The most exciting features of the new galleries of African and American Indian art are the videos intermittently projected high up on the wall. Made by the filmmaker/anthropologist Susan Vogel (who also founded the Museum of African Art in NYC) they don’t tell a story so much as create an ambiance for distant peoples and places that’s ignored by the same generic system of display cases used in the new Japanese galleries. But still these displays of ethnic artifacts are far less ambient and educational than those recently created for the Field Museum of Natural History. And even though these new galleries are more than twice the size of the previous spaces, there isn’t that much more new material that really belongs in an art museum. Though, happily, there are a few exceptions, including some pieces that were first seen in the 2006 special exhibit of “ Casas Grandes & the Ceramic Art of the American Southwest”.
The bowl depicting a Mogollon hunter (950-1150 Ad) is one of the most exciting pieces in the entire museum.
While over on the African side, there’s a highly animated carved wooden headdress for the Yoruba Gelede ceremony in Nigeria. It’s a remarkable figure sculpture that came to the AIC in 2008. It’s also remarkable that this time the artist has actually been identified (as either Fagbite Asamu or his son, Falola Edun). So much of the African art that we see in museums was made within the last hundred years, but the artists are hardly ever identified, probably because once an artist establishes a name in our artworld, his work no longer qualifies as an authentic tribal artifact. Hopefully, this restriction is being lifted, and museum galleries of traditional Indian and African art will eventually accept the work of living masters of their traditions, even if that work was made for art collectors instead of native rituals. So, in some ways these new galleries represent an important step forward (especially for the African section which was recently just a short, narrow hallway) The AIC’s collections in these genres are still nowhere near as substantial as the Chinese and Japanese material. But they’re growing.