Who is behind this gallery?

I grew up in an environment of collecting art - 20th century modern paintings and African, Native American, and Eskimo sculpture. And my paternal family has a long history of selling art - they founded the Christie's Auction House in London in 1744.

I first sold African sculpture in 1972 and have had a number of venues in the ensuing years. Joy Christie's Gallery Inc. opened for business in Dallas, Texas in 1998, specializing in fine quality tribal art and 20th century modern paintings. I am strongly motivated by;

  • aesthetically compelling art
  • art that is real, genuine and what it appears to be

Tribal art sales operate under a cloud of suspicion, since reproductions of classic pieces now are carved in places such as Cameroon, DRC, Guinea, Mali, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa (even India and China), artificially aged and sold as "newly discovered masterpieces." In my years in the business I have been offered thousands of these fakes, some reasonably believable. When I encounter a piece that seems "too good to be true," I rely on material science tests to estimate when the work was carved and to uncover anything that might be suspicious in its manufacture or history.

THE VALUE PROPOSITION. Since you are reading this on the internet, surely you have seen the abundance of so-called "real,""genuine" or "traditional" African tribal art that is being offered at widely varying prices. How can this be? It hinges largely on what is meant by these labels.

To some vendors "genuine" means only that art was carved in Africa by some African. And to many vendors "traditional" means strictly art that was reproduced "in the tradition of" photos of historic tribal art sculpture. Among reputable dealers the definition of genuine tribal art is "work sculpted by a tribal carver, for tribal clients, and used ritually or ceremonially in that tribal setting." For objects to have been carved for and accepted by clients in a given tribe means that these objects were within the limits of the basic stylistic traditions of that tribe.

In order to broaden my range of price points, I also offer genuine utilitarian objects (utensils, games, weapons) sculpted by and for tribal peoples which were used by tribal peoples but not necessarily in a ritual setting.

Why do these distinctions matter? The answer is price and value. Historically, curios and export pieces have demonstrated negligible future value, and reproductions have shown no value appreciation over time. Genuine pieces, especially if they are aesthetically compelling and/or rare, have the potential for significant value appreciation. Individual pieces of African tribal art have sold in recent years for over five million US dollars.

When selecting tribal art, it is crucial for you to clarify your collecting criteria. If "decoration" is the sole criterion, then lowest price curios or export pieces may make sense, recognizing they have negligible expected value. If your criterion is limited to works that look like traditional sculpture, then good reproductions made for the Western art market are available at higher prices, but don't expect value appreciation. If authenticity is on your list of criteria, recognize that, because of their limited supply, authentic pieces command significantly higher prices. And even among authentic pieces there exist large differences in levels of desirability and cost;

  • "authentic but mediocre"
  • "authentic and good"
  • "genuine masterpiece"

The art market values the sculpture of various tribes differently (value being "what informed buyers will pay for a work at a well advertised public auction") . Fang art is expensive and rare Cameroon court art is very expensive, but since Baule carvers were exceedingly prolific, their art commands relatively lower prices. Value is always a function of supply and demand.

Remember, when a work of art seems too good to be true it probably is not true. If a piece is genuine and underpriced, it will be pounced on by art professionals (for resale) or expert collectors.