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Discoveries Exhibtions

MoMa’s “Primitivism in 20th Century Art” installation shots available online (William Rubin, 1984)

Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

If you liked last weeks installation shots of African Negro Art at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1935 (here), you’ll love these pictures of Primitivism in 20th Century Art held at the same museum in 1984. I was still a baby at the time, but going through these pictures I can understand it had such a big impact and would come to instigate a new generation of collectors. If you think of it, it is fascinating that two of the most influential African art exhibitions of the twentieth century were organized by a museum of modern art.

The good folks at the MoMa even made the (Chinese version of the) exhibition catalogue freely available online here (long download) – kudos to them!

ps anecdote of the day: after New York, the show would travel to the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Dallas Museum of Art – a tour that was sponsored by Philip Morris Incorporated. I wonder if cigarette companies still get to sponsor museum shows these days.

Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Categories
Discoveries Objects

A Fang-Ntumu figure reveals its secrets

fang-ntumu-byeri-figure-gabon-teeth-molars

Four years ago I did a small study of the above Ntumu figure from Gabon; in my description I wrote: “Sometimes the eyes of byeri statues served as an opportunity for the integration of relics into the figure itself by embedding fragments of bone, often in the form of teeth, into deeply excaved cavities – which could be the case here.” A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by the current owner of this statue. He had taken the figure to his radiologist to test my hypothesis. A scan proved me right and revealed the presence of three human molars: 2 behind the eyes and 1 inserted in the forehead (which had not been spotted on the statue before) – a great discovery! Next time you have an appointment at your radiologist, don’t forget to bring an African statue 🙂

UPDATE: a reader writes that the third tooth is an upper premolar.

teeth-molars-inserted-in-a-fang-ntumu-figure-scan

 

teeth-molars-inserted-in-a-fang-ntumu-figure-scan-b

 

Categories
Discoveries

African art in unexpected places: ruins of the Benin Kingdom palace at the Antwerp Zoo

Antwerp zoo Benin Kingdom mural a

A new category on the blog, “African art in unexpected places” wants to show African art where you least expect it. Last weekend I finally got to photograph the “ancient” ruins of the palace walls of the Benin Kingdom, preserved in a monkey cage in the Antwerp Zoo! These walls were clearly inspired by the famous brass Benin plaques from Nigeria. The monkeys not even being African, I wonder what the idea behind this was. It’s rather intriguing, especially as none of the other cages are decorated… the monkeys clearly were indifferent, so not a big success.
Antwerp zoo Benin Kingdom mural Bruno Claessens

Don’t hesitate to share a picture if you would run into African art in strange surroundings as well!

Categories
Discoveries

An African statue on the cover of a French thriller

grange congo requiem vili figure art

One encounters African art in the strangest places; yesterday I was leaving Paris as I ran into this advertisement for the new book of Jean-Christophe Grange in Gare du Nord. On the front cover, I spotted a famous zoomorphic figure from the Democratic Republic of Congo. This Vili monkey figure was collected before 1884 and is currently in the collection of the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde (Leiden, The Netherlands) – see it in its full glory below. I haven’t read the book, but apparently the antagonist of this thriller is called l’Homme Clou (‘the nail man’).

Vili monkey figure. Height: 35 cm. Image courtesy of the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, Leiden, The Netherlands.
Vili monkey figure. Height: 35 cm. Image courtesy of the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, Leiden, The Netherlands.

 

Categories
Discoveries

African art in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994)

African art in Tarrantino Pulp Fiction

 

Another Hollywood film featuring African art: Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994). In one scene Vincent Vega (John Travolta) picks up Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) at Marsellus Wallace’s house. Pretending to be a sophisticated gangster, the latter’s living room is full of African art – all of it fake unfortunately. Above a “Dan” mask, spot more objects (or “African fellas” to quote Mia) in the clip below. A film with a fantastic soundtrack by the way.

 

Categories
Discoveries Objects

Object of the day: a ‘Mbala’ bottle opener

Image courtesy of Gi Mateusen.
Image courtesy of Gi Mateusen.

 

I came across a remarkable bronze object today. It’s clearly inspired on the famous Mbala statues of a drummer (as illustrated below), but it’s not in wood and much smaller.

 

Image courtesy of the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium.
Image courtesy of the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium.

 

The owner of the object was so kind to reveal the object’s function to me: a bottle opener, made for Belgian colonials, to be used during rituals involving beer 🙂  This object had a deep patina indicating extensive ritual use! These could be bought on Kinshasa’s craft market and were probably made far from the Mbala region to be sold as a souvenir of a visit to Congo.

 

Image courtesy of Gi Mateusen.
Image courtesy of Gi Mateusen.

I want one !

Categories
Discoveries News Objects

A first important success for my inscriptions database

Pende mask, D.R. Congo. Height: 30 cm. Image courtesy of Studio Philippe de Formanoir - Paso Doble.
Pende mask, D.R. Congo. Height: 30 cm. Image courtesy of Studio Philippe de Formanoir – Paso Doble. Collection Javier Peres, Berlin.

The above Pende pumbu mask was acquired with my assistance at BRAFA in Brussels in January. While inspecting the mask, I spotted the below inventory number on the inside of the mask. While the dealer had missed it, I immediately recognized the style of this inscription..

Kongo-Kunst tentoonstelling Pende Mask Olbrechts Stadsfeestzaal 1937

I had seen this type of labeling before and was pretty sure it was done by Frans M. Olbrechts for his 1937 exhibition in Antwerp’s Stadsfeestzaal. Back home, I consulted the (rare) exhibition catalogue and checked the upper number of the inscription (92), which proved to be a Pende mask! Note that the majority of objects in the catalogue was not illustrated. However, a second confirmation that this mask was in the famed ‘Tentoonstelling van Kongo Kunst‘ came in the form of the lower line of the inscription: it starts with an abbreviation of the consignor (DERA), followed by the number of the object consigned by that collector. As the catalogue listed J.V. De Raadt as the consignor for mask no. 92, it’s certain the above mask was in the 1937 exhibition. I haven’t been able to identify the second inventory number, but it looks even older. So, I (and the masks’s new owner with me) am very happy that after all these years, an important piece of the object’s history was rediscovered.

Pende Mask Kongo Kunst Olbrechts

ps a day of sleuthing later revealed the existence of two more masks from this carver, see below. The mask on the left is in the Collection Museum aan de Stroom (former Ethnographic Museum), Antwerp (AE.0551), and was purchased from Henri Pareyn on 13 April 1920; the mask on the right was sold in Paris by Boisgirard on 19 February 1968 (lot 110) – its current whereabouts are unknown.

Pende mask pumbu Bruno Claessens Pareyn Etnographic Museum Antwerp

 

 

 

Categories
Discoveries

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

Categories
Discoveries

A James Bond villain collecting African Art

Roger Moore The Man with the Golden Gun African art

Last night, I discovered that Francisco Scaramanga, the antagonist of James Bond in The Man with the Golden Gun, was an African art collector. When 007 gets invited for lunch at Scaramanga’s island hideaway, the two first cross the living quarters where two big African works of art are on display. First, we see a big Senufo bird figure (sejen) from Ivory Coast, followed by a classic Yoruba epa mask from Nigeria. Unfortunately I could not track down neither of the works – no surprise since the island explodes at the end of the movie 🙂  Anyhow, I guess the set designers wanted to illustrate the sophisticated nature of this villain, portraying him as an non-Western art collector.

the man with the golden gun ivory coast senufo bird figure sejen

yoruba epa mask nigeria james bond 007 scaramanga

ps apologies for the blurry image quality, these are snapshots from my tv.

Categories
Discoveries News

A rediscovered Maori Hei-tiki

rediscovered hei tiki Maori BBC antiques Roadshow

An amazing discovery during the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow: a woman was weeding in her garden and found the above Hei-tiki buried in the ground in a cloth pouch. Check out the video clip here.