Reece opened his first gallery in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, in 1981 and went on to open two more, including one in London, holding more than 200 exhibitions. In 2008 he closed his galleries to semi-retire and to take on other ventures, such as staging a 2014 exhibition of historic Japanese fabrics at Somerset House.
Here he talks about how the trade for tribal art has changed for the wider world and for him.
What was business like in the early days?
I have a background in art and I left a career in education, bought some property and used part of it to open a gallery. Things started well because a few museums heard about what I was doing and then, slowly but surely, I started picking up a clientele.
I wanted to make objects from these cultures more available and accessible and school trips would come through. It wasn’t about advertising, it was all word of mouth, but business was good enough that I was able to open another gallery nearby focusing on ceramics.
Why did you open your London location?
People kept telling me ‘you’re crazy, come work down here’, so I found a gallery in Clifford Street and set up the same sort of business I had been running up north, with a rota of exhibitions changing every five weeks. Running all three galleries at once required a lot of organisation and a clever staff.
Have your buying habits changed now that you’ve closed the gallery?
Not really, I still find myself with a very open brief. I’m standing in my home right now and as I look to my right I see a 10th century Indian stone sculpture. When I look to my left I see figures from Nagaland in India, then a group of bear jugs from 18th century Britain.
How has the tribal market changed?
There’s been a problem in the UK because Christie’s and Sotheby’s have moved their tribal auctions out of the country to Paris and a number of good dealers left the UK in response, to set up in Paris as well or Amsterdam.
However, there’s been an upsurge of interest since Frieze Masters opened in 2012. There were two tribal dealers in the inaugural edition and four or five in the second. So the business is starting to transform for the better. People are beginning to open their eyes again to tribal art.
Will you ever stop collecting?
Once you’re in this game you’re never actually out. It’s too exciting. Some people say it’s an affliction or a disease but it’s really an adrenaline rush. And so much of it is down to serendipity: you never know what you’re going to find but when you see that object you know it immediately. I may be retired but I’m not out.