In 1903, Stewart Culin (1858–1929) became the founding curator of the Department of Ethnology at the Museum of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, now the Brooklyn Museum. Culin, a self-taught ethnologist, built the foundation of four curatorial collections for the Museum, acquiring objects representing African, Asian, Native American, and Eastern European cultures.
Culin was among the first curators to recognize museum installation as an art form. He was also among the first to display ethnological collections as art objects, not as ethnographic specimens. This approach is evidenced in his exhibition Primitive Negro Art, Chiefly from the Belgian Congo. The exhibition opened in April 1923, and displayed African objects he had acquired in Europe from dealers. Along with his colleagues, Culin set the parameters for cultural representation in museums through his collecting decisions and innovative installations. The cultural terms he used in his writings and exhibitions are representative of terms in use during his time, and his opinions and biases are evident throughout the collection.
These digital images of the African Art Exhibition held at the Brooklyn Museum in 1923 are from the Culin Archival Collection, the Museum Library, and the Digital Lab. This is a small selection of textual and visual documents; many more are available for viewing at the Brooklyn Museum Archives. To see additional materials, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
View items relating to the African Art Exhibition of 1923:
- Correspondence: Includes letters, announcements, business cards, invitations, membership cards, memos, postcards, receipts, and telegrams. Culin corresponded with dealers, fashion industry members, and museum colleagues, among others, about his acquisition of African objects and the organization of the exhibition.
- Exhibition Catalogue: Primitive Negro Art, Chiefly from the Belgian Congo [04/11/1923–05/20/1923]. Catalogue: Department of Ethnology, Brooklyn Museum, 1923.
- Publications: Primarily clippings from newspapers and magazines describing the exhibition and the opening. Included are brief articles from Women's Wear referring to new clothing with African motifs that was inspired by the exhibition.
- Other Textual Materials: Includes lists of African objects selected or purchased by Culin, an illustrated program featuring a performance by Paul Robeson for the benefit of the Harlem Museum of African Art, an article published by the National Urban League regarding the creative arts, and Culin's expedition reports: On his many collecting expeditions, Culin wrote detailed reports about the people he met, the communities he visited, and the objects he acquired. These images are a select group of pages from his reports relating specifically to his acquisition of African objects.
- Visual Images: Includes installation views of the exhibition, images of objects displayed in the exhibition, and other visual materials, such as sales photographs of objects from the dealer W.O. Oldman.