African Art, New York, and the Avant-Garde

November 27, 2012–September 2, 2013

Sources, Dealers, and Collectors


The Sources, Paris

Joseph Brummer (1883–1947) abandoned his training as a sculptor to sell the African artifacts he found in secondhand shops and flea markets. What began as an informal trade with fellow artists became a career as one of the most influential art dealers active before World War II. Brummer sponsored the publication of the first text on African art, Negerplastik by Carl Einstein, and supplied many of its illustrations. As an antiquarian, Brummer also sourced medieval artifacts later acquired by institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum.

View a slideshow of works sourced by Joseph Brummer.

Paul Guillaume (1891–1934) was the source of most of the African works exhibited and sold in New York until the 1920s. He was the major lender to the pioneering 1914 exhibition presented at Alfred Stieglitz's gallery 291, as well as those organized at Marius de Zayas's Modern Gallery. From 1922 to 1926 he served as a collection advisor to Dr. Alfred Barnes in Merion, Pennsylvania. He played a central role in fostering new directions in art and developing the African-art canon.

View a slideshow of works sourced by Paul Guillaume.

Charles Vignier (1863–1934), a Symbolist poet turned successful Asian-art dealer, opened his first gallery in Paris in 1904. In 1913, he included a group of African masks and sculptures in an important exhibition of his collection at the prestigious Galerie Levesque in Paris. This display is now recognized as the first exhibition in France to have included African objects as works of art. In 1919 and 1920, he forged a transatlantic collaboration with Marius de Zayas, supplying more than seventy works to New York's African-art market.

View a slideshow of works dealt by Charles Vignier.

The Dealers, New York

Robert J. Coady (1876–1921) trained in Europe as a painter before returning to New York and opening the Washington Square Gallery (1914–17) and the Coady Gallery (1917–19). Through the publication of the journal The Soil, he undertook to define the modern American cultural identity as distinct from what he regarded as the omnipresent European model. In 1914, he was the first to exhibit African art at his Washington Square Gallery, preceding by a few months Alfred Stieglitz's seminal exhibition at 291. Joseph Brummer sourced his African works.

View a slideshow of works dealt by Robert J. Coady.

Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946) promoted new forms of expression in the early twentieth century. His 291 gallery became a focal point for the New York avant-garde and a pioneering force in bringing European modern art to America. Stieglitz was introduced to African sculpture by the artist Max Weber in 1909 and, impressed by its spirituality and profound authenticity, planned to make it the focus of a revolutionary exhibition. Statuary in Wood by African Savages: The Root of Modern Art was the first exhibition in the United States dedicated entirely to African artifacts as fine art.

View a slideshow of works exhibited by Alfred Stieglitz.

Marius de Zayas (1880–1961), a talented caricaturist, exhibited works at 291 before becoming one of the galleries collaborators. For several years, he acted as 291's "chief curator," traveling to Europe on Stieglitz's behalf and identifying art to bring to New York. From 1915, the opening date of his Modern Gallery, until the closing of his De Zayas Gallery in 1921, De Zayas was the primary promoter of African art in the United States, organizing many exhibitions that highlighted its influence on modern artists. Paul Guillaume and Charles Vignier in Paris were his purveyors of African art.

View a slideshow of works dealt by Marius de Zayas.

The Collectors

Walter and Louise Arensberg (1878–1954; 1879–1953) were influential patrons of avant-garde initiatives in New York. They hosted the unofficial Dada salon in their apartment, supported Marius de Zayas's second gallery venture, sponsored journals such as Others and The Blind Man, and collected works by emerging artists. Their non-Western collection first focused on African art and later featured South American and Native American artifacts. Among its highlights were two celebrated Fang reliquary sculptures (now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art), acquired from the De Zayas Gallery and photographed by Charles Sheeler in their salon.

View a slideshow of works in their collection.

John Quinn (1870–1924), a New York lawyer and patron of the avant-garde, assembled the most important private American collection of African art before 1924. An active collector of European and American modern artists (at the time of his death, his holdings numbered more than two thousand works by the most adventurous modern masters), he turned to African art for what he saw as its role in influencing the course of recent art history. He acquired works from 291, the Modern Gallery, De Zayas Gallery, Washington Square Gallery, and the Brummer Gallery.

View a slideshow of works in his collection.

Eugene and Agnes Meyer (1875–1969; 1887–1970) were active supporters of avant-garde activities in New York during the 1910s. In 1915, they funded the opening of the Modern Gallery as the commercial branch of Stieglitz's 291, and later the journal of the same name. Mostly known for their modern and Asian holdings, they acquired several African artworks from De Zayas's galleries between 1916 and 1919.

View a slideshow of works in their collection.

Alain L. Locke (1885–1954) was a leading African American cultural critic and advocate of racial studies, from the publication of his anthology The New Negro in 1925 until his death in 1954. The first African American Rhodes Scholar and a professor of philosophy at Howard University for forty years, Locke's interest in African history and art led him to emphasize the concept of "ancestral legacy." Through his championing of African sculpture, weaving, pottery, and design as great art, Locke had a tremendous impact on an entire generation of African American artists.

View a slideshow of works in his collection.