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African Art, New York, and the Avant-Garde

November 27, 2012–September 2, 2013

1919–23: A Move Toward Institutions

"As always, museums lag behind contemporary tastes." So proclaimed the French poet and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire in 1909, pinpointing the gap that existed in Paris between displays of African artifacts in museums and those in artists' ateliers and galleries. While the more flexible nature of art galleries allowed for the promotion of novel ideas and talents, museums appeared as the outdated keepers of an academic approach to art and, with regard to ethnographic museums, as the public face of imperialism and nationalism.

By 1919, both in Europe and America, the status of African art had changed in a way that led the dealer Paul Guillaume to exclaim, "Negro art is fashionable!" This shift extended to institutions, which began to consider African artifacts for their aesthetic value. In the United States, the most visible manifestations of this changed approach were the opening in 1922 of the Barnes Foundation in Merion, Pennsylvania, where Dr. Albert Barnes exhibited his African holdings alongside his important collection of modern masters; and a seminal 1923 exhibition organized at the Brooklyn Museum by Stewart Culin. Both men had developed tight connections with Europe, acquiring works directly from there. By contrast, other institutional exhibitions and collections emerged from the burgeoning American marketplace. Most influential among these were exhibitions at the Whitney Studio—the forerunner to New York's Whitney Museum of American Art—and the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia.

Selected Artworks