Africa and Picasso
August 20, 2009 - January 10, 2010.
Picasso began collecting African objects in 1907, and by the time of his death he had over 100 African figures, masks, and musical instruments. Our knowledge of the whole collection is based on a photograph his son Claude made of a "storeroom" full of African works in Picasso's residence in Cannes, the Villa la Californie. Taken in 1974, one year after Picasso died, it documents Picasso's collection before it was dispersed to family members, donated to the Musée Picasso, or sold on the art market. "Africa and Picasso" is a focus show using African objects from the Nasher's holdings of similar type and origin as those recorded in the photograph to examine Picasso's practice in collecting African Art from multiple viewpoints, artistic, social, and political. Viewers will be encouraged to think about why Picasso might have purchased a particular piece, the formal or contextual elements that drew him to it, or what was known about its geographical source, function and maker at the time of Picasso and how that knowledge has since changed, altering the agency of the object.
In addition to the fifteen African art works from the Nasher that correspond closely to the works appearing in the photograph of Picasso's residence in Cannes, there will be a display of rare illustrations in the French popular press dating from 1907 to 1925 (on loan from the Duke Library) that will place Picasso's activity within the context of events happening in the France colonies at the beginning of the twentieth century. The response to these events and colonial attitudes prompted him, as well as many of his circle of writers and painters, to collect l'art nègre (as it was called at the time) and focus on Africa for inspiration.
"Africa and Picasso", on view at the Nasher from August 20, 2009, to January 3, 2010, was organized to complement the important exhibition opening at the Nasher on August 20, 2009, "Picasso and the Allure of Language", which contains five drawings and paintings from Picasso's "African period" (1907-1909), and demonstrates his life-long fascination with the power of African art, particularly the transformative nature of masks.
Picasso's collection was largely made up of masks and figures exported from the French colonized territories in West Africa. He seemed to prefer the expressionist, roughly carved works from Mali and the Ivory coast, such as the Nasher's Elephant mask (kono) from Bamana, Mali or the Senufo Kpeliyee Mask, seemingly without regard for whether or not they were "authentic"pieces used in ritual, or belonged to the so-called "colon" style, souveniers from the French colonies made for sale in Europe. "Africa and Picasso" will suggest that Picasso's attraction to the hybrid "colon" form originates in his appreciation of its own aesthetic that expressed a transition between Africa and Europe, not unlike this European borrowing from African art to create a radically new modernist aesthetic, which his friend Apollinaire declared was "a revolution."
IMAGE: Igbo (Nigeria), "Mask," 20th century. Wood. Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Gift of Andrew Laska, 1986.6.13