[Dan Mask]

Charles Sheeler American

Not on view

When Charles Sheeler took up the camera sometime in 1910-11, he was already a modestly accomplished painter. He began to photograph domestic architecture in the Philadelphia area, and within three years he had a successful sideline documenting fine private and public American collections of Chinese bronzes, Meso-American pots, and modern painting and sculpture by Cézanne, Picasso, and Duchamp. Through this work Sheeler met Walter Arensberg, Alfred Stieglitz, and other important collectors and dealers; to a few of them he sold his paintings.
The rigorous demands of detailed record photography soon influenced his painting as the direct, generally frontal assessment of both an object's form and structure retrained and refined his eye. By 1916, Sheeler had begun to paint from photographs and also to pursue photography as an end in itself. With his first exhibition of photographs, a three-person show with Paul Strand and Morton Schamberg at Marius de Zayas's Modern Gallery in 1917, Sheeler emerged as one of America's few prominent artists equally skilled with brush and camera.
This photograph of a Dan mask from Ivory Coast may have been commissioned by John Quinn, a New York lawyer, collector of African art, and patron of the avant-garde. The ceremonial mask emerges from virtual obscurity, filled with mystery, its highly polished wood surface animated by a raking, angular light. The photograph functions as a fetish, speaking with its own voice, commanding our attention, and even, it would seem, judging our response.
This photograph was published in the March 1923 issue of "The Arts," in an article by de Zayas entitled "Negro Art."

[Dan Mask], Charles Sheeler (American, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1883–1965 Dobbs Ferry, New York), Gelatin silver print

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