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The most important art fair you've (probably) never heard of. I went yesterday morning, on a wonderful sunny day in Paris, to the Hotel Alcazar, for a press breakfast organized by Colonnes. It was packed- that was my first clue. Antoine Frerot, Honorary President of this year's event, spoke eloquently about tribal art- and contemporary African art (note: Michael Kanyuchi, would have loved it). Press packets handed out - in English - which it turns out is the lingua Franca of the tribal market - as well as French - and off I went.

Imagine an art fair that was held in galleries spread over a whole district, well, here it is. Some galleries are shared, some are permanent, some are rented for 5 days by dealers who have come halfway around the world - bringing rare and wonderful things and braving the rigours of French paperwork. What, you might justifiably ask, would make that worthwhile?

FRISKYHITSPARIS 1Man with masks - Andrew J. Berz, Berz Gallery of African Art, San-Francisco


In one word, collectors. The press tour was in advance of the actual opening, and every gallery I spoke to, except one, had already sold. To collectors. Most had sold multiple things. American accents, German accents were much in evidence, as well as, young French collectors. And this year's Fair hadn't officially opened yet.

The various exhibitions, and displays were quite spectacular. My first stop was Galerie SL from Paris whose exhibit titled Avant la Musique (Start up the music) consisted of brilliantly staged and lit traditional African musical instruments from the 19th and early 20th century. Further down the street was first time exhibitor Andrew Berz from San Francisco- one of 10 American exhibitors at this year's fair. His presentation was entitled "vers l'Au-dela” (towards the beyond) and featured objects used to call spirits from the "beyond". The Gbetu mask from The Gola (Sierra Leone) was as wonderful as anything I have seen on any trip, to Paris.

FRISKYHITSPARIS 2NEWWoman with Maternity figure- Natalie de Jeu, Gallery Kasuwa, Antwerp Belguim

Around the corner was Dori Rootenberg from Jacaranda in NY. Her favorite piece was an unusual - only 4 are known and one of those is in the Musee Quai Branly - snuff container. Made of two kinds of horn, South African, and dating from the 19th century. At 30 cm in length, it was an unusually large example. Priced at 18,000 Euro, it attracted a lot of attention; some while I was standing there talking to her.

From a different part of the world, at Donald Ellis (who deals in North American artifacts) was a stunningly beautiful tribal Southwest Alaskan dance mask, dating to about 1880, and priced at 185,000 euros. I wanted to own it, really badly.

Next were Natalie de Jeu and her father Peter from Gallery Kasawa in Antwerp. Like so many, a collector (and explorer) turned dealer, Mr. De Jeu has been in and around Tribal Nigeria and environs for many many years, and has the stories (and videos) to prove it. Absolutely wonderful, unusual and delicious objects. Natalie de Jeu's favorite was a wooden Maternity figure from the Ayinwa, priced at 9,500 Euros. When I passed by on my way to dinner later on in the afternoon, they were so busy I couldn't get in the door.

Another Belgian dealer, Joris Visser from Brussels, displayed a selection of spectacular works, including a wonderful large 19th century fetish, wearing a leopard skin belt. His enthusiasm was infectious and his knowledge was impressive, and, he also had many many interested collectors in the works being offered.

FRISKYHITSPARIS 3Musical Instruments- Galerie SL, Paris France

Before stopping for - as far as I was concerned - a deserved friendly beverage (rhymes with Brouilly), my final port of call was Chris Boylan, here for his 6th fair, from Australia. He specializes in Oceanic Art and was exhibiting one of, if not, my favourite pieces of the day- a large Nassa double shell ring from New Britain. It's also a transactional object, meaning if for some unfathomable reason you get tired of looking at it, you can use it to buy a new wife. Or a couple of cows. It was priced at 4,800 Euros, or about the price of a Damien Hirst print. As you can tell by this point, readers, I was having a very hard time keeping my hands out of my wallet.


At the press breakfast, they spoke of no more than perhaps 65 important galleries world-wide dealing in this genre of material - and over half of them were here in Paris at Parcours. Every dealer I spoke with mentioned the importance of the Musee Quai Branly in educating collectors, which is exactly why this fair is held in Paris. They also spoke of a relative rarity in the art world - young collectors. Enthusiastic young collectors.

Another important factor - the relative affordability of the work. The beautiful snuff box at Dori Rootenberg's is one of only 4 known to exist. For the price of a modern print?

This is certainly one of the most interesting - and educational - art fairs I have yet attended. And I plan to come back next year (as long as the champagne holds out).