My 4 Categories of New Guinea Art:
This is a term I use as there is no better way to describe it. Typically, it is rooted in the culture where it is produced, but it is slightly more refined to align with the taste of westerners.
While airport art can look sophisticated and seamless, there are many who create subpar pieces under this category. However, if you like a piece and it looks well done, go for it.
Art Market Art
Often, this category is neglected while talking about tribal art. However, it is important to note that such art typically includes pieces that are rooted in the culture and revolve around the community.
In New Guinea, a lot of art that is created falls under this specific category and includes some of the best tribal art on this planet.
Identifying quality: While these pieces are contemporary, they adhere to the cultural guidelines formulated for the creation of pieces for ceremonial or utilitarian use. However, they are not created to be used.
Old/Used Utilitarian Pieces
A variety of products fall under this category such as bowls, spoons, basket hooks, bilum bags, stools, canoe prows, weapons, and some jewellery. While they are produced for use in everyday lives, they can be aesthetically pleasing.
However, such pieces do not lack spiritual significance. In New Guinea, almost every item holds spiritual value, and many authentic pieces are sold for low prices.
Things to look for: Usually, one can spot various signs of use such as wear, chips, insect damage, patina and polish from handling, native repairs.
Old & Used Ceremonial Art
Among tribal art, this enjoys a high demand. However, this is very rare and has resulted in the creation of fake products. Pieces of art under this category incite excitement and are very powerful. For most of us, other pieces look like nothing but junk in comparison. Old or relatively new ceremonial pieces may be available, and both types are almost equally valuable.
Under this category, pieces are created to be used in ceremonies, initiations, against evil, symbolically used in the men's house, or are products produced for bride price. Some of the commonly made products are masks, figures, some jewellery, talismans, and magic bags.
It is extremely rare for such pieces to be sold for a cheap price. People who own them are aware of their value and hence, only sell in galleries and big auction houses for exorbitant prices.
Keep in mind: If anything under this category is being sold for cheap, be cautious.
My advice: In case you wish to start obtaining pieces under this category, it is imperative to learn all about the art produced in this area. Pay a visit to museums, browse through auction catalogues, and ask dealers a few relevant questions. Always be careful if you are offered a good bargain. Make sure that you know the dealers enough to trust them.