In terms of provenance research of their holdings, German museums historically have always been one step ahead. The Museum Fünf Kontinente in Munich leads by example again, by making scans of the original inventory books of its ethnological collections available on their website. You can find them here (in chronological order on the left of the page). Funded by the Bavarian State Ministry for Science and Art, the museum with this projects wishes to make these important historical sources freely available to researchers who wish to study the museum’s collecting activities and acquisitions.
Another database to bookmark, especially as it is impossible to travel to Toronto these days anyway. You can browse the collections of the Royal Ontario Museum online here. About 7500 objects from the African continent are listed, among which the above spectacular Efut headdress by Asikpo Edet Okon of Ibonda.
Coincidently the museum also holds a fake Mangbetu vessel made in Cameroon as recently discussed on the blog here. In the description we read
This vessel was produced as a copy of a classic Mangbetu style vessel acquired by the American Museum of Natural History at the beginning of the 20th century. Idrissou Kouotou has been specializing in this type of production since the 1980s. He does not work from photographs but reproduces rather faithfully known examples that he has carefully studied in the past. This vessel was produced in 2010 and aged for two years to give the dark patina. Idrissou Kouotou has his workshop in the Manga II quarter in Foumban right below the Rue des Artisans. He has been selling to an international clientele and to the local gallery owners for decades.
While I assume Kouotou sells his vessels for what they are, once they arrive in the West I’m not so sure its resellers remain that honest. The most fun object in the collection might very well be the below Kuyu kebe-kebepuppet with features of rock legend Elvis Presley. With his nickname “the king”, the maker of this puppet must have deemed him an appropriate inspiration to make this puppet considered kingly!
A kind blog reader informed me I had not yet listed the Budapest Museum of Ethnography in my list of online available museum databases; you can explore it here. The database of one of the oldest Ethnographic museums in Europe holds about 6600 items. Although the search engine has been translated, the data for each object is still in Hungarian, so you’ll need to use google translate for your search queries. Search for ‘maszk’, ‘Belga Kongo’, ‘ferry szobra’ (male statue), etc. Among other interesting groups, you can discover lots of objects collected by Emil Torday between 1907 and 1909. Also Liberia and Ivory Coast have strong collections of works. As almost none of the objects in the museum’s collection were ever published, browsing the database will certainly result in some exciting finds. Happy scrolling dear friends !
2020 surely was a year to remember for all of us. It was challenging to try to process all the changes in our lives, to say the least. Especially the readers with young kids will understand what I am talking about. On a personal level, my exit at Christie’s surely was an unforeseen 180° turnaround in my life. Although I’m happy the year is over, I feel grateful for the space it also gave to rethink my future. The lockdown surely presented an opportunity for reflection. As the saying goes.. never waste a good crisis. There is still so much work to do in the exciting world of African Art, and my mission as one of its passioned advocates is far from over.. more on that later this year.
For now, let me wish you a healthy and prosperous 2021!
Many thanks for all the continued interest and support.