Sales featuring property from the Collection of Sidney and Bernice Clyman achieved,
$16 million across four auctions held during Sotheby's marquee auction week in New York until July 1, 2020.
Leading the collection was a Fang-Betsi Ancestor Head, which sold for $3.5 million (estimate $2.5/4 million) in the Contemporary Art Evening Auction on Monday night during Sotheby's global livestreamed auction event.
It was the first time that one of the most important works of African Art ever to appear at auction, was presented in any contemporary art evening sale. The stunningly elegant female head from a reliquary ensemble expresses the universal artistic ideas developed by pre-Colonial African artists, which were transmitted to modern Western masters in the early 20th century, including Constantin Brâncuși and Amadeo Modigliani. This artistic connection is particularly obvious in the latter's famous stone head sculptures.
The first known Western owner was Charles Ratton, the Parisian doyen of African art dealers and connoisseurs who handled many of the most revered masterpieces in the field. Ratton published the head in 1931 in Masques Africains, an important work in establishing the canon of great African art. In the 1930s, the head was acquired from Ratton by James Johnson Sweeney, the visionary American modern art curator and writer who, with the assistance of Ratton, organized the legendary 1935 exhibition African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Sweeney kept the head in his Mies van der Rohe designed New York apartment along with his small but exquisite collection of modern art, which included major works by Miró, Mondrian, and Calder. When Sweeney's estate was sold at Sotheby's in New York in 1986, the head was acquired by William McCarty-Cooper, who had inherited art historian and collector Douglas Cooper's fabled collection of Picassos and other Cubist works. The sculpture last appeared on the market in 1992 when the Clymans acquired it at auction in New York.
The Contemporary Art Evening Auction also featured two other works from the Clyman Collection: Untitled (Virginia Landscape) by Arshile Gorky, which sold for $956,000 (estimate $600,000/1 million) and Willem de Kooning's Seated Man (Clown), which achieved an above estimate price of $2.4 million (estimate 1-2 million)
One of the finest collections of Sub-Saharan African Art in the world and one of the last remaining ensembles from the golden age of African Art collecting in the US during the 1960s and 70s, African Art from the Collection of Sidney and Bernice Clyman totaled $4.6 million surpassing its high estimate by $1 million. All but one of the 32 lots found buyers, accounting for a strong sell through rate of 97% with over 70% of all sold lots selling above estimates.
The collection was led by a large and radically abstract Mahongwe Reliquary Figure (above, estimate $500/ 700,000) from Gabon, which after a bidding battle between three amateurs, doubled its high estimate to sell for $1.4 million. This price doubled the previous record, establishing a new world auction record for a Mahongwe sculpture. Other highlights included a masterpiece by the greatest of all Kota artists, a Reliquary Figure by the Sebe River Master of the Skull Head (estimate $500/700,000), which was previously in the legendary collections of Charles Ratton, Morris J. Pinto, and Murray Frum, and sold for $560,000.
In addition to the Fang-Betsi Ancestor Head, a full-figured cubistic Fang Reliquary Statue
(estimate $250/350,000), previously in the collection of Gaston de Havenon sold for $475,000.