Photograph by Franko Khoury
A mask from Côte d'Ivoire from the late 19th to mid-20th century.
via NYTimes, Art:
Out of Africa, Eclectic Visions
By HOLLAND COTTER
Published: June 1, 200
African art has it all: beauty, brio, inventiveness, moral gravity, emotional depth, practicality, sensuality and humor. It’s hot and cool, high and low, chastening and consoling, endlessly varied, surprising always.
So why do our big museums still give us so few African shows? And why, when they do, are those shows so often packaged the same way? Third-tier Western artists get solo retrospectives; entire African cultures are squeezed into art-of-a-continent surveys.
Many such surveys are collection samplers, the only thematic thread being the taste or money of a single owner or institution. They are at least as much about the Western market as about African art. And given the present sluggish cultural climate, this model probably won’t change soon. So it’s important to keep asking why something knowledge-advancing can’t be done with the survey format. Two current collection shows, one in Washington and one in Boston, answer the question in very different ways.
“African Vision: The Walt Disney-Tishman African Art Collection” at the National Museum of African Art in Washington is made up of 88 traditional sculptures and masks from the several hundred acquired by the New York real estate developer Paul Tishman and his wife, Ruth, from the 1950s to the 1980s.
The Tishman collection was widely exhibited in those decades. A generation of art historians grew up with it. A canon of “classical” African art was in part shaped by it. In 1982 the Tishmans sold the material to the Walt Disney Company, thinking it would find a permanent home in an African pavilion at Epcot in Florida. The pavilion was never built. Two years ago Disney gave the bulk of the collection — certain outstanding objects had already been dispersed — to the National Museum of African Art.
With more than 500 works, the gift is exceptionally large. It is also very uneven. But where it’s great, it’s great. “African Vision” is about greatness. It presents itself as a “masterpiece” show: clean installation, scant information, one stand-alone treasure after another. [read on...]
Photo: Franko Khoury/National Museum of African Art
A post (early to mid-20th century), made of wood, pigment and cloth, from the Walt Disney-Tishman collection at the National Museum of African Art in Washington
A second exhibition, “Material Journeys: Collecting African and Oceanic Art, 1945-2000: Selections From the Geneviève McMillan Collection” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, takes the opposite tack. It has its textbook sculptures and de rigueur masks, but lots of unclassical, uncategorizable, unglamorous things too: door locks, drums, jewelry, head-bashers, splashboards and hats, side by side, as in a bazaar.
The show not only acknowledges the market’s role in collecting, but takes commerce as its theme, in an installation that follows the itinerary of one avid shopper on a half-century buying spree.
Geneviève McMillan was born in France and educated in Paris, where she developed an interest in African culture and where she did a little buying. A Kota reliquary figure she picked up there opens the show. She married an American and moved to the United States in 1946. They made their home in Cambridge, Mass. (where she still lives), but she kept traveling.
She made repeated trips to the South Pacific, even more to Africa, where she sought out dealers and artists and sorted through markets in Dakar, Monrovia, Abidjan, Accra and Kinshasa. The show, which is accompanied by a fascinating book by Christraud M. Geary, the museum’s curator of African and Oceanic art, moves along with her through the decades, supplementing art with a display of travel ephemera — posters, airline schedules, stamps — and the diary in which Mrs. McMillan kept track of what she bought, when and where. [read on...]