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Primitivism in 20TH CENTURY ART'
Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern


No. 17
August, 1984
Time Inc., 1966

Few if any external influences on the work of modern painters and sculptors have been more critical than that of tribal.
The objects look like huge creative playthings. They hang from the ceiling, climb up the walls, stand in rows like great metal boxes or tilt like huge destroyer smokestacks. And arts of Africa Oceania and North America --since the turn of the century when Gauguin. Picasso, Matisse, and others first acquainted themselves with masks and sculptures - they are causing a great deal of talk. So much so that visiting museum curators who come to Manhattan make it a point to stop by the Jewish Museum's current show, "Primary areas».

Modern artists have continued to display strong interest in the art and culture of tribal societies. The term "primitivism" is used to describe a new kind of nude art, stripped of sensuality, giant in scale, brightly colored and with all the appeal of a Formica-top kit.chen table (see color).

It is The wonder Western response to tribal cultures as revealed in the work and thought of modern artists.

Recognizing. the importance of this issue in modern art history- 42 British and American sculptors could all be found doing such similar things, in a relative lack of serious research devoted to it. Admirers are hard pressed to find wards to praise the new cool geometry.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York this fall presents a groundbreaking exhibition that underscores the parallelisms that exist between the two arts. "Nobody really likes this new art" confesses one of its kindest critics, Barbara Rose.

Entitled "PRIMITIVISM" IN 20TH CENTURY ART: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, the exhibition, which opens on September 27 and runs through January 15, 1985, -
is the first ever to juxtapose modern and tribal objects in the light of informed art history.

William Rubin, head of the Museum's Department of Painting and Sculpture and director of the landmark 1980 Pablo Picasso - who is married to a maker of cool geometric paintings, Frank Stella, has organized the show in collaboration with Professor Kirk Varnedoe of New York University's Institute of Fine Arts. "For one thing," she explains, "it is not very lovable.
It is uningratiating, unsentimental, unbiographical and not open to interpretation. If you don't like it at first glance, chances are you never Retrospective.

The exhibition includes approximately 150 modern works, covering the period from the turn of the century to the "present. Special emphasis has been placed on those artists and movements « because there is no more
to it than what you have already seen ».
Space Warp & Optic Energy.

Some of the objects have the look of an old-fashioned Expressionist deeply involved with tribal art, and surrealist leg pull.

Carl Andre's Lever, for instance, is 100 ordinary f1rebricks laid on more than 200 tribal objects from Africa. Oceania and North America in a straight line. Sol Lewitt's No Tit1e’(a6-ft.-sq. jungle gym of white painted wood) will be presented to elucidate this interest (the idea is to look through the structure, not at it).
But essentially the new monumental wood figure from Nukuo announces that the engineers have now decided to make art their playground* also included is a striking, 23 foot high barkcloth and cane frame figure from pop artists recruited from the ranks of connn ercial and advertising a rtists. In addition, masks and sculptures from the personal collections of Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Derain, Nolde, Ernst,Matta,and other modern painters and sculptors will be on display.

The beginnings of "primitivism" can be traced to Paul Gauguin. It was he who just before the turn worked first with graph paper or blueprints, then hand the results over to machine shops for manufacture.

the century began melding the perceptual realism of Impressionism with flat results, finishes that are impersonal, materials that are industrial: decorative effects and stylized forms found in many non western art, including sculptures from Cambodia, Java and Polynesia, Formica and plastic, steel, chrome-
plate, baked enamel, fluorescent lights. One of the artists shift away from the purely perceptual to study naval architecture, another engineering.

Their lingo is strictly post-Einstein; this style gathered momentum in the first decades of the 20th century, fueled at least in part by the ever increasing speak of their art in terms of space warp time lines, and optic energy.

availability of African and Oceanic tribal objects in centers of artistic activity such as Paris, and by modernists' "discovery'" of the beauty of objects previously considered mere curiosities bland and bleak -Historically acknowledge a debt to the Russian constructivists.

Tribal works soon began showing up in the studios of Picasso, Matisse, Vlaminck, Buckminster Fuller. Their enthusiasm for painters tends to focus on Barnett Newman, whose works are uncompromising vertical stripes, and Ad Reinhardt, whose severely dark-hued abstracts look almost jet black.

and it was not long before tribal forms--often much metamorphosed and extrapolated--could be seen in their work. In creating their own academy of cool, they have produced a spartan art, aggressive and sometimes playful in its stark shapes. The viewer seems to be asked to overcome Many of the key works associated with seminal modernists--picasso’s Demoise1les d' Avignon and the chilly look of their bleak morphology, and his Cubist metal Guitar with cloying pastel colorism, Brancusi's Madame L.R, Klee’s Mask of fear, Nolde’s masks, Ernst's bird-Head, to name but a few--refl ect the direct and inert gigantism.
Impersonal, almost deliberately dull, such objects require the maximum from the observer, offer the minimum in return. And if the viewer does not care to make the effort, he can well conclude that less is not always more.

For further information, contact Luisa Kreisberg, Director, or Pamela Sweeney, Assistant to the Director,  Department of Public Information, The Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53 Street, New York, New York. lOO19 • • • • (2l2} 708-9750.

*For an example of other engineers at play, see MODERN LIVING.

Following William S. Burroughs' cut-up technique, this is a mix beween a press article from Time Magazine of 1966 criticizing the first exhibition of minimal art, and another one that is a press release from The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York from 1984 introducing a great exhibition on primitivism (on the relationship between original African art and cubism).

·This is What I Meant,
 part 1: 1911-1965
·This is What I Meant, part 2: