The Art of Oceania and Africa

As I've mentioned, our Culture section will frequently feature Web only articles, particularly for timely features--like this fine review by Leo J. O'Donovan, SJ, president emeritus of Georgetown University, on a show at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art on the art of Oceania and Africa.  The show closes on Sept. 27.  Fr. O'Donovan is a tireless frequenter of galleries and museums, and we have come to rely on him to keep us up to date on goings-on in the art world.  Here's my favorite part of his piece, which can be read in its entirety here.

It astonishes to recall that this art was once all called “primitive.”  But then the Italians of the Trecento and Quattrocento were lovingly called “primitives,” too. In the early 20th century, as well, enormously successful exhibitions were devoted to the “Flemish Primitives” in 1902 in Bruges and to the “French Primitives” in Paris in 1904 (in both cases on grounds that were in part quite chauvinistic). The Met’s current show moves decisively beyond that perspective, rejecting the presumption that Western standards are the final arbiters of aesthetic achievement. Instead, it revels in the formal inventiveness and human expressivity of the art, while also discreetly offering sensitive interpretations of its context and social significance, both religious and secular. You may start out finding the material strange. But gradually you feel a common instinct for self-expression and social connectedness, not to mention the powerful sense of a higher, transcendent realm on which these cultures felt deeply dependent. Whole continents and worlds open up for us in these galleries—and we meet figures from afar who are at the same time as close to us as our own truest humanity.  --  Leo J. O'Donovan in "Continents Away"

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And here's a link to the Met's page focusing on the exhibition.

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