A 15th-century processional cross on display at PaceWildenstein.
Art Review | Art of Ethiopia
It Was Multicultural Before Multicultural Was Cool [excerpted]
By HOLLAND COTTER
Published: October 19, 2005
[...] The first major gallery sale exhibition of Ethiopian art in the United States opened yesterday at PaceWildenstein on East 57th Street. Organized by the London dealer Sam Fogg, it's a fierce, gorgeous, category-scrambling encounter.
With 50 objects, the show covers centuries of Africa's oldest Christian culture. In antiquity, Ethiopia was a mix of African people and Semitic people who had crossed the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia. According to tradition, the first Ethiopian emperor, Menelik, son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, brought the Ark of the Covenant from Jerusalem to establish Ethiopia as the new Israel.
This Old Testament identity was, however, tailored to accommodate Christianity. And in the fifth century A.D., when Ethiopia was, with Rome and Persia, one of the superpowers of the ancient world, Ethiopian Orthodoxy became the state religion. Later Islam swept in, cutting the country off from the Byzantine world and adding its own cultural impulses. Influences from sub-Saharan Africa were subtle and constant. [...]
as elusive as it is, Ethiopian material is an increasingly hot property. Around the time of "African Zion," the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, which helped organize that exhibition, initiated an acquisition campaign. It now has the largest collection of Ethiopian material outside of Addis Ababa. In 1997, the Museum for African Art in New York presented "Art That Heals: The Image as Medicine in Ethiopia," which incorporated non-Orthodox talismanic painting, a few samples of which are at PaceWildenstein.
Illuminated Gospel, Early 15th century
Ethiopia; Aksum region
Parchment (vellum), wood (acacia), tempera, ink; H. 16 1/2 in. (41.9 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1998 (1998.66)
Meanwhile, the Met bought - from Mr. Fogg - a fabulous 15th-century Gospel, now in the Michael C. Rockefeller wing. The museum also had Ethiopian material in "Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261-1557)" last year, and recently organized a symposium on early Christian art in Africa. Can we consider Mr. Fogg's 57th Street exhibition a herald of further museum interest in Ethiopian art? I don't know. But I do know that, with its exhortative rhythms, it's as entrancing a show as any in the city right now, and in less than two weeks it will be gone.
"Art of Ethiopia" is at PaceWildenstein (Pace Primitive), 32 East 57th Street, seventh floor, Manhattan, (212) 421-3688, through Oct. 29.