African Art, New York, and the Avant-Garde

November 27, 2012–September 2, 2013

1914: America Discovers African Art

"[It is] possibly the most important show we have ever had."
—Letter from Alfred Stieglitz to Arthur Dove, November 5, 1914

The year 1914 was a turning point for African art in America. Having served as a catalyst for avant-garde creativity in the 1913 Armory Show, it was pushed to the forefront of the New York contemporary art scene. Thus in 1914 two art galleries began introducing African sculpture to viewers primed for aesthetic novelties, including it prominently in their displays: Robert J. Coady's newly opened Washington Square Gallery, and Stieglitz's well-established Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, commonly known as 291.

However, with commercial routes circulating from Africa to Europe and from Europe to the United States, American sources for African art remained anchored in Europe. Such halted trajectories informed the genres of works available in New York and the progressive shift in their significance: in each new location, layers of information relating to the works' original context were lost and replaced by a new set of ideas projected by their changing owners. Both French and Belgian dealers acquired African works primarily through colonial channels, from either administrators or commercial ships traveling back and forth to the colonies. As is made evident in this section of the exhibition, this collecting framework explains the predominance in the United States of works from former French and Belgian colonies: French West Africa's coastal regions (present-day Côte d'Ivoire and Guinea), French Equatorial Africa (especially Gabon), and the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo).

Selected Artworks

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