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putting “primitive” to rest

June 5, 2009

[NYTimes] In the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing at the Metropolitan Museum you’ll find a tiny African copper relief that probably predates, and would surely have awed, the great Lorenzo Ghiberti. You’ll encounter a bust of a Nigerian beauty to rival Nefertiti; an Oceanic Apollo with the physique of an Olympian; and a Micronesian statuette that is, with its stacks of faceted planes, Brancusi before Brancusi.

These objects, along with 32 others, make up the exhibition called “African and Oceanic Art From the Barbier-Mueller Museum, Geneva: A Legacy of Collecting.” The show, an unabashed masterpiece display, is not only a gold mine of historical data and a connoisseur’s delight, but also a reminder of how perceptions evolve — a mere few decades ago everything here was referred to as “primitive art.”

This was a capacious category. It covered African, Oceanic and North American Indian material, as well as Pre-Columbian art from Central and South America and all things “tribal” from everywhere else. Only fairly recently have the political dimensions of “primitive” begun to be fully sorted out and reckoned with. (read or view slideshow)

African and Oceanic Art from the Barbier-Mueller Museum, Geneva: A Legacy of Collecting
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
June 2, 2009–September 27, 2009
exhibition website
images from exhibition

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 5, 2009 3:46 pm

    rivaling Nefertiti, indeed, no matter how much i love her, spent hours looking at her in Berlin. but this is incredible. such refinement.

  2. June 5, 2009 4:18 pm

    I assume you are referring to this marvelous piece.

  3. June 5, 2009 4:31 pm

    100% correct, but then there was absolutely no way to miss that guess, was there? 🙂

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