medallion on a red ground and black border, intricately detailed in classic style, measures 19 feet and four inches long. Two fine room-sized Persian carpets both date to circa 1900; a Karadja rug places three rows of medallions on a blue field bordered in red, and an Oushak rug employs gold and light blue on salmon-colored ground. The entire auction opens with an intriguing silk Judaica Kashan rug, also from the early 20th century, with many pictorial elements including Moses with the Ten Commandments, the symbols of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and Hebrew inscriptions.