A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden
The Barnes Foundation
Picasso, Head of a Woman, 1907 inspired by african art
|Clarke said Barnes bought most of his African works from
French dealer Paul Guillaume during the early 1920s. His reasons today
seem unusually prescient. As Clarke explained:
"He saw in African art the ability to radically reshape human form in the interest of design. He felt that African sculpture was the highest form of sculpture that humans had created, the preeminent form of three-dimensionality."
The nearly 200 African works generally come from four present-day African countries, Clarke said - Mali, Ivory Coast, Congo and Gabon. "He felt that those areas produced the strongest sculpture."
The crowning glory is a seated couple, a man tenderly embracing a woman, from the Dogon culture of Mali; it's in a free-standing case in gallery 22.
"That's a really significant work, a beautifully executed, arresting visual form. It has become a kind of icon of African art generally," Clarke said.
A 16th-century bronze messenger figure from Benin and a carved wooden door from the Baule culture, both on the second-floor balcony, are other major pieces. Clarke observed that while African art constitutes a relatively small part of the overall collection, African motifs on the building demonstrate how central it was to Barnes' thinking.
Besides the colorful tiles at the entrance, these include African designs in the window grills and in the frieze that runs around the central, first-floor gallery's walls. The African collection represents something else in the collector's philosophy: an interest in how non-Western cultures resolved design problems, especially those involving abstraction.
Like the African sculpture, the Indian pueblo pottery, from a half-dozen villages in the Southwestern United States, handles abstraction with noticeable energy and sensitivity, and in the round.
It's a small collection - only about 60 items - but, according to consultant Edwin Wade, it contains some masterpieces.
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African masks from Known Collections
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Tribal Arts of Africa
Author: Jean-Baptiste Bacquart
mail David Norden phone +32 3 227.35.40