Parcours des mondes, interview with Bernard Dulon

By Artkhade with Art Media Agency

Paris, 9 September 2011


From 7 to 11 September, the most recent edition of Parcours des mondes is taking place in Saint–Germain–des–Prés in Paris. It is the biggest event dedicated to tribal art in the world. This year, 64 traders came from all over the world to exhibit exceptional collections that had been put together just for the occasion. Two days after its opening, Artkhade with Art Media Agency met with Bernard Dulon, one of the most recognised dealers in tribal art, to discover the event’s organisation and get feedback on how things are going since it opened.

  • How is the 2011 edition going so far?

Bernard Dulon: Yet again this year, the Parcours des mondes has been met with great success, with many visitors frequenting the fair. Regarding the business side of things, the enterprise generated is clear and we have already sold several items in the gallery and by telephone.

  • So you have already sold some works?

B. D.: Yes and no. The Parcours is obviously an occasion to talk about our activity and meet a much larger public. However, given the high quality and rarity of works proposed by the gallery, I can’t pretend that we have sold more than usual through the event, as passersby don’t tend to purchase. Nevertheless, it certainly gives the gallery a boost and serves as an excellent insight into all the participating dealers’ collections. So, yes, I have already sold some exceptional pieces, but I could have done so through presenting a similar exhibition any other time in the year.

  • From a commercial point of view, what does the Parcours bring to the gallery?

B. D.: Commercially–speaking, the event doesn’t generate a lot more activity than usual. The current Kota exhibition will stay open for another month, so sales will continue well after the Parcours has finished. However, inaugurating such a show in parallel with the Parcours des mondes certainly adds to its notoriety, whilst opening tribal art up to a much larger public. It’s important to know how to “play the game”, all the more so when you’re a gallery specialising in rare and expensive pieces. The price range of our works spans from €80,000 to €500,000, so it’s obvious that such an event brings with it a limited amount of clients with a similar budget.

  • Who then are your main buyers?

B. D.: Given the exceptional and extensive collection of Kota works that we present, the main buyers remain our habitual collectors, as well as several museums looking to extend their collection of Kota pieces.

  • So, you were able to run the Kota exhibition in parallel?

B. D.: Absolutely, and I believe it’s extremely important to participate in such an event in order to educate the public on tribal art and spark interest. For the occasion, many people visit the participating galleries as if they were museums. It would therefore be a shame to miss out on things, especially as we are constantly on the look out for new clients and new discoveries.

  • Tell us a bit about Kota art, why is it so expensive?

B. D.: Kota Art is emblematic of African art and should appear in all such collections, private and public. It is a fascinating art, born in the heart of the equatorial forest, originating from both an extraordinary and unusual civilisation. One could say that the Oba Kota is an icon of African art.

  • With regards to tribal art, belonging to a collection acts as an important guarantee of the works’ quality and authenticity. Is this the case for your works?

B. D.: Yes, of course. We are much attached to showing as many styles as possible given that Kota is both a linguistic and stylistic region that regroups various ethnicities such as the Obamba, Sangu and Mahongwé. Each ethnicity has developed its own style and we have therefore tried to present a wide range of the most exquisite works in each of these ‘sub–groups’. As you say, originating from a collection is a means of ensuring the quality and authenticity of African artworks. It’s important to note that our activity involves undated and unsigned works, so a decent traceability is essential. Therefore, having a collector such as Rasmussen, who possesses the works currently for sale here, reassures potential buyers, as they can be sure that they are running very little risk. We are thus able to provide a complete and authentic trace for each object presented, going as far back as the 1860s when the works were discovered.

  • Can we still find similar objects in Africa today?

B. D.: Since the 30s, it’s extremely difficult to come across such items in Africa, as they were highly traded during colonial times. The last discovery from this region dates back to the 70s, found by the famous explorer George Vidal in a well where they had been stagnating for tens of years. Vidal had subsequently sold the pieces to Jacques Kerchache.

  • What do think of the other exhibitions featuring in the Parcours this year?

B. D.: This year, the dealers present are mainly French, American, Spanish and Belgian. There are also a few non–Parisian galleries that we are not used to seeing, who have clearly surpassed themselves in the quality and diversity of works proposed. Such is the case with Laurent Dodier gallery that features a remarkable collection of North–east American Indian spoons. There’s almost thirty years of work exhibited… it’s simply fantastic.

  • Does the event focus on diversity as well as quality?

B. D.: With 64 dealers, there are 64 different qualities. Each gallery works in the same way, all going to extraordinary lengths. Some propose high quality shows, which are more accessible as the ethnicities are less rare and thus less expensive. This, for example, is the case of Bruce Frank Primitive Art, exhibiting at Agathe Hélion & Clair gallery, who proposes an ensemble of passport masks, approximately costing between €1500 and €7000. Everything is authentic and top quality, just less expensive. Consequently, he has already sold many pieces. It is essential to allow a wide array of collectors to access tribal art and this is exactly what the Parcours manages to do so well, as it proposes a broad range of prices and geographical zones.

  • Have you discovered anything new this year?

B. D.: Like every year, I have discovered many things! For example (and to mention just a few), Spanish gallery Raquel y Guilhem Montagut offers an exceptional selection of Dogon masterpieces that I was previously unaware of. Elsewhere, dealer Antonio Casanova at Arte y Ritual gallery in Spain possesses a splendid selection of Tlingit Indians from the 18th century that I would love to own! Overall, it is possible to come across new things on all levels, proving the Parcours’ immense success.

  • Do your colleagues seem happy with how things are going at present?

B. D.: As I’ve already mentioned, there are two types of dealer. Those who come to work and sell, who have apparently been trading well, and those who work in a different way, that is to say, whose clients aren’t the passersby. The variety of galleries partaking in the Parcours des mondes is a great aspect and it’s exactly this diversity that gives the event its notoriety and international shine.

From an interview with Bernard Dulon, founder and director of Dulon gallery at Saint–Germain–des–Prés.

Tags: Asian Art, African Art, Oceanic Art, Native American Art, Pre-Columbian Art, Aboriginal Art, Exhibitions, Art Market, Interviews