Imaginary Ancestors looks at Primitivism (1) in modern and contemporary art, on the one hand restaging a seminal 1933 Durand-Ruel Gallery exhibition in New York of Fang sculptures and contemporary paintings of the time, and on the other hand presenting a parallel exhibition of Primitivist modern and affiliated contemporary works by Joe Bradley, Mark Grotjahn, Matthew Lutz-Kinoy, Ana Mendieta, James Turrell and Erika Verzutti, among others.
In Modernism, the search for the sublime and for imaginary origins have tended to coincide. For the modern artist – although Primitivist poetic choices often differed a great deal from one another – the Primitive was a new figure of the Antique. "The first man was an artist!" wrote Barnett Newman. From Derain to Kirchner, Pechstein, Matisse, and Picasso, the history of primitivism left its mark on the art of the last century. "These transfers of image may cause some surprise, but the evidence is convincing: the borrowings exist, undeniably." (2) These ideas were definitively established in 1984, by William Rubin, when he organized the exhibition Primitivism in Twentieth Century Art, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which was accompanied by an important catalogue that remains a standard on the subject. In his essay, Rubin underscored the need for increased study of the primitivist influence, proclaiming, "No pivotal topic in twentieth-century art has received less serious attention than primitivism." (3)
Today, Primitivism has changed its nature, but it refuses to leave the stage, and does not allow itself to be filed away in the archives of this century’s art. Instead of the search for imaginary origins, it conveys a multiplied image of a frontier, a constant and conscious conflict, which opposes cultural values and societies.
Imaginary Ancestors comprises two parts. The first room of the exhibition will present works by André Derain and Max Pechstein together with a restaging of the exhibition Early African Heads and Statues from the Gabon Pahouin Tribes. That landmark show was originally realized by Paul Guillaume at the Durand-Ruel Gallery on 57th Street in New York, from February 15 to March 10, 1933. This exhibition was the first show to be devoted to a single African art style, with a large group of Fang sculptures presented on a table alongside Derain paintings made at the time. For Imaginary Ancestors, renowned primitive art specialist Bernard de Grunne sourced the majority of the sculptures included in the original exhibition, which will be reunited for the first time since 1933 at Almine Rech Gallery. In the second room of the exhibition, modern and contemporary artworks inspired by primitive art will be shown with primitive pieces from the personal collections of Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder and David Smith.
The exhibition is organized with leading anthropologist Carlo Severi. A catalogue will accompany the show, featuring new essays by Carlo Severi and Bernard de Grunne, as well as an interview with François Bellet.
List of Artists
Ernst Wilhelm Nay
and Arts of Africa Sculptures