C. Einstein ‘Negro sculpture’ – Revisited with Z.S. Strother

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 Link to the original text “ Wieder zu ‚Negerplastik‘ …” 

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Z.S. Strother, ” A la Recherche de l’Afrique dans Negerplastik de Carl Einstein “ , Gradhiva 14-2011, 30-55, mis en ligne le 30 novembre 2014 URL: http://gradhiva.revues.org/2130 – an electronic publication of the Museum Quai Branly , Paris . The American original is also available on the net under the title: Looking for Africa in Carl Einstein’s Negro Sculpture .

 

11/4/16

Dear M., I have found a subject in the magazine of the Quai Branly, which has already taken up my question in 2011. An exciting reading, which adds some interesting aspects to my observations, also formulates assessment criteria for the image information (3-5 ) . I quote from the paragraphs cited in the French network publication. Passages translated from the French version in the following text are printed in italics.

 

Strother about the picture dimension,  that I had left out .

The information value of the photos is limited: light is unsatisfactory. Usually only one view is shown. Colors and above all the equipment of the sculptures are missing. The composition of the corpus – regardless of all concrete determinations such as origin, size, context, also public appearance not – gave the unprepared observer a compelling impression of stylistic unity (8)  by producing artificial references between two completely different works (6): poetic reverie(Rêverie poétique), as Wendy Grossman said (7). “Negerplastik” literally created a body which had not previously existed (3), and defined the artistic canon of African art from wooden sculptures, which in their great majority came from French and Belgian colonies (10). Canon” has by-the-way been the main  reproach against an international Art cartel by  Sylvester Ogbechie  in ‘Making History ‘ .

Ten Polynesian and Filipino scuptures joined the ranks of Negro Art . In a second edition in 1921, everything was rearranged, but Strother is not satisfied with it either: the comparisons there were of a banalité singulière (Note 12). The first edition, in any case, has fascinated as a pioneer and, as a Founding Document of  African arthistory, persisted in the times when it spread pictures of the sculptures which could not be obtained otherwise.

In short, the parallel enterprise ‘Negro Art’ of the Latvian painter Voldemar Matvej (Vladimir Markov) , which first appeared in the Soviet Union in 1919 and impressed among others Malevich, Tatlin and Rodchenko. (1)

Informations about the creation of the book may be delicate for Carl Einstein fans: Einstein was still a complete layman in African matters in 1915 and only came into contact with the subject in 1913 through Cubist artists. How he got the 119 photos from private collections is not known for sure. But the gray eminence behind the whole project is suspected to be the Hungarian sculptor, art dealer and Africa collector Josef Brummer, who, according to Paudrat, supplied the majority of the objects shown (note 11) and engaged, without the author’s involvement, the  a master of the highly developed German book art (12) for the montage. The war volunteer Carl Einstein was at that time with a head injury in a hospital (11). His enthusiasm for African sculptures was not harmed and the military service assignment he was offered at the Brussels Colonial Museum in Tervuren in 1916 turned him into an (at least ‘felt’) African: Ici, je négrifie complètement. Excès africain. (14-27).

I would like to address only the following points of the analysis of Einstein’s statements:

Carl Einstein made use of a mixture of what was then under mentalité primitive (51). Strictly speaking, Strother discusses a few possible sources of inspiration on the basis of evidence. Thus, she linked his sentence on worship in the dark (XIV), which triggered horror before God , with the idea which was then at the center of the discussions about the newly discovered cave paintings. (16)

The last chapter on masks, tattoos, dances and trance seems to please Zoé Strother more. She locates it in the horizon of contemporary ethnology between Australian Aboriginals and Amazonian Indians. The other authors would have been more interested in the audience of the masks, but Einstein for the psychology of the dancer. He had  the position of a fusion , which means extinction de la personnnalité humaine , not that of a transformation by participation mystique … qui rend ces individus participables … à la fois du tigre et de l’homme . (16-19)

The chapter on art and religion, according to Strother, is based on no serious scientific work of his time. (31) On the contrary, Einstein deliberately constructed the model of the African artist who creates a God and whose work is independent, transcendent, and free of any bond. Strother cites Einstein’s essay on George Braque (1934): For Einstein, Braque is a visionary because he explores the unconscious through intoxication or hallucination and has the courage to do this work alone, without the support of religion Or the collective solidarity of ‘primitives’ . (53)

Einstein speculates about individuals in cultures completely unknown to him and ends with the heroic White Man.

– ‘Prosecutor, further questions?’

– “No more questions, I am À la recherche de l’Afrique . ‘

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