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Sotheby's to Sell American Indian, African, Oceanic and Other Works of Art
An Important and Rare Eskimo Polychrome Wood Mask, Yup’ik or Anvik (est. $300/500,000). Photo: Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s nnounced the sale of Important American Indian, African, Oceanic and Other Works of Art from the Studio of Surrealist painter Enrico Donati, which will be sold as a single-owner collection 14 May 2010 at 2pm. Comprising approximately forty lots of works from Donati’s New York studio housed in the landmark Gainsborough Building on Central Park South, the sale will be exhibited alongside the various owners sale of American Indian Art at Sotheby’s New York galleries beginning 8 May.

Leading the selection of works on offer is An Important and Rare Eskimo Polychrome Wood Mask, Yup’ik or Anvik (est. $300/500,000). The mask would likely have been used for both festival dancing and shamanistic activities, however its specific meaning remains an enigma, the mystery of which is part of the strong attraction Donati and his Surrealist compatriots had for Eskimo art during the middle of the 20th century. The shaman would have gripped the mask in his teeth using a bar on the reverse, thereby transforming himself into another being while still retaining features of his own body and creating a magical world with fluid, shifting identity. The sale will also comprises more than 15 Hopi kachina dolls, ranging in value from $4/6,000 to $25,000/35,000, and including some very rare examples including a superb Snake Priest kachina. Mr. Donati acquired some of the dolls directly from the tribal source, having been a frequent visitor to Hopi and Zuni in the early part of the 20th Century.

Enrico Donati and American Indian Art
In 1934 while studying music in Paris, Donati was spurred to travel to the United States after a visit to the Musée de l’Homme, where he had encountered American Indian Art for the first time. As he later recalled of the trip in a 1968 oral history recorded by the Smithsonian Institution, “I was mostly interested in the idea behind the objects; why they made these masks and kachina things. And then the idea of the painting on the wood, not only the carving, but the painting on the wood and the painting on their masks, on the faces, and what it meant started to puzzle me.” Upon his return to Paris, Donati chose to pursue a career in visual arts instead of music, and in 1940, in the midst of World War II, Donati and his family immigrated to the United States. While in America, Donati joined an extraordinary group of European Surrealist artists, of which he was until his death in 2008 the last surviving member, including Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, and André Breton.

For Donati, the Eskimo and Hopi figures with which he surrounded himself in his studio contributed to the “mystery and magic of the unknown” that Timothy Burgard noted in his introduction to the catalogue accompanying The Surreal World of Enrico Donati, a 2007 exhibition shown at the de Young Museum in San Francisco which included several works to be sold in May. In his studio, Donati mixed Eskimo masks and kachina figures with his own work, works of his contemporaries, found objects, stones, fossils, and the mystical mandragora root to create an entirely new world, and a fountain of inspiration. In the Smithsonian Institution oral history, Donati discussed his studio, “Then I have surrounded myself, as you see, by my stones and masks and objects and things so that I’m absolutely distant from what goes on. I believe it’s another world. This is my world and the one outside I don’t even think about when I work. I don’t recognize it.”

Sotheby's | Enrico Donati | American Indian Art |

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