Robert Rubins African Carvings Hit the Sothebys Block


Sotheby’s is poised to present the Robert Rubin Collection of African Art on May 13, with a preview of highlights in Paris, April 12–15. Following major sales of African art over the past two years (the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation and the Frieda and Milton Rosenthal Collection saw totals around $10 million), Rubin’s small collection of just 50 works is expected to garner over $4 million.

Sotheby’s African art specialist and organizer of the sale, Heinrich Schweizer, told AiA, “Rubin had an extraordinary eye. Methodology alone does not result in a collection of masterpieces. He knew when he was standing in front of a masterpiece, and he had the courage to pursue top quality.” The majority of Rubin’s collection is made of carved wood, echoing his interest in both Medieval wood sculptures and Modernism. Although carved wooden objects make up 90% of African art, as Schweizer pointed out, Rubin picked prime examples from various styles and regions. A star of his collection is the Dogon Nduleri Male Ancestor Figure by the Master of the Slanted Eyes; the Louvre has the female companion piece. That this figure is attributed to a named sculptor is an unusual and desirable quality.

After time in the textile industry, Rubin (1934–2009) sold his business in the early ’80s to focus on his collection of African art, which he began several years prior. Approaching his project with discipline, he purchased just one or two pieces a year, over a period of 20 years. In 1983, Rubin was a founding trustee of New York’s Museum for African Art, during a time referred to as a “golden age” in terms of great interest in and awareness of tribal and primitive art. After various incarnations, the museum will inaugurate a new location on “Museum Mile” this fall.

Particularly notable is the provenance of many items in Rubin’s collection. Having once been owned by Ruth and Ernst Anspach as well as French sculptor Arman, a small Boyo Power Figure from the Democratic Republic of the Congo is estimated to sell for $60–90,000. Formerly belonging to Philippe Guimiot in Brussels, a widely-exhibited Yombe Maternity Figure, also from the DRC, is expected to pull in $150–250,000.