Oceanic art dealer Michael Harrison can also be found here. “I’m very specialized in Oceanic art—an expert in this field,” he says. “I made 45 trips to New Guinea and have 15 years experience collecting, as well as an M.A. in African and Oceanic Art.”
Long a fascination for anthropologists and archaeologists, tribal and Oceanic art now fascinates collectors; it’s the talk of the art world. Says Bill Caskey, founder of these fairs, “People are just discovering it.”
The collector’s task: to distinguish between artifact and art. The show’s task: to evaluate the work. As such, these shows owe their reputation to a painstaking and rigorous authentication and selection process. “12 different committees have vetted the art and removed anything fake or overly restored before the doors open,” explains Caskey.
Caskey started out collecting Mexican and Native American tribal art. While he considers San Francisco Tribal and Oceanic Art his most important show, all of his events have caught the attention of curators who come to acquire Oceanic art—the work of peoples from Hawaii west to New Guinea—or African tribal art, often dark and unusual.
But there’s no glory here for the artists: they’re usually anonymous. Religious beliefs are more integral to the art than the artist’s personae.
For the dealer or collector, however, that reality poses certain occupational dangers. “If ancestral spirits are not treated in a respectful way, bad luck will come,” Harrison says. According to Harrison, the art world can be just as harsh. “You’re only as good as your best piece,”
Pictured: Tatmal Maskette, Papua New Guinea. Photo courtesy of TAD Tribal Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico.