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

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 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 ...
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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 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 American art museums 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.

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

"Truly exceptional. In addition to serving as a text for courses in several disciplines, the volume is likely to be a significant research resource." -Raymond A. Silverman, Director of the Museum Studies Program, University of Michigan

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Editorial Reviews

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
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 9.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

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