By Christa Clarke
Published by Skira Rizzoli, in association with the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia
23 x 32 cm, 288 pages, hardcover, 325 color ill., 75 $
Purchase the book here.
African Art in the Barnes Foundation: The Triumph of L'Art Negre and the Harlem Renaissance
African Art in the Barnes Foundation is the first comprehensive catalogue on the African objects collected by Dr. Albert C. Barnes. This sumptuous title completes a vision set forth by Barnes himself almost nine decades ago, when Primitive Negro Sculpture , the first book on any area of his collection, was published (1926). Although the Barnes Foundation is widely known for its collection of post-impressionist and early modern art, its African collection has long been central to the Foundation’s progressive educational mission. One of the first people in the United States to collect and display African objects as works of art, not ethnographic specimens, Barnes considered African art the purest expression of three-dimensional form and ranked it among the world’s great art traditions. He also diverged from the thinking of the day in his view of African art as an advanced art form, not a primitive one.
Barnes assembled his African art collection between 1922 and 1924 in five large purchases from Paul Guillaume, a dealer in Paris. As Barnes told Guillaume in 1922, his aim was to have “the best private collection of Negro sculpture in the world." Barnes arranged the resulting assemblage of more than 120 African works in the Foundation's galleries, amid art of all periods and cultures, to highlight its formal aesthetic properties and to help students and visitors see connections between the African art and art from other places.
The African collection includes numerous figural sculptures, ceremonial masks, and domestic objects such as heddle pulleys, cups, tobacco mortars, stools, and headrests. Because Guillaume was French, most of the works that he sold Barnes originated in francophone African colonies—Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, and the Congo.
A luminous essay by Christa Clarke presents the latest scholarship on this unexplored and under-published
collection. African Art in the Barnes Foundation features detailed catalogue entries by preeminent scholars in African studies and art history, completing a monograph that will long serve as an important resource in the field.