Met Museum's Special Exhibition Tells Story of How African Artifacts Were First Recognized as Art in U.S.

Met Museum's Special Exhibition Tells Story of How African Artifacts Were First Recognized as Art in U.S.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art will present a special exhibition highlighting the African works acquired by the New York avant-garde and its most influential patrons during the 1910s and 1920s. At the beginning of the 20th century, the appreciation of African artifacts in the West shifted dramatically from colonial trophies to modernist icons. Reflecting on New York's dynamism during the years that followed the 1913 Armory Show, African Art, New York, and the Avant-Garde brings together African art from the collections of many key individuals of the period, now dispersed throughout private and institutional collections. Showcasing more than 60 works from Africa and the Western avant-garde, the exhibition evokes the original context in which they were first experienced simultaneously nearly a century ago. Highlights of the exhibition are 36 wood sculptures from West and Central Africa; they will be presented alongside photographs, sculptures, and paintings by Alfred Stieglitz, Charles Sheeler, Pablo Picasso, Francis Picabia, Diego Rivera, Henri Matisse, and Constantin Brancusi.

The exhibition is made possible by the Friends of the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.

The exhibition will unfold chronologically and thematically in four sections.

Section 1—1914: America Discovers African Art

The year 1914 was a turning point for African art in America when two New York galleries introduced African sculpture to their audiences: Robert J. Coady’s newly opeNed Washington
Square Gallery; and Alfred Stieglitz’s well-established Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, commonly known as 291. Featured prominently in this section will be Stieglitz’s 1914 exhibition dedicated entirely to African artifacts as works of art. Photographs of this early installation will be displayed and works exhibited at the time will be reunited. Among the sculptures will be a mask created by a We or Dan artist from Côte d’Ivoire and a Fang reliquary element from Gabon; they will be exhibited in America for the first time since 1914.

Section 2—1915-19: Acquiring a Taste for African Art

New York City progressively positioned itself as a central marketplace for African art. This section sheds light on the years 1915-19, when American dealers began promoting African objects as art to a growing group of collectors. Among the dealers, Mexican artist Marius de Zayas (1880–1961) was largely responsible for helping some adventurous modern-art collectors—such as Walter and Louise Arensberg, John Quinn, and Agnes and EuGene Meyer—to build their African art collections. This section focuses on De Zayas’s activities as an able art dealer and his relationships with the avant-garde collectors. Among the works on view, a rich ensemble of photographs by American artist Charles Sheeler, a close collaborator of De Zayas at the time, vividly records New York’s encounter with African art.