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Fang Male Relequery Figure, Gabon

Fang Male Reliquary Figure from Gabon (estimated $250/350,000)

Modern artists such as Picasso and his contemporaries were most fascinated with Fang figures, which incorporate a cubist deconstruction and abstraction prized among modernists.

The Crowninshield provenance of this figure suggests that it was in Paris in the 1920s, and thus at the epicenter of the exchange between African Art and modern artists.

The Crowninshield Objects
Among Gross’s closest artist friends was the painter John Graham, a passionate collector of African Art who had been commissioned by Frank Crowninshield to identify and acuire great examples of African Art for the Crowninshield Collection. A strong proponent of the avant-garde, Crowninshield spent over twenty years at the helm of Vanity Fair and co-founded The Museum of Modern Art in New York.

He lent several important African sculptures from his collection to MoMA’s groundbreaking 1935 show African Negro Art.

Crowninshield first began to add African art to his own vast collection of Impressionist and Modern paintings in the 1920s. He hired Graham to direct that effort in the United States and in Paris, where he spent summers between 1925 and 1935 buying objects from major Parisian dealers such as Paul Guillaume, Charles Ratton and Louis Carré. Graham also worked to promote both African art and Crowninshield’s collection, and he was instrumental in early exhibitions of African art in the United States.

Chaim Gross
Chaim Gross (1904-1991) was a leading sculptor of early 20th Century American art. He was especially known for his direct carving technique, creating a world of playful acrobats, mothers and children from raw logs of wood and blocks of stone. He began drawing at an early age and throughout his life produced a prodigious number of graphic works, many of which were preparatory studies for his sculptures. Later in his career, he worked on sculptures modeled in clay or plaster for casting in bronze. While Gross worked with multiple media, his first passion lay in wood carving, often choosing the hardest woods available, such as lignum vitae and ebony. As a wood carver, the African forms and craftsmanship that Chaim Gross admired were integrated into the psyche of his own work, and like many of his African counterparts, Gross crafted each of his works from a single log of wood.

Born in a small village in the Carpathian Mountains of Galicia (now Ukraine) to a Jewish family, he survived Cossak attacks, great poverty and the turmoil of World War I. He studied art in Budapest and in Vienna before immigrating to New York in 1921. In New York, he befriended many artists and began a career teaching art at the Educational Alliance that would span more than fifty years.

Today Gross’s work is found in many prestigious institutions such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Smithsonian Institution, and has been exhibited worldwide. The Chaim Gross Studio Museum, housed in the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation, displays works by Gross in the collection of the Foundation and preserves his studio, where he lived and worked until his death.

The Foundation continues to loan his work generously to other institutions; currently, a carved relief by Chaim Gross is included in an exhibition titled A Common Canvas: Pennsylvania’s New Deal Post Office Murals at The State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg (exhibition dates: November 22, 2008 – May 17, 2009).

Gross is perhaps best known to New Yorkers for his work The Family (1979), which is permanently on public display in Greenwich Village on Bleecker Street.

Gross became interested in African Art as a frequent visitor to the city’s many museums, especially the Museum of Natural History. He was one of the earliest collectors in the United States, and among the most fervent promoters of African Art. Gross was one of the founders of the Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C., now part of the Smithsonian Institution, which in 1976-77 held an exhibition titled The Sculptor’s Eye: The African Art Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Chaim Gross, which subsequently traveled to the Worcester Art Museum, the Cincinnati Museum of Art and the University of Georgia Museum. Gross had a contagious enthusiasm for the works with which he surrounded himself in his Greenwich Village studio and home, located at 526 LaGuardia Place, which today houses the Chaim Gross Studio Museum.

Buyers of his own sculpture were frequently encouraged to explore African art, as were Gross’s artist friends. Paintings by many members of his community of artists such as Max Ernst, John Graham, Arshile Gorky, Adolphe Gottlieb, Milton Avery, Raphael Soyer, Mané Katz and Willem de Kooning cover the walls of the museum, hanging side-by-side with photographs by his close friends Arnold Newman and Elliot Elisofon. Many of the paintings found throughout the Foundation’s building are inscribed with personal dedications such as “To Dear Chaim.” The Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation Established in 1974, The Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation is dedicated to documenting, archiving, researching, protecting, sharing, and furthering the understanding of the life and work of Chaim Gross. Using as a guide the values of Chaim Gross and his wife, Renee, the Foundation intends to undertake other projects and initiatives that relate to art and art history. The Foundation’s headquarters, located in the artist’s historic Greenwich Village townhouse and studio space, houses an extensive collection of Chaim Gross’s artwork featuring hundreds of sculptures executed in a wide range of media – including wood, stone and bronze – and spanning every period of the artist’s career. The Foundation also holds thousands of the artist’s drawings, sketchbooks and prints, and houses an extensive archive relating to the artist, including photographs, correspondence, books and newspaper and magazine articles. Proceeds from the sale of the African and Oceanic art will be used to develop a permanent endowment to further the mission of The Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation and expand the activities of the Chaim Gross Studio Museum housed at the Foundation. For more information please visit www.rcgrossfoundation.org.

Exhibition Information
Works from the sale will be on exhibition at Sotheby’s New York galleries from May 9-14, 2009. Additionally, a special exhibition of works by Chaim Gross and his contemporaries as well as sale highlights will be held at Sotheby’s New York from February 17 through March 1, 2009. An exhibition of highlights from the auction will be on view at Sotheby’s Paris April 6-9, 2009. *Estimates do not include buyer’s premium.

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Date:  5th Feb 09

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Category:   Ethnology

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