Parcours des Mondes: Whirlwind in Saint-Germain-des-Prés

By Artkhade with Art Media Agency

Paris, 27 September 2016

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A Bakongo nail fetish, a Jivaro shrunken head, or a sculpture from Papua New Guinea… From “museum-quality” pieces to charming finds, Artkhade looks back to a crazy week: the Parcours des Mondes.

The tribal-arts market is fascinating. Less dangerous than operating a uranium mine in Gabon, more restful than Tintin’s adventures in Congo, it has experienced an unprecedented boom in the last fifteen years or so. The quest for “magic” objects from Africa, Oceania or the Americas draws dealers and collectors to Paris every year at the quirky Parcours des Mondes * in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés district. This eminently tribal rendezvous, a deliciously ritualistic ceremony, brings together the cream in international dealing every September. To give a literary comparison, one might say that the magic of the Parcours des Mondes is a bit like the shock inflicted by L’Afrique fantôme… it is just as enchanting as Michel Leiris’ book. The type of week that might set you into a trance until Christmas.

Cuillère Bidjogo Iles Bissagos Guinée BissauCharles-Wesley Hourdé © Parcours des mondes, photo : Cerise Laby

Following on from the BRUNEAF (Brussels Non European Art Fair) and TAL Tribal Art London, Bryan Reeves’ fair held at the start of September in London, the Parcours des Mondes follows the singular trail of the so-called “remote” arts whose attraction seems boundless. Even Audrey Azoulay, French minister of culture and communication, fell under the spell of Punu masks, Kota relics and other nail fetishes. And when great state officials venture to the jungle of galleries (such as Meyer or Flak), crossing the Rue des Beaux-Arts just as Livingstone traversed the Zambezi Valley, then you really know that these works are finding favour high up.

Cuillère Bidjogo Iles Bissagos Guinée Bissau © Parcours des mondes, photo : Cerise Laby

“Best show ever”

Alain Bovis gathered some “small wonders” – around one hundred minuscule statuettes, amulets and jewels – for an exhibition named “Beautysmall”. Bernard Dulon was in top form with Tsogho statue masterpieces from Gabon, and a world’s first with Bwiti ritual icons… So much to say that for its fifteenth edition, this Parcours founded by the tireless Pierre Moos once again set records for the number of transactions as well as the number of visitors, ever quick to marvel at the offerings. We should point out that this year, all the stops were pulled out: there were nearly 80 exhibitors including twelve American galleries and sixteen from Belgium who made the trip to Paris from 6 to 11 September.

Michael Hamson, for example, surely doesn’t regret hiking over from the Los Angeles county of Palos Verdes after selling his two key pieces, one to the National Gallery of Australia, a venerable institution in Canberra, the other to the Musée Barbier-Mueller in Geneva (a Ray Coast mask from Papua New Guinea, collected between 1773 and 1817). Visibly delighted, the dealer called this edition his “best show ever”. Another happy dealer, Michel Thieme was not disappointed either to come from Amsterdam where late autumn is so mild. He also sold two major lots consisting of Korwar works from Cenderawasih Bay, a remote part of western Papua New Guinea, priced at €85,000. From culture blending to pecuniary exchanges, things certainly got moving in his gallery. Michel Thieme declares that he saw collectors from all over the world, private individuals as well as museum institutions. The Quai Branly gave into the temptation of one piece, while placing an option on another, whereas the Museum of Cultures in Milan, the MUDEC, reserved a set of seven objects.

Cuillère Bidjogo Iles Bissagos Guinée Bissau © Parcours des mondes, photo : Cerise Laby

Max Rutherston, a first-time participant at the Parcours des Mondes, is returning to London with a full list of contacts, after making most of his sales to new French clients. His netsukes, a speciality of the gallery, found fans because – a little reminder – the event has also welcomed Asian arts since last year. On this note, we can also say that Himalayan masks offered for €5,000 to €30,000 by the Parisian gallery Indian Heritage found a public, and Frédéric Rond sold a dozen pieces – mainly to collectors, but also to the charming Tibet Museum in Gruyères, Alain Bordier’s Swiss foundation. The 2016 edition was “very satisfying” for this enthusiastic dealer who appreciated the fair’s “beautiful energy”. New York-based Kapoor Galleries, a name in Himalayan and Indian arts, as is also Wei Asian Arts from Brussels, both speak of a “positive” experience in terms of client relationships, with Howard Wei namely making contact with the Cité de la Céramique in Sèvres.

Cuillère Bidjogo Iles Bissagos Guinée Bissau Frédéric Rond © Parcours des mondes, photo : Cerise Laby

Mention can also be made of Thomas Murray, from Asiatica-Ethnographica, who we imagine felt a slight tug at his heart when he sold his entire amulet collection from Borneo. 200,000 euros is all the same a consoling figure for this collection lovingly built up over 35 years, now the joy of a private collector. Adrian Schlag, head of Tribal Art Classics, returns to Brussels with practically no luggage, most of his finds having changed hands, whereas Serge Schoffel has filled up on new clients, and leaves behind around ten objects in Paris.

Selective positioning and transnational scope

Bernard Dulon is “delighted”, Edith and Julien Flak speak of “a magnificent Parcours, a very fine year marked by a very good level of sales” without going into details about figures, but nonetheless hinting at buoyant business… In short, the dealers are unanimous: the clients turned up, were active, and distinctly international. Americans, Australians, Germans, Swiss and Belgians, many Dutch people, Italians, and of course, big fans from France. More surprising, not to say exotic in this segment: clients from Saudi Arabia passed through Aboriginal Signature.

Cuillère Bidjogo Iles Bissagos Guinée Bissau Laurent Dodier © Parcours des mondes, photo : Cerise Laby

The Parcours is also an opportunity to take stock on contemporary art, the speciality of the Belgian gallery owned by Bertrand Estrangin, a first-time participant, who says the following: “It’s a success, both in terms of visits and sales.” It’s true that his exhibition “Innovation and Tradition” rallied together a large battalion of connoisseurs. Some twenty works, mainly from central and northern Australia were sold. Another great tenor in Australian arts, Stéphane Jacob said goodbye to some 35 pieces, averaging €1,500 per piece. The gallerist nonetheless notes “a certain drop in the importance of the works acquired, with the clients tending to be less international, and art lovers rather than collectors at this edition”. Meanwhile, Cédric Rabeyrolles Destailleur from Galerie Vallois – following an “excellent” fair where he sold about twenty sculptures for between €3,000 and €5,000 per piece thanks to the solo show by Togolese “welder-artist” Didier Amévi Ahadji – raved about the “fair effect”. An effect that was felt “not so much on the evening of the opening but rather in the days that followed”, with “80 % of buyers being new clients”.

Cuillère Bidjogo Iles Bissagos Guinée Bissau © Parcours des mondes, photo : Cerise Laby

As a key tribal-art fair, the Parcours des Mondes signs a great success at its fifteenth edition, confirming its selective positioning and transnational scope. And then – let’s be frank – what makes this event far more than a simple fair for dealers offering fine wares is its atmosphere! From the mezzanine of the Alcazar on Rue Visconti, from the terrace of La Palette to the Galerie Yann Ferrandin (a fantastic “Hair” exhibition dedicated to hair adornments from tribal societies), the Saint-Germain district is a splendid place for a stroll. A glass in hand, an opening on the sidewalk, what better place than this extramural fair to talk about kachina dolls or white masks from Gabon?

  • Parcours des Mondes 2016, presided over by Inti Ligabue (read interview in Artkhade on September 6, 2016).

Tags: African Art, Oceanic Art, Asian Art, Pre-Columbian Art, Native American Art, Aboriginal Art, Fairs & Shows