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Interview: African art dealer David Norden

First published on justCollecting 30-08-2016

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Antwerp-based David Norden has been dealing in African Art for the past 25 years. Here he shares his greatest discoveries, reveals his personal Holy Grail, and explains why he’s glad ZZ Top keep selling records.

What’s in your personal collection at home?

I personally have a predilection for Dan masks and Ashanti dolls but I have no specific tribes of predilection otherwise.

What’s your typical day selling African Art like? 

Most of the day is going on behind the computer: posting on Facebook or looking for objects among internet auctions and in my online mailbox. Sometimes I might have to go see a collection or collect the objects. In the afternoon I often receive collectors and people willing to sell their African art to me.

A yaka figure

A yaka figure

 What has been your best buy?

I once bought a nice Lega statue at an auction in England and when I came home I found it published in an old African Art magazine from 1980. I was able to sell it for triple the price I originally intended to sell it for.

What has been your biggest mistake?  

Not going to university to follow an African Art course.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever owned?

A Peruvian mummy of a baby.

The sale of antique African artefacts is a sensitive one, with some calling for a ban on their trade. As a dealer with a strong moral compass, what is your view?

I think that completely putting a ban on archaeological items is not a good thing, because when something is not valued, it is easily destroyed. I think it’s the responsibility of governments and museums to finance official excavations, ensuring the important and meaningful objects are put in museums. The redundant ones should then be put up for sale on the official market. Our museums are filled with boxes of archaeological finds that are just collecting dust and that nobody will ever need in the future, but that could bring good money to those museums to finance future excavations and research.

A nail figure from Carlo Monzino and other objects

A nail figure from Carlo Monzino and other objects

 What’s the most unusual thing that’s happened to you in collecting?

Selling a set of three Mende objects back to the city museum where they originally belonged after they had travelled the whole world.

What’s the one item you would love to own but don’t?

A genuine Ife head in bronze or terracotta.

Strangest customer? 

An Italian who only collected miniatures that were below 15cm.

Famous customers? 

Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top.

Famous faces: Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top

Famous faces: Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top


Have you visited any African tribes to view the creation of these objects first hand?

I have never been in Africa to study the creation of things and never feel the urge to do so. But I will travel the world to go see an exhibition I find interesting (like one now in Berlin about African Art and the Dada movement).  I guess it’s a bit like becoming an expert on medieval art – you don’t need to travel to the middle ages to become knowledgeable about it. Reading books, seeing a lot of objects and speaking with other experts and collectors makes you understand what is good or not.

Mask from the Fang, collected by Duponcheel in the 1960’s.

Mask from the Fang, collected by Duponcheel in the 1960’s.

Any advice for new collectors in your field?

Try to form your own opinion by visiting museums and reading books and not by listening to hundreds of dealers.

What’s your favourite cheese?

Caprice des Dieux, but goat cheese as a strong second.

Anything you would like to add?

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1 thought on “About-Interview.”

  1. Hi David
    thank for your precious job. I contact you because I am looking some notions about a statue that my granpa’s brother brought from africa, around 70 years ago I guess. It’s a woman, raising a stick on which top is fixed a round plate, like a tray. On the tray dance an idol or a baby, balanced through long descending horn culminating with cubic weights, so that it never loose its equilibrium.
    I couldn’t find nothing similar…
    If You have any idea of its origin I would be extremely interested
    Thank You

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