"African Art, New York, and the Avant-Garde" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art captures a dynamic period at the outbreak of World War I when the major market for African art shifted from Paris to New York. While European artists such as Picasso and Matisse applied African motifs to their work, Europeans mainly viewed African art as colonial artifacts. In New York, collectors and artists viewed the work according to its aesthetic merits, connecting African art with Modernism and abstraction. From the perspective of the art's actual creators, masks and other forms lost some of their power when stripped of their original association with costumes and ceremonies and placed in museums. Besides introducing viewers to major collectors of African art, the exhibition also portrays the way in which it served as an inspiration to black artists and writers who were part of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. The reverence with which James Lesesne Wells (right) printmaker, educator and Harlem Renaissance artist, holds a ceremonial Kuba drinking vessel testifies to this vital connection.
“African Art, New York, and the Avant-Garde” continues through April 14 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave. (at 82nd St.), NYC; (212) 535-7710, metmuseum.org.
For more on the Harlem Renaissance and the New York cultural scene of the 1920s, see my review of "Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan In The 1920s" by Ann Douglas.