“Buying Haitian Art at Auction”

By Candice Russell

In the good old days of the 1980s and 1990s, the auction houses of Christie’s and Sotheby’s, both in New York City, would produce a full-color catalog of Latin American art up for grabs each May and November. Often, in the back of those catalogs, was a small selection of Haitian art by top-tier artists like Andre Pierre, Antoine Obin, and Hector Hyppolite, along with distinguished work by lesser-known artists.

Those days are long gone. The decline began when the auction houses set a low reserve price of $1,000 for any piece of Haitian art, thus shutting out many Haitian paintings and other artworks  valued at less than $1,000.

Now, it’s a matter of finding auctions of Haitian art here and there. One consistent place is the Slotin Folk Art Auction, which occurs twice yearly — in spring and fall — in Buford, Georgia, outside Atlanta. While the bulk of items are by American self-taught artists, there are usually a dozen or so pieces from Haitian artists that can be yours for a proverbial song. It is definitely a buyers’ market at this time.

For collectors, the Slotin auction is a gold mine. Over the years, I have gotten from Slotin auctions  my first painting by fantasy landscape master Prefete Duffaut, a gorgeous painting of a waterfall in a rain forest, a saintly painting of maternal devotion by Saincilus Ismael, and a superior night scene by the oh-so-underrated Bourmond Byron.

But my best buy from the Slotin auction was a signed iron cross by George Liautaud. Set on a base, the cross ends in the shape of three hearts. It is a magnificent piece. In all cases of my winning bids, I paid less than the going market prices for these artists and considered myself fortunate.

Next weekend, on April 26 and 27, at the next Slotin Folk Art Auction, collectors of Haitian art can bid on “Fantasy Animals” by Fritz Dominique, “Ceremony for Agauroux L’Ephema Who Appears as a Bird” by La Fortune Felix, a Vodou flag called “Pink Mermaid” by an unknown artists, and “Voodoo Cane,” a figural walking cane attributed to (though unsigned) by Pierrot Barra, who used to hold court in the Iron Market in Port-au-Prince. There are also paintings by Gelin Buteau, one of my favorite artists.

My interest was piqued by “Village Day” (1986), measuring 36 inches by 24 inches, by Adam Leontus. It portrays people working in a tree-filled area near a thatched-roof house. The provenance of the piece includes Le Musee d’Art Haitien and the collection of Georges S. Nader. The low estimate is a mere $1,000.

Wilson Bigaud fanss, take note. There are two paintings in the upcoming Slotin auction up for bids. “Village Life By the River” and “Washing in Town’s River,” both undated, are substantial paintings of considerable appeal. Thematically, they are related. Perhaps, some wise collector will place the paintings side-by-side in a living room.

Other finds? “Women and Children” by Louisiane Saint Fleurant is likely to generate a bidding war. This large work from 1987 is traditional in celebrating matriarchy and domesticity. “Fruit Tree Over Fish Full River” by Bourmond Byron is another treasure. The same can be said of four really good paintings by the prolific Gerard Fortune, mislabeled as being by “Gerald.”

Don’t pass up the wood sculpture “Eve with Snake and Apple” by Nacius Joseph and the odd but charming “Les Sirenes (Mermaids)” by Georges Liautaud. Since most collectors stick to paintings, you may take home one of these great sculptural pieces for less than the low estimated price. And Slotin has no reserve prices — who ever bids has a possibility to take home something, even if the bid is far below the estimated price.

That’s the fun and funny thing about auctions. You may quickly be outbid by others with deeper pockets. Or you may be successful by being the only one interested in a piece. Don’t forget — you must also pay a buyer’s premium. And you have to pay for shipping, unless you attend the auction in person. For a catalog and to become a phone bidder, call 1-770-532-1115 or 1-404-403-4244. Or see the pieces online at www.slotinfolkart.com.