Imaginary Ancestors looks at Primitivism 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.
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. 'Thee transfers of image may cause some surprise, but the evidence is convincing: the borrowings exist, undeniably.' These ideas were definitely established in 1984, by William Rubin, when he organised the exhibition 'Primitivism' in 20th 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.'
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 presented works by André Derain and Max Pechstein together with a restaging of the exhibition Early African heads and Statues from the Gabun Pahouin Tribes. That landmark show was originally realised 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 were 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 were shown with Primitive pieces from the personal collections of Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder and David Smith.
This catalogue is published in conjunction with this group exhibition organised with leading anthropologist Carlo Severi and Bernard de Grunne, which took place at Almine Rech Gallery New York from May 2 to June 15, 2017. The book features new essays by two curators, as well as an interview between Almine Rech and François Bellet.
Texts by Bernard de Grunne and Carlo Severi.
Conversation between Almine Rech and François Bellet.
19.5 x 24.5 cm, 7 1/2 x 9 1/2 inches
Edition of 1500
Almine Rech Gallery Editions