Unbelievable Bargains on Haitian Art

November 20, 2007

Unbelievable bargains on Haitian art were part of the early November event in Georgia largely devoted to the personal collection of American filmmaker Jonathan Demme. He put up for bid a number of precious holdings at the Slotin Folk Art Auction in Buford, Georgia on November 10th, with the result that those in the bidding hall or bidding by telephone had an opportunity to pick up some very fine artworks by Haitian masters for less than their going value on multiple web sites.

Case in point: the magnificent color cover of the catalog is Pauleus Vital’s exceptional painting “Judgement Day,” measuring 26 inches by31 inches. It went for a laughably low $8,000 — its low estimate.Wilson Bigaud’s “Marriage at Cana” (#336 in the catalog), measuring 41inches by 32 inches, sold for an amazingly modest $1,400. Wonderful sculptures in metal by the inventor of the medium, Georges Liautaud,ranged from $600 to $2,000 — again way off the mark at galleries and web sites.

If you were a collector, you won out. Gustavo Ponzoa of Miramar,Florida was our man on the scene. He was amazed at what he calls the”disproportionate” prices between items of the same size and quality by the same artist — some going for under the value, some others going for much more than the value. All of the Haitian pieces, in his opinion, were “absolutely under-bid.” For the scandalously good price of $300, Ponzoa walked away with a 24-inch by 24-inch painting called”Multiple Village Figures” (#586 in the catalog) for just $300. He also got the painting “Wolf and Sheep” (#748 in the catalog) for a mere $200. “It was like a surprise box — you never knew what you were getting,” says Ponzoa in his description of the prices pieces brought.

Even so, he liked the experience. “It was a lot of fun and went very quickly,” says Ponzoa, who also won on his bids for a small folk art”Lion” painting by American artist Malcah Zeldis for a bargain $125.

But how can one explain a Gerard “Nativity” painting going for $250?This makes no sense. Selden Rodman, the late author and expert on Haitian art, must be turning over in his grave, since he so championed Gerard as one of the great naive painters. Which he still is! I don’t know if Peters Stephane is any relation to Micius Stephane, but this artist’s “Mother and Kids” painting, measuring ten inches by twelve inches, went for a criminal $25 — that’s right, $25! The estimate for this superb little work was between $800 to $1,200.

Also inexplicable were the prices brought by Vodou items, including flags by unnamed artists ranging from “Rice” for $250 to $2,000 for”Two Blue Snakes.” Doll shrines by the lauded Pierrot Barra, some more aesthetically pleasing than others, ranged from $275 to $600 — again under-priced, especially if you asked Donald Cosentino, the University of California at Los Angeles professor who wrote a book about works by Barra and his wife Marie Cassise.

What to make of this auction and these prices? It’s only a true bellwether of the market if a large number of Haitian art collectors and museum curators were aware of the auction and participating in it.Ponzoa reports there were only a few in the hall with him during the auction.

–Candice Russell