15-06-01-2193IE03A Anthony Meyer.jpg
Tribal art specialist Anthony JP Meyer who is celebrating 35 years of being a dealer.

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AC: How many years have you been specialising in tribal art and what sparked your particular interest in Oceanic art?

AJPM: I came into my mother's business in October of 1980, so I am celebrating 35 years of being an art dealer in 2015. In 1985 when we took over the present gallery space, I decided that it was time to pursue my favourite type of art, which was that of the South Pacific island cultures. In 1980 I had found a Kanak war club from New Caledonia in our stock and possibly that triggered this, hopefully mild, obsession I seem to have with Oceanic art…


AC: To what do you attribute the general rise in popularity of tribal art?

AJPM: I think that people have realised that art is not just a pretty picture or a marble sculpture and that the art of the peoples of Africa, Oceania, the Americas and Asia are spectacular works of art created by man's everlasting imagination and passion. The intellectualisation of art has opened up doors and to see the theories of art in their actual process is something remarkable.Take someone who has a Cubist period Picasso for instance - with African art this person can see where and how Picasso validated his Cubist theories, and the same stands for the Surrealists or the German Expressionist period with Oceanic and Eskimo art. I think this and the search for fresh fields to explore has pushed the tribal market into its new heights.


AC: How do you find material to sell and what are the key factors in deciding what to purchase?

AJPM: The only key factor in my acquisition of a piece is my very own interest and passion. When I see the right thing I feel a visceral need to have it because somehow, and for some reason, it has struck a chord in my aesthetics. Finding pieces is always a problem, which seems to fix itself and always at the right moment - perhaps it is Lady Luck or the simple result of hard work.


AC: Which nationalities collect in this field?

AJPM: Just about everybody is now involved or at least thinking about tribal art. I have new clients from Singapore, Germany, Romania, Italy, the USA, Great Britain, France etc.


AC: Has your customer profile changed in recent years? Do more people buy for visual appeal or is clients' knowledge increasing?

AJPM: Of course there is a change in the general customer profile, but not in a single precise manner. Some clients want important pieces that stand out and are easily recognised; others want exceptional items even if they are small or unassuming; others want the most expensive, while some are trying to create collections on the cheap by buying "look-a-likes" or "wannabes". These are fake or low-quality, late-generation objects that look like the important old ones but are sold for a fraction of the value. And this last type leads me to your next question….


AC: What would be the best ways for a new collector in this market to learn? (Books, dealers, museums? Which museums have the most important study collections?)

AJPM: In answer to this and the following questions there is only one possible response: Choose your dealer first!! Then start learning about the field in his/her company and further your knowledge by buying books - lots of books - and don't think that the internet supplies enough information, it has lots of limits. Go and look at pieces in museums and in dealers' galleries. Ask questions; only answers can be stupid, never questions.


AC: What areas would you recommend for a new collector in this field?

AJPM: Ask your preferred dealer to show you what he/she likes, get them to tell you their stories about the pieces and the cultures that created them and soon enough you will find you path.


AC: Paris is becoming an increasingly important centre for this market. When would you say the trend started and what underpins it?

AJPM: Paris has always been the centre for tribal art. It is here that it started with the modern painters of the early 20th century. Imagine Picasso, Derain, Vlaminck and Matisse getting together in 1904 or 1905 to look at an African mask… imagine the dialogues, the glimmer of desire lighting up their eyes and the rush to both gather up more examples and run back to the studio and start painting. Paris still has that spark and while the contemporary painters of today often do not see the link back to tribal art, we, the dealers and the collectors, are having a field day.


AC: The parcours or tribal trail is becoming an increasingly prominent part of this marketplace: in Brussels - BRUNEAF and Paris - Parcours des Mondes. To what do you attribute its popularity?

AJPM: These are major fairs that draw visitors from all over the world. It is so convenient for the client to have 50 or 80 top dealers gathered in one small section of a picturesque city for a specific amount of time. The concentration also creates competition and pushes the dealers to be at their best, which is to the buyer's advantage.


AC: Are there any other centres of the market or rising centres?

AJPM: Yes there is a thriving tribal art market in Amsterdam, with the dealers there putting on a wonderful tribal fair every fall in an old church, and around eight or ten galleries open year round. New York still has a small group of very high-quality galleries as well and they organise a tribal trail there too, in May.


AC: Do you collect yourself and, if money and availability were no object, which piece of tribal art would you most like to own?

AJPM: Yes I do collect but not Oceanic art, otherwise I would not have much to sell as I buy as a collector. Thus I collect in other fields, notably early photography, illuminated manuscripts and modern art, especially Surrealism… and more. If I had to choose one tribal piece to take to a desert island, I frankly think that I would refuse and try to survive on my memories, but if I had a pocket knife and nobody was looking I might just try my own hand at carving something - but of course, only if nobody is looking.


* The latest exhibition at Galerie Meyer is devoted to the work of Dadi Wirz, a Swiss contemporary artist. Born in Zurich in 1931 and the son of the anthropologist Paul Wirz, Dadi discovered a plywood puzzle made in China in 2012. He has used this idea to create a series of brass cut outs termed VIP portraits, which will feature in the show along with silhouettes of the world's islands cut from blackened iron and a selection of his graphic work. VIP portraits by Dadi Wirz runs until June 27.