Moai kavakava figure at auction
Catalogued as a ‘recent copy’ and estimated at £400-600, this moai kavakava figure sold for £95,000 at Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions in Newbury.

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Moai kavakava, translated simply as ‘image with ribs’, are perhaps the best known of the wooden sculptures created by the (now extinct) Rapa Nui culture of Easter Island.

Although little is known about their cultural context, each emaciated figure, typically inset with obsidian and shell eyes, is considered to represent a starving ancestor or the spirit of the dead. They were hung around the neck during public ceremonies.

Nineteenth century examples survive in many important institutional collections – and at Sotheby's New York in November 2008, a moai kavakava sold for $614,500 – but this 18in (45cm) figure was catalogued as a recent copy from the second half of the 20th century.

It was part of the estate of Jan Krugier (1928-2008), the Polish-born Swiss dealer whose private collection of modern art was sold in New York, by Christie’s in 2013 and Sotheby’s in 2014.

Exceptional Interest

Despite the unambiguous cataloguing, there was clearly a belief among some who viewed it online that this richly-patinated figure was more than just a tourist souvenir. It received 93 individual bids before it was knocked down at £95,000.

All lots in the sale had been imported from outside the EU under the Temporary Admission scheme and therefore any buyer would also be asked to pay the import VAT at the rate of 5% on the hammer price.

Provenance doubtless aided in the performance of the figure offered in Berkshire.

Krugier was born into a Jewish family in Poland in 1928 and, as with so many of his generation, suffered indescribable horrors at the hands of Nazis during the Second World War.

The only member of his family to survive, in 1947 he moved to Paris where he formed a friendship with the artist Alberto Giacometti. With Giacometti’s guidance and encouragement Krugier opened Galerie Krugier & Cie in Geneva in 1962, followed in time by a gallery in New York.

The price with buyer’s premium added was £117,800.