Americans may be nervous about their borders, but the country's cultural
horizons grow ever more global. Witness the New York International Tribal
and Textile Arts Show. With its confluence of galleries from Africa, Asia,
Australia, Europe and North America, it's about Expansiveness with a capital
E. At once low key and wall-to-wall gorgeous, it's my absolute favorite of
all the New York art fairs.
Trotsky and Sanders Gallery
From an Ethiopian illuminated gospel, a scene of
St. George slaying the dragon.
Alberto Levi Gallery
A north Persian kilim, from around 1900.
As installed at the Seventh Regiment Armory, the show has the feel of a
cosmopolitan city laid out in a grid, Manhattan style. Walking its
boulevards and byways, you change countries and epochs every few steps. You
may start in Nigeria, but you soon move to Mexico, Tibet, the Pacific
Northwest. An Olmec stone mask at Throckmorton Fine Art takes you back to
1000 B.C. A Coptic tunic adorned with slender dancers at Gail Martin Gallery
brings you to the seventh century A.D. With oil painting by the contemporary
Ethiopian artist Gera at Cavin-Morris, you arrive at 1995. By then hard
distinctions between high and low, art and craft, decorative and functional
have dropped away.
Do such shifts and leaps leave you perplexed? Of course, and how great.
Any art fair worth its salt should blow your mind at least a little, mess
with your compass. One minute it should have you marveling at how everything
from everywhere is connected, and the next it should have you thinking,
"But I've never seen anything like that before."
This back and forth never let up for me, and I loved it. But in the
interest of less confusion-tolerant visitors, let me do some sorting.
If your passion is for so-called classical African material, you have
much to choose from. Dalton Somare from Milan has a textbook-worthy
selection, as do J. Visser from Brussels; Oumar Keinde from Dakar, Senegal;
and Joan Barist Primitive Art and Robertson African Arts, both from
At Barist, there's a masterly carving of a Baga male figure; with his
chin resting on his raised hands, he's like "The Thinker" standing
up. Robertson's prize items include two West African hunter's shirts hung
with koranic amulets. These shirts are old and rare, but exactly the same
protective charms can be spotted in news photographs of rebel soldiers
fighting in Darfur today.
A few galleries specialize within the field. Axis, renowned for its
exhibitions of Zulu beadwork, focuses on South Africa and has made New York
history by integrating African art, old and new, into the fabric of the
contemporary Chelsea gallery scene.
Tana-Sachau Collection from Germany is
devoted to Ethiopian Christian art, and the spiritual vivacity of the
painted altarpieces at its booth is picked up by an illuminated gospel at
Trotsky and Sanders.
Maybe Oceania is your goal. Mark A. Johnson will take you there with a
ceremonial dance mask from Borneo; its prowlike nose and big pink ears make
it a kind of vertical hovercraft. Or you can zip to the top of the world
with a suite of tiny prehistoric ivories at Brant Mackley, while Tibetan
Buddhist bronzes at Hardt & Sons take you to a high place that some call
Anyone in search of textiles will certainly find some version of heaven
here. The variety of forms is endless, the craftsmanship superb. Let me
point out, almost at random, a rainbow-hued Moroccan carpet, its pile as
thick as moss, at Gebhart Blazek; a Turkish calligraphic piece — gold
script against an emerald-green silk ground — at Esther Fitzgerald; and a
multipanel north Persian kilim at Alberto Levi, with a slightly off-register
pattern of black and white bands.
But wait. Surely this is no carpet. It's a 1951 Ellsworth Kelly. And that
marvelous wall piece at Gail Martin labeled "ceremonial cloth,
Cameroon," the one with the looping penmanship patterns, is a Cy
Twombly by some other name. And isn't that that exquisite patchwork kimono
at Thomas Murray an Anne Ryan collage, the largest she ever made?
It is only natural to filter the unfamiliar art of other cultures through
our own art. This is what everyone everywhere does, at least at first. The
important thing is to go further, to let the unfamiliar grow familiar on its
own terms. That's the dynamic the Tribal and Textile Arts show sets up, and
it's so alive: art without borders, ideas in free flow, a politics of
generosity, the only way to go.
The Tribal and Textile Arts Show continues through tomorrow
(today, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; tomorrow 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.) at the Seventh
Regiment Armory, Park Avenue at 67th Street, (212) 472-1180.
Artist Featured At New York Tribal Arts Show
Stephanie Simon filed the following report about a Brooklyn artist who
will be prominently featured at the The Tribal Show annual event
highlighting African culture.
For John Crawford, art has always been
For the past 20 years, John Crawford has been creating
metal sculptures and other objects at his 7,000 sq foot studio in
Prospects Heights, Brooklyn. Much of the artist's work is inspired by
the years he spent in Italy in the 1970's.
"I did a kind of apprenticeship at a water powered 16th century
blacksmith shop where the blacksmith made farm tools. I got interested
in that because I love the shape of farm tools as departure points for
my sculpture," he says.
More recently, he's developed a passion for traditional African
metalwork. He's an avid collector. But what intrigues him is the uncanny
likeness between the two main inspirations for his work: Italian farm
tools and West African currency forms.
"These currencies, which were coming from East Africa, have a
rather astounding similarity to this Italian shovel form," says
As he makes several trips back and forth from the furnace to the trip
hammer, Crawford crafts and shapes his version of an African Currency
"You're getting to a certain point, given the amount of heat that
you've got and then you've got to put it back in," he explains.
Yes, it's true. You have to strike while the iron is hot and for
Crawford, that time is now.
Well known as both an accomplished sculptor and collector, Crawford
typically shows his collection of African art and artifacts at the New
York International Tribal and Textile Arts Show at the Park Avenue
Armory. But this year, Crawford's been asked to display his own
sculpture as well, because his pieces are so clearly inspired by African
The New York International
Tribal Antiques Show, the city’s oldest and largest exhibition and sale of
art and artifacts created by indigenous peoples from around the world returns
to the Park Avenue Armory with a three day show, May 17-19, to coincide with
Sotheby’s Tribal Art auctions. Again this year, the show opens with a
preview to benefit prominent AIDS service agency and advocacy organization,
GMHC, Friday evening, May 16th from 6-9 p.m.
Bill Caskey, of Caskey-Lees, Topanga, CA,
producers of the show, said, “Though attendance and sales at New York
city’s major antiques events during the fall of 2002 reflected the
country’s overall economic concerns, we saw the beginnings of a more vibrant
New York market at the Connoisseur’s Antiques Fair in late November and in
late fall auction results. Generally, the US market for antiques and fine arts
has remained stronger than Europe’s and there are indications that that will
continue to be the case. This is particularly important in the field of tribal
and ethnographic works and our large international component remains a key
aspect of this show.”
“We are,” Caskey said, “expecting
between 46 and 51 exhibitors at the show, including many of the world’s most
prominent galleries and dealers of antique Tribal fine arts.” “This year
however,” he continued, “with this show and all others about which we have
knowledge, exhibitors remain uneasy about the international political and
military situation and are somewhat slower to make firm commitments than in
the past. I expect several new and substantial European exhibitors but it is a
bit early to name them.”
It is expected that among this year’s
exhibitors will be galleries from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Senegal,
and the United Kingdom, as well as the United States and Canada.
Exhibitors likely to return to the show
with specialties in African works, including exceptional masks, carvings,
textiles, paintings and shields, include Galerie Valluet-Ferrandin, Paris;
Peter Boyd, Seattle; Oumar Keinde African Art, Senegal; and Alain Naoum,
Brussels. Patrick Morgan, formerly of Del Mar, CA, who has moved his gallery
to Paris and renamed it Art Primif, plans to participate as does Bruce Frank
Primitive Art of New York. Claes Gallery, Brussels, and Dalton Somare Arte
Primitive, Milano, also present substantial African presence as does Michael
Rhodes/African Art, New York.
Returning Pre-Columbian exhibitors,
showing ancient ceramics, jewelry, textiles and stone carvings, include
Throckmorton Fine Art Inc., and Joan Barist Primitive Art, both of New York;
Lost Nation, Chicago, IL; Leonard Kalina, Pacific Palisades, CA; Stendahl
Galleries, Los Angeles, CA; and William A. Siegal, Santa Fe, NM.
Top national Native American and Inuit
specialist Jeffrey Meyers of New York City and Earl Duncan, of Denver, CO,
will feature Native American material from the Eastern Woodland Plains to the
Arctic as Myers and Duncan.