Brussels Non-European Art Fair fair hit by weak dollar and stay-away collectors

Paris auctions were poor except for Pre-Colombian works


Brussels, Paris

Brussels Non-European Art Fair (BRUNEAF), now in its 13th year, was held this summer from 10 to 15 June. The event, which has more than 50 participants and is held in private galleries around the Place Sablon, lacked the buoyancy it enjoyed in past years. One reason is, of course, a troubled art market. Another is the weak dollar, which kept Americans away. The dollar has declined 30% against the euro in the past year. A weak dollar made it possible for American dealers to make sales, said US exhibitors Joel Cooner (Dallas), Taylor Dale (Santa Fe), and James Willis (San Francisco), but the high exchange rate prohibited them from buying new material.

In the middle of the event on 12 June, Christie’s held its tribal art sale in Paris, and that, combined with a French train strike, surely kept some people away from Brussels. And, finally, some major dealers who were part of the fair last year, opted out this year, among them Bernard de Grunne and Wayne Heathcote. Sales were down, the crowds just were not there, and major collectors were nowhere to be found, leading one to think that this may be an event on the wane.

Interestingly, another organisation, BAAF (Brussels Ancient Art Fair) staged an event to coincide. Eighteen antiquities dealers, all members of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA), one of the trade associations in this field, exhibited in galleries around the city. The two events were planned to develop a synergy, according to Brussels dealer Pierre Loos, the President of BRUNEAF. Next year, in fact, the two catalogues will be sent out in one envelope. BAAF included such dealers as Jean-David Cahn (Basel). Galerie Rhea (Zurich), and Royal-Athena Galleries (New York City). Jerome Eisenberg, the owner of Royal-Athena, said that the undertaking was a huge success, attracting the major antiquities collectors. He sold more than $500,000 worth of antiquities to collectors and institutions.

Meanwhile in Paris, Christie’s sale of tribal art was a limited success, with only 69% of the 415 lots offered finding buyers. Many African and Oceanic works were of medium quality and remained unsold. Several offbeat auction record were established, however, including one for an Akan fur and fetish-gold crescent-shaped hat from Ghana, that came from a single-owner collection and fetched E23,500 (est. E3/5,000) from an American museum and a Hawaiian feather lei that brought E41,125 (est. E5/8,000). Also noteworthy was a New Ireland Tatanua mask that sold to a European dealer for E72,850 (est. E40/60,000), a record price for a mask of this type.

Christie’s offered a good selection of Pre-Columbian art, the auction house’s first venture into the field. The star of the sale was a large gold Tairona pendant of a chieftain, dating from 1000-1500 AD. The stunning piece was preempted by Paris’s soon-to-be-opened Musée du Quai Branly for E228,250 (est. E100/150,000). Columbia protested its being sold and the matter was taken up by Interpol; however, a judge ruled before the sale that the charges were too vague, since it was not known when or from where the object was removed. “They always try to do that,” said Fatma Turkkan-Wille, Christie’s consultant in Pre-Columbian art, noting that the piece has been out of Columbia since the 19th century.

Other Pre-Columbian stars were a stone yoke from Veracruz, 450-650 AD, that sold for a record E173,250 (est. E100/120,000), and a rare early Chimu silver figure of a recumbent man, about 1100-1200 AD, that was on two years ago at the exhibition of “Silver in Ancient Peru” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The piece fetched E105,750 (est. E95/125,000).