What Became Authentic Primitive Art?

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Essay Excerpt

In what follows, I will examine what became "Authentic Primitive Art," using the Rockefeller Wing as a point of reference (see Figure 1). The Rockefeller Wing - the contents, its history of collection and exhibition, and its current installation - is paradigmatic of the meanings and fate of Authentic Primitive Art. For one thing, the objects in it exemplify and help constitute what I call High Primitive Art, the "authentic" Primitive Art that is valorized and exhibited in major museums and that commands the highest prices at auctions and in galleries. For another, the founding of the Museum of Primitive Art in 1954 and the opening of the Rockefeller Wing in 1982, both of which contained the same core collection, span the thirty-odd years in which Authentic Primitive Art was most accepted and valorized as a category of objects in museum exhibitions and in scholarship. This period can be seen as ending in 1984, when the Museum of Modern Art's show "Primitivism" in 20th Century Art provoked so much controversy that the erosion of the validity of the notion of Authentic Primitive Art became problematic, even to a general audience (202).

Errington, S. "What Became Authentic Primitive Art?" Cultural Anthropology 9.2 (1994): 201–226.

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