Monthly Archives: January 2016

A Baule statue in The Disembodied (1957)

Disembodied 1957 Baule Statue

An attentive reader spotted a Baule figure in the movie poster for The Disembodied (1957). This movie prop is featured a couple of times in the movie, which is about a voodoo cult deep in the ‘African’ jungle. The only ritual use this figure ever had was in its scenes with the witch doctor’s wife, Tonda (Allison Hayes). Its style clearly is very degenerate, and especially the ‘headdress’ is something that doesn’t exist. You can find more info about this voodoo thriller (yes, that’s a genre) here.

allisonhayes Baule statue disembodied

 

Tonda’s arm position on the above picture in turn reminded me of a classic Djenne pose 🙂

 

Djenne crossed arms

Book review of the day

Bernard Dulon book review Gabon book fakes Tribal Art Magazine

A couple of years ago, Bernard Dulon wrote this hilarious book review for Tribal Art Magazine; the man has humor. But also, it’s one of the seldom cases where an important player in the tribal art market dares to make a public statement about the big (African) elephant in the room, namely the enormous amount of fake African art that gets exhibited, published, and unfortunately also sold these days.

The Met acquires a Jukun shoulder mask

Jukun headdress, Nigeria. Height: 114,3 cm. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2015.445). Purchase, Pfeiffer, Leona Sobel Education, 2005 Benefit, and Dodge Funds; Gift of Dr. Mortimer D. Sackler, Theresa Sackler and Family; Andrea Bollt Bequest, in memory of Robert Bollt Sr. and Robert Bollt Jr.; Elaine Rosenberg, James J. Ross, and The Katcher Family Foundation Inc. Gifts, 2015.

Jukun headdress, Nigeria. Height: 114,3 cm. Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2015.445). Purchase, Pfeiffer, Leona Sobel Education, 2005 Benefit, and Dodge Funds; Gift of Dr. Mortimer D. Sackler, Theresa Sackler and Family; Andrea Bollt Bequest, in memory of Robert Bollt Sr. and Robert Bollt Jr.; Elaine Rosenberg, James J. Ross, and The Katcher Family Foundation Inc. Gifts, 2015.

2015 certainly was a great year for the African art collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Apart from an iconic Hemba statue, the museum also bought an excellent Jukun headdress. This shoulder mask was published in Elsy Leuzinger’s Die Kunst von Schwarz-Afrika (Zürich, 1970) – and featured on Jacques Kerchache New Year’s Card of 1971. It was ‘collected’ in Cameroon in 1968 or 1969 by Philippe Guimiot, acquired by Kerchache and then in a private collection from 1994 to 2015. I do hope European museums are taking note how the Met continuously is able to fortify its collection thanks to the generous contributions of several donors. Government grants practically reduced to zero, the ‘acquisitions’ of many of them unfortunately are limited to the occasional bequest. Of course, in the EU, there’s no beneficial system of tax-deductible donations as in the States – a not to be underestimated factor.

Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Some info about the object from the Met’s website:

This enigmatic and arresting creation of a Jukun sculptor active in central Nigeria’s Benue River Region was a kinetic ancestral sculpture. According to accounts gathered by researchers, such works were animated in performances devoted to agricultural rites as well as to those relating to initiation of young boys into adulthood. Access to those events was highly circumscribed. Women, children, and outsiders were not allowed to view those nocturnal apparitions.

The form is purported to have been manipulated by a person who used the lateral apertures to support and raise it. Perforations around the perimeter of the lower half allowed for the attachment of a vegetable fiber costume. The upper half distills an ancestral presence to essential features that are dramatically amplified. Crowning the summit is the majestic dome-like volume of the head. The eyes project in bold relief from the flat surface of the face and teeth are incised on the underside of the straight line of the mouth. At either side the flat discs of earflares favored by regional elites are emphasized. Adoption of Christianity and Islam during the first half of the twentieth century led to the abandonment of this minimally documented tradition.

Currently the object is not on view, but I hope that will change soon!

African art inspired lighting

Image courtesy of Milk Decoration Magazine.

Image courtesy of Milk Decoration Magazine.

If you can’t afford a Fang ngil mask, you can now can also just get a similarly shaped wall light. The above light, called Sorcier Design was designed by Marta Bakowski for La Chance Design (France). It just premiered at the Maison et Object fair in Paris. Except for the picture above, no additional information is yet available. But it does look pretty cool!

Roy Sieber’s Sculpture of Northern Nigeria (1961)

Roy Sieber Sculpture of Northern Nigeria 1961 free pdf

One of the first books on the art of that region, Roy Sieber’s Sculpture of Northern Nigeria is available online for free here. Published in 1961, it was based on Sieber’s fieldwork in Nigeria and accompanied an exhibition at the Museum of Primitive Art. The catalogue discusses the Igala, Idoma, Goemai, Montal and Jaba. Sieber was the first person in the United States to get a Ph.D. in African art history, at the University of Iowa, in 1957. He’s considered the founder of the discipline of African art history in the United States. During his long tenure at the University of Indiana, he supervised the Ph.D. theses of at least thirty scholars, three of the first being René Bravmann, Arnold Rubin, and Anita Glaze.

Sculpture of Northern Nigeria throws new light on two of these obscure areas, both near the Benue River of Nigeria. The history of the region is one of migrations and cross-currents of conquest ending only in the last century; but despite the shattering impact of such upheavals, the tribes about the Benue River have maintained strong artistic traditions. These traditions have few affinities with the well-known tribal styles of southern Nigeria, but seem rather to be related to western Sudanic forms.

This is a rare and hard to find catalogue, so be sure to have a look.

Goemai ceremony at Jelbam Hill near the graves of the former chiefs. Photographed by Robin Jagoe in 1957.

Goemai ceremony at Jelbam Hill near the graves of the former chiefs. Photographed by Robin Jagoe in 1957.

Updated list of online museum databases

A quick note to say that I have updated my list of museum databases – with thanks to the messages of multiple readers. Newly added are:

I’ve now also included a ‘wall of shame‘, for museums who lack any online visibility of their collection. I hope they take notice and start digitalizing! I would love to see the collection of:

Do contact me if you know of any other museums; thanks.

Bourgogne Tribal Show, 26-29 May 2016

Bourgogne Tribal Art Show Delvoyeurs

Taking place in the middle of France at the end of May, the Bourgogne Tribal Show is a new take on the traditional tribal art fair. The four organizing dealers (Laurent Dodier, Bruno Frey, Jacques Lebrat and Anthony JP Meyer) wish to get back to the basics of sharing ideas and their love for African and Oceanic art in what they call ‘a convivial environment’. It is their wish to do something different, shake things up a bit and offer a new approach for art fairs. The gathering will take place on the property of Bruno Mory, a Tribal Art collector and Contemporary Art dealer, in the heart of Burgundy, a few miles away form Cluny Abbey. The fair offers:

• Open exhibition spaces, shared by two or three exhibitors;

• Fluid and open alley ways allowing you to double back, take time and interact organically with the art, the exhibitors and fellow visitors;

• An eclectic selection, designed to promote dialogue between specialties and approaches;

• A stroll in the fresh air through beautiful towns and farms. A way to discover Southern Burgundy’s cultural heritage – its castles, Cluny and its Abbey, Romanesque churches – and the Burgundy wines – Mâconnais, Côte chalon- naise, Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits.

Four days to take the time off, to discover and rediscover in a different and convivial way the traditional arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. Four days to exchange and interact with dealers, specialists and institutions on exceptional pieces and their stories. Four days to stroll through ancestral vineyards and visit Romanesque churches in one of France’s most beautiful regions at the crossroads of Europe.

The participating dealers are: Didier Claes, Laurent Dodier, Michael Evans, Bruno Frey, Ben Hunter, Stéphane Jacob, Kapil Jariwala, Olivier Larroque, Jacques Lebrat, Serge Le Guennan, Lemaire Gallery, Patrick & Ondine Mestdagh, Anthony JP Meyer, Ratton Gallery, Bryan Reeves, Alexis Renard, Adrian Schlag and Elisabeth Verhey (Tribal Design). More info here.

Bourgogne Tribal Show, 26-29 May 2016

African art collectors with good taste: the Modigliani of Klaus Perls

Crowds sit in front of Amedeo Modigliani's "Nu couche" during the "Artist Muse: A Curated Evening Sale" November 9, 2015 at Christie's New York November 9, 2015. Image courtesy T.A. Clary / AFP / Getty Images.

Crowds sit in front of Amedeo Modigliani’s “Nu couche” during the “Artist Muse: A Curated Evening Sale” November 9, 2015 at Christie’s New York November 9, 2015. Image courtesy T.A. Clary / AFP / Getty Images.

The event that marked the art world last year was the sale of Modigliani’s Nu Couché for $ 170,4 million at Christie’s New York (info). It became the second most expensive painting ever sold at auction. The painting is one of a series of great female nudes made for Léopold Zborowski that famously caused a scandal nearly a century ago when they were exhibited at Modigliani’s first and only one-man show at the Galerie Berthe Weill in Paris.

Another painting of that exhibition ended up in the hands of a famous African art collector: Klaus Perls, the owner of Perls Galleries. We know Perls for the 153 pieces of Benin art he donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1991. Kate Ezra wrote a great book about this collection, which is available for free here. In 1997, Klaus Perls would donate his Modigliani to the Metropolitan; you can see it on the picture below. It’s strange to think that this one (extraordinary) painting is worth as much as his complete (encyclopedic) collection of Benin art. Anyhow, it’s great to see them together.

The dining room of the Perls home, with Benin art (and a Baule mask) displayed beneath Nu Couché by Amedeo Modigliani, 1918.

The dining room of the Perls home, with Benin art (and a Baule mask) displayed beneath Nu Couché by Amedeo Modigliani, 1918.

ps fourth from the left, the attentive eye can spot a ‘Birmingham bell’, as previously discussed on the blog here.

Museum databases online

As you can see above, I’ve created a new page on this website called ‘Museum Databases’. It includes a list of links to the online collection databases of museums that have African art. Since a couple of years more and more museums are making their collections accessible online, so I thought it would be convenient to have them all grouped on a single webpage as a starting point for some serious sleuthing.

This list is not (yet) exhaustive and a work in progress, so please do get in touch if you spot a museum I missed. What about the Italian museums for example ? There should be more in Germany as well – but not everybody has caught up with the digitalization trend of course. Also, the Tervuren Museum is still adding objects (but they do have 180,000 objects to process of course) and the British Museum still has a lot of objects without a picture, but most of these databases are pretty complete. I can only hope this list gets bigger through time. I often dream of one centralized database, but that’s for the distant future.

Anyway, happy browsing and all the best wishes for 2016 !

US

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York)
Museum of Fine Arts (Boston)
The Cleveland Museum of Art
Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven)
Penn Museum (University of Pennsylvania)
Brooklyn Museum
American Museum of Natural History (New York)
Birmingham Museum of Art
Dallas Museum of Art
Fowler Museum (Los Angeles)
Saint Louis Art Museum
National Museum of African Art (Washington)
Indianapolis Museum of Art
Amherst College
Princeton University Art Museum
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
The Art Institute of Chicago
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Minneapolis Institute of Art
The Barnes Foundation (Philadelphia)
University of Michigan Museum of Art

UK

British Museum (London)
Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford)
Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts (Norwich)
Horniman Museum (London)

Belgium

Royal Museum for Central Africa (Tervuren)
Museum aan de Stroom (Antwerp, former Ethnographic Museum)

France

Musée du quai Branly (Paris, in French)
Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris

The Netherlands

Wereldmuseum (Rotterdam, in dutch)
Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen (Leiden)

Germany

Ethnologisches Museum (Berlin)

Spain

Museu de Cultures del Mon de Barcelona (in Spanish)

Switzerland

Musée d’ethnographie de Genève
Rietberg Museum (Zürich)
Musée Barbier-Mueller (Genève)

Other Countries

Museum for World Cultures (Gothenburg)