All the books reviews
Collectors’ Visions. Arts of Africa, Oceania, Southeast Asia, and the Americas - (ENGLISH / FRENCH)
This book was one of the new books presented during the recent Parcours des Mondes in Paris, and it was among the most popular. No wonder, because it presents the perspective of one of the grandes dames of tribal art, Christine Valluet, who has nearly fi fty years of experience in the arts of Africa, Oceania, Southeast Asia, and North America. A tribute to the aesthetic qualities and extreme variety of the creations of these distant lands, the sublime selection of artworks that underpins this book—many of which are icons of their type—celebrates the strength and expressiveness of these remarkable works. The many formal characteristics the author identifi es as the common denominator of these artworks bring us to the true subject of the book: the gaze—and more particularly the “eye”—of great collectors, to whom we owe the recognition of what we now see as tribal art. No more than Rome being built in a day, this reputation is the fruit of a long process of connoisseurship, for which Valluet presents the main milestones, stating with the appreciation of non-European art by the early artists and intellectuals of the avant-gardes in the early twentieth century that led to a contemporary conception of the art collection, through the less discussed post-war period, in which the main players were collectors, dealers, and certain legendary travelers who collected in situ. All in all, this is a book of profound historical depth that should have a place in every library.
Colliers Ethniques d’Afrique, d’Asie, d’Océanie et d’Amérique - (FRENCH)
This is the fourth work devoted to the Ghysels collection of ethnic jewelry. The present book follows volumes devoted to rings, earrings, and bracelets, and deals with the necklaces of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. This book, which is beautifully enhanced by Mauro Maglani’s superb photographs, is a testament to the rigor and good taste with which each piece was chosen for inclusion in the world’s most important collection of ethnic jewelry in private hands. The modernity of forms, colors, and materials of certain ornaments never ceases to amaze, and indeed creators of contemporary Western jewelry frequently find their inspiration in it. However, this work emphasizes that it is important to go beyond the purely aesthetic dimension and to appreciate the role of the object as a social, religious, and cultural anchor, which are the elements that give it its real meaning. Throughout the book, art historian Anne Leurquin informs on the uses and functions of these objects, all the while emphasizing the incredible creativity of the artists from all over the world that produced them.
Cook: The Extraordinary Voyages of Captain James Cook - (ENGLISH)
For those who would like an account of the remarkable Pacific voyages of James Cook in the second part of the eighteenth century, and can’t find, afford, or for any other reason approach Cook’s and King’s official journals, Hawkesworth’s accounts, or, more recently, Beaglehole’s epic works, this is the book. Meticulously researched over two decades, this work is one of considerable insight. It begins in 1767, at a point when Cook’s naval career was at a midpoint, and proceeds through his voyages to his death and legacy with all major and most minor events in between addressed in great detail. This is a fine biography with lengthy quotations from primary sources that is only slightly marred by the author’s effort to soften the edges of non-fiction by sometimes casting the narrative perspective to the time of the events rather than from an omniscient one, as is more typically done in serious works. This concession, however, makes the book more approachable to a broad public, who will be able to learn of the extraordinary achievements of an extraordinary man.
Corpus Rapa Nui - (ENGLISH)
This nearly 600-page, two-kilo book’s subtitle, A Worldwide Inventory of Wooden Statuary from Easter Island, summarizes both its contents and the ambitiousness of the project it represents. Its author, François Dederen, a self-taught Easter Island scholar, spent thirteen years researching, identifying, locating, and analyzing the entire known corpus of sculptures from this Pacific island. In this book he proposes a system of classification for Easter Island art that will allow anyone to understand its key components and help detect fakes. Several essays that explain the author’s approach fill the first seventy-two pages, which are followed by wonderful illustrations, lists, and black-and-white plates drawn by Dederen. These are really the highlight of the book. They constitute a kind of visual encyclopedia with both front and back reproductions of more than 400 sculptures—moai kavakava, moai pa’a, and moai tangata. Plates showing the different ways of rendering certain anatomical details, such as ears and cranial engravings, complete his documentation.
Côte d’Ivoire. Premiers regards sur la sculpture 1850–1935 - (FRENCH)
That a gallery has produced a book is not exactly news. There is no shortage of exhibition catalogs—increasingly so in recent years—and these are often characterized by a careful combination of images, layout, and presentation of information so that the whole, though succinct, is focused and relevant. Sadly, there is not enough space in these pages to address each one of these as they come out, but there are certain Herculean efforts that deserve special mention. One such case is this book published by Galerie Schoffel-Valluet and authored by Bertrand Goy, a prolific writer to whom we owe a number of interesting studies on tribal art. The pages of this fine work are abundantly illustrated, particularly with field photographs and archival documents. These and the accompanying text are the result of five years of serious research into the history of collecting works of art from Côte d’Ivoire. Goy traces this from the earliest contact between Africans and Europeans during the latter’s exploration of the Gulf of Guinea through the time of the colonial occupation of the region by France. In doing so, he draws heavily on primary accounts by the first Westerners to have traversed the territory, as well as those of later figures such as military officers, anthropologists, and colonial administrators. It is regrettable that the book has neither a table of contents nor an index to allow the reader to easily access the wealth of information supplied by this book. Nonetheless, it should be included in the libraries of all connoisseurs of tribal art.
Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya - (ENGLISH)
This is the catalogue for an important show currently on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. It examines all aspects of art from the Mayan noble courts, from monumental stone carving to painted terracotta vessels to small-scale ceramic sculptures and jade carving. The show is the fruit of years of negotiation with the governments of Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras, as well as with a variety of American, European, and Australian museums. The result is little short of remarkable, combining as it does insightful scholarship with breathtaking works of art. This fine volume is destined to be a valuable reference work for years to come.
Creative Spirits: Bark Painting in the Washkuk Hills of North New Guinea - (ENGLISH)
This book presents relatively recent works of New Guinea bark painting in the traditional style, 125 of which the author commissioned between 1972 and 1988. Another ten are included that were made in the mid to late 1960s and, due to unfortunate circumstances, are no longer extant. Bowden discusses the technology and design of the paintings, which often depict a totemic plant or animal specific to the artist’s clan and are therefore easily identifiable, and through the numerous photos the reader can follow the creative process leading up to the final product. The latter part of Creative Spirits presents six specific Kwoma artists and selections of their work.
Crosses of Ethiopia: The Sign of Faith. Evolution and Form - (ENGLISH)
Christianity established itself in Ethiopia around AD 330 and crosses have been an all-encompassing presence there since then. The author of this richly illustrated book details the variety of them in chapters that divide their use into subcategories, each exemplified by beautiful photographs. It is a fascinating account of the beginning of Ethiopian Christianity and how this changed both the cultural and physical landscape of the country. The crosses he discusses are ubiquitous and are seen everywhere from tattooed bodies and faces to architectural examples that replaced the previous stelae and obelisks to those carried in the hands of devotees or surmounting priestly staffs.
Cultural Law: International, Comparative, and Indigenous - (ENGLISH)
This comprehensive volume on cultural law is the first of its kind and was written to serve as both a university textbook and a reference resource. Cultural law as a field of study and practice is relatively new and the text discusses its role on almost every cultural plane, including art, sports, religion, cultural rights, linguistics, and more, referencing many real court cases as examples. Topics such as cultural heritage, patrimony, and museum-related issues are also emphasized. While Cultural Law is an important and fundamental work for its field, there still remains a great deal in this academic niche to be developed. Though the authors offer definitions of their concepts and explore critical issues in regard to cultural activities and artifacts in great detail, they themselves recognize that the construction of a viable framework for cultural law is still a work in progress.
De fer et de fierté. Armes blanches d’Afrique noire du musée Barbier-Mueller - (FRENCH)
In Africa, ironwork has been known since the first millennium B.C. Over the centuries, African blacksmiths created an incredible range of swords, knives, adzes, and throwing weapons with very particular shapes. These objects were among the first curiosities brought back to Europe by Belgian and French colonials. This book gathers about one hundred pieces from the collections of the Barbier-Mueller that were recently on display at the Musée du Président Jacques Chirac in Sarran, France, in keeping with its founder’s well-known interest in tribal art. Each illustrated with a full page, these weapons reveal a haunting beauty that attests to the skill of African blacksmiths. Each object is accompanied by a descriptive page and vintage field photos.