We’re pretty sure they’re trawling through the pages of auction catalogues but more often than not, we have no idea what dealers are reading, no clue about the books that shape the objects they bring to the market. And so we asked three dealers to share the books they are reading this summer to help create the ÌMỌ̀ DÁRA 2019 reading list. As with collectors, there is a firm favourite.
Now well into summer, you still have plenty of time to catch up on your reading before the new art season begins. So here are the three dealer recommendations. We couldn’t resist adding our own recommendations to the list too.
Keeping with the dealer theme of this year’s reading list, Fabriquer le regard – Marchands, réseaux et objets d’art africains à l’aube du XXe siècle provides a detailed account of the role prominent twentieth-century art dealers played in shaping the understanding, appreciation and circulation of historical African art in Europe and the United States before 1920.
The book is written by Yaëlle Biro, Associate Curator for the Arts of Africa at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, who focused her PhD dissertation on the reception of African art in the West during the first decades of the twentieth century. Fabriquer Le Regard is based on Biro’s PhD thesis, expanding on her research and digging deeper into unpublished archives to highlight how dealers transformed what were once seen as ethnographic objects into art.
"Rigorous, fantastic research and instructive. Great reading!"
“I would recommend the book of Yaëlle Biro (with the Fang head on the cover). It is a passionate publication that can be read like a novel.”
Two for two, Fabriquer Le Regard is a hit with the French dealers—the book is currently only available in French, sorry anglophones—and is it any surprise? Receiving a ‘Special Mention’ from the International Tribal Art Book Prize (PILAT), an annual award given to books in the field of tribal art, Fabriquer Le Regard analyses the concrete and deliberate actions initiated by heavyweights—Guillaume Apollinaire, Joseph Brummer, Robert J. Coady, Marius de Zayas, Paul Guillaume and Charles Vignier—to create the African art market.
“By choosing the works they did, the exhibitions they organised and the works they published, they were largely responsible for building the ‘canon’ of African arts, and influenced their perception in the West to this day”, describes the book’s synopsis.
“Of course my summer’s choice will go to incarNation’s book based on the exhibition currently at BOZAR Brussels. As an African art dealer, I’ve read almost every book depicting classic African art. As a contemporary African art enthusiast, I’m still searching for the compilation of the best there is to see. incarNations brings us a beautiful explanation about the links between both classic and contemporary. It’s a must-read.”
The exhibition’s book is available to purchase from the BOZAR Bookshop in Brussels.
We’ve recently started keeping track of developments in the restitution and repatriation of looted African artworks and cultural artefacts. Part of that research means going back, going back in time to understand the timeline of events that shape the question: ‘should Western museums send back looted African art?’
Writing to ÌMỌ̀ DÁRA, a PhD candidate said: “Let me begin by applauding your attempt to start chronicling the repatriation debate – a huge project! I can imagine many would have been too daunted by the size to even begin. While I am not an expert in the repatriation debates I have spent a lot of time immersing myself in the discussions going on in Belgium and [the Democratic Republic of the] Congo (either in person or online) and know that a few instances of official requests for repatriation are missing from your timeline. I recommend reading Sarah Van Beurden’s book Authentically African: Arts and the Transnational Politics of Congolese Culture which traces the complex history of repatriation requests from Congo over the past century. I know for example Mobutu asked for some repatriations, and some objects were transferred from Tervuren to Kinshasa.”
And boy was she right. In Authentically African, Sarah Van Beurden delves into the colonial and postcolonial history between Belgium and what was then Zaire. It investigates the “relationship between the possession, definition, and display of art and the construction of cultural authenticity and political legitimacy.” Authentically African also briefly touches on the topic of ‘authenticity’ and the mission art workshops that sent recently created works to Belgium and the United States.
Digging deeper into the theme of authenticity and the circulation of African art within and out of Africa, Christopher B. Steiner’s African Art in Transit “is an important contribution to African studies as a whole, and the anthropology of African art and economics in particular. It is a detailed and lucid ethnographic account of the way in which middlemen construct value in the art markets in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. A vital study for anyone interested in contemporary African art, it is, for the field to date, the most theoretically informed study of authenticity as a construct, and as it is used in the market to create value” describes Jonathan Zilberg of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Center for African Studies.
Sidney L. Kasfir goes further in her review of the book: “Christopher Steiner’s African Art in Transit addresses the pivotal role of these untranslated middlemen, the trader dealers. These figures appear throughout the continent: while Steiner’s book is set in West rather than East Africa, Abidjan rather than Nairobi, with a cast of Muslim traders…, the roles they play in the economy of art and taste, and the problems they pose. Approaching African art objects as commodities, Steiner focuses on the entrepreneurial skills of the West African traders… The book’s other major concern is the meaning of authenticity for African art, considered in the context of the art market, African and international.”