Date unknown, 1986: Curator’s Choice: The Arts of Central Africa, a selection from The Brooklyn Museum’s collections of objects from Zaire, the People’s Republic of the Congo, and Angola, will open at The Brooklyn Museum on April 2 and be on view through June 30. These objects were chosen both to illustrate the range of artistic activity throughout those regions and to commemorate the Museum’s first exhibition of African art which took place in April 1923.
The present exhibition reflects the interests of the 1920s in its emphasis on design and craftsmanship as illustrated in objects of everyday use, including wooden vessels, containers, weapons, basketry, furniture, utensils, masks, and sculpture.
Most of the objects were collected by Stewart Culin, the first Curator of Ethnology who set out for Europe in 1922 with the intention of acquiring an African collection for the Museum. Culin saw in African art a much needed inspiration for industrial designers and manufacturers; his hope was that it could provide new energy for American design, which he saw as lacking in innovation.
With this in mind, he purchased a collection of 1,600 African objects from a dealer in Brussels. Upon his return, Culin arranged private showings of the collection for fabric designers, furniture makers and the design heads of large department stores.
The results of this energetic publicizing were seen in the fashion of the following seasons. Bonwit Teller advertised their “Congo cloth sports attire” and a furniture maker came out with a chair based on an African model. A dress designer created a black velvet copy of the costume worn by the Fon king of Dahomey.
The 1923 African exhibition also gave Culin the opportunity to illustrate his views of the role of a museum. A museum, he said, is not just “a depository” but should be a source of inspiration,” not only for the trained artist...but for every visitor who may in it find release from the obvious and walk along the enchanted ways of the imagination...“ The 1986 exhibition of the Culin African collection illustrates the enduring quality of the choices he made more than sixty years ago.
The exhibition, organized by Victoria Ebin, Associate Curator, African, Oceanic and New World Art, is the ninth in a continuing series that has been made possible, in part, by a grant from A & S.
Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1971 - 1988. 1986, 019.