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African, Oceanic, and Pre-Columbian art to be offered at Sotheby's in New York on 11 May 2012
Luluwa Helmet Mask, Democratic Republic Of The Congo. Height 12 inches. Est $1.5/2.5 million.

NEW YORK, NY.- On 11 May 2012 Sotheby’s will present their annual sales of African, Oceanic, and Pre-Columbian Art in New York. The auctions will be dominated by works from distinguished private collections much of which has not appeared on the market for decades. Of particular note is a group of Masterpieces of African Art from the Collection of the Late Werner Muensterberger. Before his death last year Dr. Muensterberger was widely recognized as one of the great scholars of African Art and a number of extraordinary pieces from his collection will be offered in a dedicated sale immediately before the various-owner auction. Highlights of the single-owner sale include one of the iconic masterpieces of African art: A Luluwa Helmet Mask, while the various-owner sale will include pieces that once belonged to artists Armand Arman and Henri Mattise, as well as a superb selection of Pre-Colombian Art.

Masterpieces of African Art from the Collection of the Late Werner Muensterberger
Werner Muensterberger (1913-2011) was born in Dortmund, Germany and started collecting African art as a teenager, inspired to do so by a relative of his mother, the renowned collector Baron Eduard von der Heydt. Muensterberger, studied with Eckart von Sydow in Berlin and Felix Speiser in Basel, with whom he acquired a PhD specializing in Indonesian creation mythology in 1938. He was the author of several important early publications on African, Oceanic, and Native American art. The auction will be led by one of the iconic masterpieces of African art – a Luluwa Helmet Mask, Democratic Republic of the Congo (est. $1.5/2.5 million). The work was acquired for $12,000 by Dr. Muensterberger in 1959 and was the centerpiece of his collection for the next 50 years. The monumental mask is a unique portrait of a female ancestor created by a Luluwa carver in the 19th century or earlier.

Further highlights from the sale include a Sherbro Stone Head from Sierra Leone (est. 250/350,000). Like the Luluwa Helmet Mask this piece had also been in Dr. Muensterberger’s collection for several decades. The remarkable 15th Century sculpture represents a major figure in a village or clan and is stylistically comparable to the finest ivory carvings exported in the 15th and 16th centuries from Sierra Leone for the ‘Kunstkabinette’ at the European Royal Courts.

The collection also features a Contemporary Earthenware Sculpture by Kenyan-born Magdalene Odundo (est. $40/60,000). Odundo draws from the ceramic tradition of her roots on the Ugandan/Kenyan border and this is the finest piece by the artist to have appeared at auction.

Other Collections
Highlights from the various-owner sale include a Kota Reliquary Figure, Gabon which was previously in the collection of artist Armand Arman (est. $1/1.5 million). The sculpture is one of the finest reliquary figures to have appeared at auction and was once incorporated into one of Arman’s assemblage sculptures.

A Bamana Zigzag Figure, Mali, was formerly in the collection of MoMA Director William Rubin (est. $400/600,000) and was exhibited in the landmark exhibition Primitivism in 20th Century Art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The instantly recognizable zig-zag shape has been an inspiration for many 20th century artists of the avant-guarde including Constantin Brancusi.

Henri Matisse was another artist known for his fascination with African Art and was one of the earliest collectors in the field. Three pieces in the sale were formerly in his private collection and are led by a Bamana Female Figure by the Segou Master, Mali, (est. $150/250,000). The sculpture, which is documented as being in Matisse’s collection by 1915, can be seen in the background of the left panel of the artists famous painting Three Sisters from 1917 and was also a source of inspiration for the reductive head sculpture Jeanette V from 1916.

A further distinguished group in the sale comes from The Martin and Roberta Lerner Collection of African Miniature Sculpture. Mr. Lerner was a leading curator of Asian Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the highlight of this collection is a Kongo Figurative Hunting Charm, Democratic Republic of the Congo (est. $30/50,000).

The Susan and Jerry Vogel Collection of African Art was put together by two major figures in the world of African Art. Susan Vogel has been curator of the African collection at the Metropolitan Museum, Founding Director of the Museum for African Art, Director of the Yale University Art Gallery, and Professor of African art at Columbia University. Jerry Vogel first visited Africa as the first Fulbright Professor at the University of Abidjan, then was Executive Director of Operation Crossroads Africa, directed Parsons in West Africa and then Drew in West Africa. In his long association with the Museum for African Art he has been everything from Director of the Travel program to Acting Curator of Exhibitions. This collection is led by a Baule Portrait Mask by the Totokro Master one of the most important masks from Ivory Coast, that was featured in William Rubin’s Primitivism in 20th Century Art and also included in the major exhibition Africa: The Art of a Continent at the Guggenheim in 1996 (est. $300/500,000).

A further distinguished collection in the sale was put together by Zafrira and Itzhak Shoher of Tel Aviv who have been collecting African Art for many years. Their relatives Julius and Josefa Carlebach opened their first gallery in Berlin in the 1920s and were later one of the main sources for the collection built by Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller in New York. All works in the Shoher Collection were acquired directly from Josefa Carlebach. The group is led by A Lega Ivory Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo (est. $300/500,000), A Lega Elephant Hide Mask, Democratic Republic of the Congo (est. $200/300,000) and a Torres Straits Islands Turtoise Shell Mask ($150,000-250,000).

Pre-Columbian Art
Among the highlights of Pre-Columbian Art in the sale is Property from the Stokes Family Collection including A Monumental Chinesco Seated Female, Lagunillas Type A, Protoclassic, Ca. 100 B.C.-A.D. 250 (est. $150/200,000). These monumental Lagunillas figures from Nayarit were made as tributes to the deceased and are some of the most impressive hollow ceramics conceived in ancient Mexico. The current sculpture embodies youth, fertility and vitality. Also from the Stokes Collection is a Large Maya Polychrome Vessel With Deities, Late Classic, Ca. A.D. 550-950 (est. $75/100,000).

By the 6th Century AD Teotihuacan was one of the largest cities in the world. Stone masks produced at the time are among the best known, most emblematic and impressive forms of sculpture from this metropolis. The sale includes two Teotihuacan masks sold by the Art Institute of Chicago, which are led by A Teotihuacan Stone Mask, Classic (Ca. A.D. 450-650) (est. $125/175,000).

The Estate of Jan Mitchell is offering a small selection of Pre-Colombian gold. A notable New Yorker known for his revitalization of Luchow's restaurant, Mitchell put together important collections including a comprehensive group of Pre-Columbian gold from which many important works were gifted to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1991. The pieces from the Mitchell Estate in the sale include A Large Sicán Painted Gold Mask, Ca. A.D. 950-1250 (est. $50/70,000). Sicán masks from the north coast of Peru are some of the largest Pre-Colombian goldworks known to exist; with the current piece pigments have been used to add to the aura of the highly stylized funerary item.

From the Collection of William and Betty Hayes is an offering of West Mexican sculpture featuring a Large Jalisco Seated Couple, San Juanito Style, Protoclassic, Ca. 100 B.C.-A.D. 250 (est. $30/40,000).

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