Category Archives: Publications

Book review: Claude-Henri Pirat’s “Du Fleuve Niger Au Fleuve Congo – Une Aventure Africaine” (2014)

Claude-Henri Pirat Du Fleuve Niger Au Fleuve Congo - Une aventure africaine (2014)

One the most entertaining reads of the year so far has been Claude-Henri Pirat’s Du Fleuve Niger Au Fleuve Congo – Une aventure africaine (Primedia, 2014). In this book, Pirat presents his private collection and in a honest way shares his journey as a collector. This 320 pages book is published in French, with a translation at the end in English. Printed on a rather big format (35x25cm), it is richly illustrated throughout with b/w images (made by Pirat himself) of both the objects that he once owned as the present contents of his collection – which is excellent. Pirat tells of his early years as a collector and shares the stories of his numerous travels to the African continent, including many beautiful field-photo’s taken during these trips. What makes this book especially worth a read are the authors’ personal reflections on the art market and its actors (Philippe Guimiot and especially Pierre Dartevelle are covered in detail), of the museums (with big sections on the entrance of the arts of Africa into the Louvre and on the opening of the quai Branly), and of some of the great questions that have been and still are under debate in this field – such as the trade in the Niger Valley’s archeological heritage. Pirat makes several interesting statements, and (praiseworthy) even offers a well-argued pragmatic solution for the current situation. I found it a very stimulating text, offering a well-written and personal perspective on the last 40 years of the African art market in all its aspects – something you rarely encounter written down. You can order the book here –  it’s not cheap, but it’s highly recommended.

EDIT: I had to remove the pictures I had posted from this book, since they were generating an enormous amount of traffic.

“Refined Eye, Passionate Heart: African Art from the Leslie Sacks Collection” out now

African Art from the Leslie Sacks Collection

Refined Eye, Passionate Heart: African Art from the Leslie Sacks Collection, a 320 page catalogue on the modernist art dealer Leslie Sacks’ collection of African art, is finally available on Amazon. Together with Frank Herreman, I wrote an introduction about Primitivism which explores the relationship between African art, modern and contemporary art. Furthermore, I am also responsible for four texts on several objects from the Dan, Diomande and Wè. Read more about the book here (including some pictures from the inside).

Catalogue Parcours des Mondes 2014 online

Parcours des Mondes Paris September 2014

The catalogue of Parcours des Mondes is online; you can find it here. This edition has a lot of side activities: apart from the usual signature sessions at Librairie Fischbacher (among others, Heinrich Schweizer’s book on the Malcolm collection will be presented), there are multiple lectures under the header ‘Café Tribal’. Read all about them here – there will even be a performance of a Guro zahouli mask! At the Grand Palais, it’s also the 27th edition of the Biennale des Antiquaires. Bernard Dulon & Didier Claes will both be exhibiting at this prestigious venue – Bernard de Grunne will also be showing a small selection at the stand of Dominique Levy. Lastly there are previews of the upcoming auctions of Christie’s and Sotheby’s NY, as well as the sale of the Frum collection at Sotheby’s.

Tribal Art Reference

Previously known as African art books, Christophe Evers’ reference website about the literature on African and Oceanic art was recently completely revamped and rebranded as Tribal Art Reference. This website is a very helpful tool if you are searching for references to articles and books on a specific region or ethnic group. Presently the main focus is providing with indexes to more than 10,000 articles of the main journals on the subject. Below an alphabetical list of the indexed magazines:

Abhandlungen und Berichte der Staatlichen Ethnographischen Sammlungen Sachsen 2005-2012
Abhandlungen und Berichte des Staatlichen Museums für Völkerkunde Dresden 1962-2002
Africa Museum Tervuren 1993-1994
African Arts 1967-2014
Africa-Tervuren 1961-1990
Art Tribal – Tribal Art 2002-2005
Art tribal (Barbier-Mueller Museum) 1987-1998
Arts d’Afrique Noire 1971-2004
Arts et Cultures (Barbier-Mueller Museum) 2000-2014
Baessler-Archiv. Beiträge zur Völkerkunde. Neue Folge (Berlin) 1952-2013
Connaissance des arts tribaux (Barbier-Mueller Museum) 1978-1986
EEthnologica – Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum der Stadt Köln 1909-2012
Jahrbuch der Staatlichen Ethnographischen Sammlungen Sachsen 2007-2010
Jahrbuch des Museums für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig 1968-2007
Mitteilungen aus dem Museum für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig 1974-1989
Monographien zur Völkerkunde / Hamburgisches Museum für Völkerkunde 1943-1992
Münchner Beiträge – Jahrbuch des Staatlichen Museums für Völkerkunde München 1988-2012
Precolombart (Barbier-Mueller Museum) 1998-2000
Primitifs 1990-1991
Tribal 2002-2005
Tribal Art Magazine 2006-2014
Tribus – Jahrbuch des Linden-Museums Stuttgart 1951-2013
Veröffentlichungen des Museums für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig 1907-1988
World of Tribal Art 1994-2002

There’s so much knowledge available, but one has to know about its existence in the first place – and this website surely makes the search a lot easier !

Book tip: Christopher Steiner’s African Art in Transit

Christopher Steiner African Art in Transit

A book which can’t be celebrated enough, Christopher Steiner’s African Art in Transit is a must read for anyone with an interest in the African art market. In it, Steiner gives an absorbing account of the commodification and circulation of African art in Africa itself. While so much attention currently focuses on an objects’ provenance or history in the West, this study documents the African side of the story. When the book came out in 1994, it was reviewed numerous times (for example here, herehere – with Sidney Kasfir adding her own interesting experiences) and better than I ever could – so I don’t wish to repeat the exercise myself.

Quoting Denis Dutton in his review: “African Art in Transit presents a wealth of useful information for anyone who wants to learn how contemporary artifacts are marketed, how genres (like slingshots) can be virtually invented, and how the preconceptions of Westerners are exploited by clever salesmen.” All six chapters of the book are most revealing. Chapter 1 describes the situation in Côte d’Ivoire, more specifically Abidjan, where Steiner did his field-research. Chapter 2 describes the organization and basic business practices among traders and between them and their suppliers in upcountry villages. Chapter 3 describes the main features of trading in terms of bargaining, reckoning prices, determining strategies for profit and survival against competitors. Chapter 4 discusses how the ethnicity and religion of traders usually insulate them from both their African suppliers and European buyers, as well as from the objects which they sell. Chapter 5 discusses the notion of authenticity which pervades nearly all thinking about what is or is not good (marketable) art – a very illuminating section. Lastly, chapter 6 examines the sociological concept of cultural broker as it may apply to African art dealers as middlemen between the different cultural spheres of creators, purveyors, and consumers. The text is enriched by numerous telling photos, find some of them below.

Young boys at Plateau market place polishing Senufo masks with paste wax. Abidjan, April 1988. Image courtesy of Christopher Steiner (p. 17, fig. 1).

Young boys at the Plateau market place polishing Senufo masks with paste wax. Abidjan, April 1988. Image courtesy of Christopher Steiner (p. 17, fig. 1).

Artisanal workshop. Port de Carena, Abidjan, June 1988. Image courtesy of Christopher Steiner (p. 37, fig. 10).

Artisanal workshop. Port de Carena, Abidjan, June 1988. Image courtesy of Christopher Steiner (p. 37, fig. 10).

Hausa traders bargaining in a storehouse. Treichville quarter, Abidjan, June 1991. Image courtesy of Christopher Steiner (p. 67, fig. 16).

Hausa traders bargaining in a storehouse. Treichville quarter, Abidjan, June 1991. Image courtesy of Christopher Steiner (p. 67, fig. 16).

Hausa trader with wooden trunk in the back section of the Plateau market place, Abidjan, May 1988. Image courtesy of Christopher Steiner (p. 135, fig. 29).

Hausa trader with wooden trunk in the back section of the Plateau market place, Abidjan, May 1988. Image courtesy of Christopher Steiner (p. 135, fig. 29).

A carver repairing the arm on an Asante female figure which was damaged during shipment from the Kumase workshop where it was produced. Plateau market place, Abidjan, January 1988. Image courtesy of Christopher Steiner (p. 141, fig. 31).

A carver repairing the arm on an Asante female figure which was damaged during shipment from the Kumase workshop where it was produced. Plateau market place, Abidjan, January 1988. Image courtesy of Christopher Steiner (p. 141, fig. 31).

Small Akan brass boxes stained with potassium permanganate to dull the surface finish. Plateau market place, Abidjan, July 1988. Image courtesy of Christopher Steiner (p. 143, fig. 33).

Small Akan brass boxes stained with potassium permanganate to dull the surface finish. Plateau market place, Abidjan, July 1988. Image courtesy of Christopher Steiner (p. 143, fig. 33).

African Art from the World Bank Collection

African Art from The World Bank Collection

Fairly unknown, the World Bank has a small collection of African art. Under the instigation of Philip Ravenhill, chief curator of the National Museum of African art at the time, they published a catalogue featuring pieces from their collection in 1998; it’s freely available here via Google Books.

UNESCO’s ‘General History of Africa’ series

Unesco History of Africa

In case you would want to brush up on your knowledge of the history of Africa, you can download Unesco’s ebooks on the subject for free here. The eight volumes:

Volume I: Methodology and African Prehistory
Volume II: Ancient Civilizations of Africa
Volume III: Africa from the Seventh to the Eleventh Century
Volume IV: Africa from the Twelfth to the Sixteenth Century
Volume V: Africa from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century
Volume VI: Africa in the Nineteenth Century until the 1880s
Volume VII: Africa under the Colonial Domination 1880-1935
Volume VIII: Africa since 1935

For more information about this project (which started in 1964) click here.

Carl Einstein’s Negerplastik (1915)

Carl Einstein, Negerplastik 1915 front cover

A kind soul has made Carl Einstein‘s Negerplastik freely available online here. The man was not related to that other Einstein, but nonetheless was pretty important for the Western discovery of African art (though Negerplastik didn’t include any captions yet). The Fang head on page 33 is an unbelievable piece of sculpture – but unfortunately not the real thing.

UPDATE: for an interesting article by Zoe Strother about this book, click here.

Fang head wood Carl Einstein 1915