The first two decades of the 20th century constitute a pivotal art historical moment for the reception of African arts in the West. It continues today to largely define the discourses constructed around African objects and their commercial appeal. This presentation will focus on the secondary market for African works, after their removal from their original context in Africa—an often violent phenomenon that went hand in hand with the conceptualization of “African art” in Europe.
I will demonstrate that the definition, promotion, and circulation of African objects as works of art was the result of deliberate, concrete actions instigated by a narrow circle of individuals, who may be considered the principal European protagonists of the creation of the market for African arts before 1920. The exhibitions they organized, the works they published, and the aesthetic judgments they advanced, all had a lasting impact on the works’ definition as “art,” the establishment of their market values, and on the construction of the canon of classical African arts as it is still known today.
Yaëlle Biro is an Africanist art historian and an independent curator and scholar. Her research focuses on African arts’ history of collecting at the turn of the 20th century, its historical implications and impacts on the development of the field. From 2010 to 2021, she was curator of African arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Her 2010 PhD dissertation at the Sorbonne received the Dissertation Prize of the Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac and her 2012 exhibition African Art, New York, and the Avant-Garde received the 2012 Outstanding Exhibition Prize from the Association of American Museum Curators. Notable recent publications include the article ‘A Great Audacity of Taste’: Aesthetic Judgments of African Sculpture at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (Exh. Cat. The Language of Beauty in African Art, 2022); the 2021 edited volume Rhapsodic Objects: Art, Agency, and Materiality (1700-2000); and the single authored book Fabriquer le regard. Marchands, réseaux et objets d’art africains à l’aube du XXe siècle (2018).
To view the lecture: https://youtu.be/OLrsV9DC7nY
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