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Ralph Proctor Gallery
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"Affordable Aesthetics and Gift Giving"

November 1, 1997, through January 31, 1998
Welcome to our holiday show. Normally, the items we feature in our on-line exhibits range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. Items in our inventory go as high as $25,000. If you have visited galleries featuring African art, especially those in New York City, you are aware that a price tag of several thousand dollars is not uncommon for high quality, old artifacts. Prices are determined by considering provenance (i.e., the importance and fame of the former owner), age, whether the item has actually been used in traditional ceremonies, the quality of the carving, the rarity of the object, and how well the item fits into the stylistic parameters for the genre. There is no suggested retail price for African art so, in the final analysis, what a piece is worth is what a buyer is willing to pay for it and what the seller is willing to accept.
The quest for items that are "old" or "used" has led to a great deal of fakery of African art, as suppliers seek to provide purchasers with those "authentic" pieces. Many will tell you that newer objects have no value, and that the only African art worth owning must be "old." The truth of the matter is that, if Europeans were not so interested in so-called "older" pieces, the prices of African art would be quite different. In many parts of Africa, the old traditions still prevail and artifacts are created daily for use by members of traditional societies. These new items are just as valuable for ritual purposes, as are older artifacts. They must, however, fit into established stylistic parameters, or they cannot be used for traditional purposes. Many of the pieces I see currently offered for sale are intended for European consumption, and are too far out of the acceptable parameters to be used. They are best called "souvenirs."
It is often difficult for the untrained eye to tell the difference between a good quality new item and a good quality old item. The difference may simply be age, and not the aesthetic quality of the item. Our present show features items that are not "old," as evidenced by the relatively low prices. We make no claim as to age or use. What we do promise is that the items fit the established societal norms, and could have been or could be used in traditional ceremonies. We also can assure you that they are created by the same artisans who make the items used in African society. Many of the items in this show are compared with more expensive items from previous shows, with a discussion of the reasons for the differences in prices.
You need not be a millionaire to enjoy quality African art. We are offering this exhibition for those who wish to give African art as gifts during the holiday season, but were afraid that they could not afford quality items.
Gift giving in traditional African society has little to do with the commercial frenzy surrounding the American holidays. Rather, gifts are given to celebrate births, marriage, or significant achievement. Gifts are given when one returns home after a long absence. They may also be given to royalty, priests, or other highly ranked members of society as a sign of honor.
Africans who are Christians do exchange gifts, but they are in honor of the Christ child, and do not take on the commercial trappings of our society. Artifacts, whether masks or statues, may be given on the occasions mentioned above, or upon completion of rites of passage. They may also be given to high ranking officials.
If you wish to know more about collecting African art, please visit our gift shop and order a copy of our book, "The African Art Lover's Guide to Collecting." In the meantime, enjoy our latest on-line exhibit.
Please sign the Gallery guest book, and tell us what you think of the show and how you found this exhibit (which search engine, link from what other site, etc.). Persevere to the end of the exhibit and you will find in the wrap-up links to some of our favorite Web sites showing African art and masks from other cultures.