Sunday, June 7, 2015

The difference between the French and Americans

I'm reading an issue of Connaissance des Arts which introduces an exhibition at the Musee du Quai Branly called "The Masters of Sculpture of Cote d'Ivoire." (Apologies for the missing accent marks -- I can't figure out how to produce them here.)

The works of art are beautiful and the commentary is informative. But here's a note one wouldn't hear, I think, in an American museum publication. After discussing the fact that the names of the Baoule sculpture masters are lost in the "limbo of the past," the author, Berenice Geoffroy-Shneiter, writes (in my rough translation, at 18):
In the wake of the great American ethnologist Susan Vogel, the Belgian art historian Bernard de Grunne has nevertheless identified the "print" of seven masters whose arbitrary names refer, most often, to those of European art lovers who have collected their works. Small consolation.
What Ms. Geoffroy-Shneiter says is of course correct: to live on as, for instance, the "Master of Vlaminck" is (at least to Westerners) a somewhat disappointing form of immortality, an immortality marked by personal invisibility. And that is small consolation, to the artists if they can be consoled somehow, to the people of Cote d'Ivoire for whom these artists are part of their heritage, or to anyone else who wants to respect these sculptors as individual people. 

No doubt an American museum catalog would readily, and conscientiously, take note of the loss of these artists' true names, and perhaps place that loss in the context of the global art market over time -- which is essentially what Ms. Geoffroy-Shneiter has done. But the closing sentence -- "Small consolation" -- seems to leap from scholarly discussion to personal feeling, and from dispassion to irony. Those two words, I have to say, have a certain (Gallic?) style. 

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