African Art at the Museum of Primitive Art

by Sarah Van Beurden

Jan 1, 2011
In the context of a larger project on the history of African art collections in the United States, which explores the cultural impact of decolonization beyond the confines of the African continent, I was interested in consulting the archives of the Museum of Primitive Art (MPA) at the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC.) My research into the archives was driven by two major interests: I wanted to learn about the overall history of the MPA, but I was specifically interested in the museum's approaches to African art, as opposed to for example Latin-American, Native American or Asian art. The following questions were central to my research: What was the MPA's role in the transformation of the African art market in the U.S.? To what extent was Nelson A. Rockefeller (NAR) personally involved, and what drove him? How did NAR approach primitive art? What about the timing -- why did the MPA project start in 1954 and why was it eventually folded into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, What does that tell us about the general appreciation of African art in the U.S.? This report will attempt to address some of these questions, but my analysis of the material is ongoing, and will expand with the consultation of other archives.
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