Representing Africa in American Art Museums: A Century of Collecting and Display

Representing Africa in American Art Museums: A Century of Collecting and Display

by Kathleen Bickford Berzock
     
 

In recent years, the critical study of museums has emerged as a major focus of scholarly inquiry across various disciplines, bringing into greater focus the effect that museum practice has on the formation of meaning and the public perception of objects. Representing Africa in American Art Museums is the first comprehensive book to focus on the history of

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Overview

In recent years, the critical study of museums has emerged as a major focus of scholarly inquiry across various disciplines, bringing into greater focus the effect that museum practice has on the formation of meaning and the public perception of objects. Representing Africa in American Art Museums is the first comprehensive book to focus on the history of African art in American art museums. Chronicling more than a century of building and presenting collections of African art in thirteen American art museums, from the late 1800s to the present, the book considers the art museum as a lens for understanding the shifting visions of African art that are manifested in institutional practices of collecting and display in the United States.

Thirteen essays present the institutional biographies of African art collections in a selection of American art museums: the Cincinnati Museum of Art, the Hampton University Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, the Barnes Foundation, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Museum of Primitive Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Indiana University Art Museum, the Fowler Museum at UCLA, the University of Iowa Art Museum, the Seattle Art Museum, the Menil Collection, and the National Museum of African Art.

Kathleen Bickford Berzock and Christa Clarke offer a review of the history of collecting and displaying African art in American museums and identify important issues that are raised by the essays: defining aesthetic criteria for African art and for its display; breaking free from the monolithic rubric of "primitive art"; broadening perceptions of what constitutes African art; and formulating a place for context and culture in understanding and presenting African art.

Representing Africa in American Art Museums concludes with an afterword that anticipates the direction for the collecting and display of African art in the twenty-first century, including the ethics and legalities of collecting; the deconstruction of a singular and authoritative museum voice in interpreting works of art; the interests and engagement of local African American and African communities that have a stake in how collections are represented; and how, if, and where to include contemporary art from Africa in museum collections.

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Editorial Reviews

H-AFRARTS - Barbara Plankensteiner
The value of the anthology lies in its providing the possibility for comparison across institutions and reflect on how certain personalities and scholars have left their mark on the known corpus of African art. It is a is a significant contribution to the history of African art studies, enlarging the comprehensive overviews...

ARLIS - Amy Ballmer
This book is a recommended addition to museum studies, African Art, and museum history collections.

Choice
The essays provide a thought-provoking overview of varied processes by which American art museums came to define objects from Africa as art; they reveal shifting definitions and perceptions through institutional collecting and display from the late 1800s to the present. Summing up: Recommended.

Bigthink.com
If the road traveled by African art in American museums is paved with good intentions, Berzock and Clarke in their selection of essays seek to examine those good intentions tainted by hierarchies and agendas that served the museums more than African art, and, most importantly, those looking to that art for understanding, either of another culture or their own heritage. Best of all, Representing Africa in American Art Museums reminds us that Africa was a 'Dark Continent' not because it lacked the guiding light of culture and art, but because our own ignorance and misunderstanding overshadowed it.

Library Journal
American museums possess some of the world's greatest collections of African art. Unlike the holdings of many European museums, which grew out of military conquest and colonial hegemony, American institutions built their collections primarily from scientific expeditions, private collections, and auction purchases. Berzock (curator, African art, Art Inst. of Chicago) and Clarke (senior curator, arts of Africa & the Americas, Newark Museum) tell the story of how roughly a dozen major American museums built their African holdings. The museums range from large public institutions like the Cleveland Museum of Art to campus-based research museums at such locations as Indiana University in Bloomington. A short history of the collecting and display of African art in America is followed by essays on specific institutions written by curators and directors who worked at the facilities. The volume is not lavishly illustrated; chapters include a few black-and-white photos of objects or portraits of private collectors. VERDICT A valuable resource for anyone interested in how African art has come to America and how its presentation has changed over the last century.—Eugene C. Burt, Seattle

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780295989617
Publisher:
University of Washington Press
Publication date:
11/10/2010
Series:
A McLellan Book
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
1,005,172
Product dimensions:
8.50(w) x 9.90(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Raymond A. Silverman
Truly exceptional. In addition to serving as a text for courses in several disciplines, the volume is likely to be a significant research resource.

Meet the Author

Kathleen Bickford Berzock is curator of African art at the Art Institute of Chicago. Christa Clark e is curator of arts of Africa and senior curator of arts of Africa and the Americas at The Newark Museum.

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