Renegotiating Identity; "Primitivism" in 20th Century Art as Family Narrative

By Palmer, Carolyn Butler | Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies, June-September 2008 | Go to article overview

Renegotiating Identity; "Primitivism" in 20th Century Art as Family Narrative


Palmer, Carolyn Butler, Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies


The prevailing viewpoint is made all too clear in one of the "affinities" featured on the catalogue covers, a juxtaposition of Picasso's Girl before a Mirror ... with a Kwakiutl half-mask, a type quite rare among Northwest coast creations. Its task here is simply to produce an effect of resemblance (an effect actually created by the camera angle). In this exhibition a universal message, "Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern," is produced by careful selection and maintenance of a specific angle of vision. (1)

James Clifford

A 100-year-old legacy of curatorial colonialism has produced profound disorganizations of unique knowledge systems. ... The subjugation of indigenous peoples under colonialism results in innumerable forms of oppression from which the arts are not immune. A focus on institutions and patrons of the arts (academics being defined as one type of patron or consumer of native arts) cannot significantly enhance a reading of indigenous aesthetic or worldviews. By shifting the locus of the analysis from the psychology of the oppressor to the experiences of the oppressed, a discursive space is made available in which new paradigms of knowledge may become accessible. (2)

Nancy Mithlo (Chiricahua Apache)

Your questions have brought back memories of the time. I definitely recall the book about my family, The Totem Carvers, and that show ["Primitivism" in 20th Century Art] and its catalogue being major catalysts in my need to return to BC [British Columbia] and take up the art. The catalogue for that show has a Kwagiutl mask on the cover, along with a painting by Picasso, my favorite painter even then. There was a Charlie James piece in the show too. Those were pivotal in my beginning to comprehend the influence my artistic heritage was to play in my life. (3)

David Neel (Kwagiutl) (4)

INTRODUCTION

During the summer of 1985, a twenty-five-year-old professional photographer, David Neel, walked through the doors of the Dallas Museum of Fine Art and into the traveling exhibition, "Primitivism" in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern. (5) Initiated by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, "Primitivism" in 20th Century Art made visual a historical narrative of European and Euro-American interest in "non-Western art" by juxtaposing the art of Euro-American modernists with cultural objects from around the world. (6) Two months after the exhibition's New York debut in September 1984, a now famous debate erupted over the exhibition's Eurocentric underpinnings. In April 1985, just one month before the exhibition opened in Dallas, Art in America published anthropologist and critic James Clifford's essay "Histories of the Tribal and Modern." Clifford charges the exhibition's curators, William Rubin and Kirk Varnendoe, with creating a "modernist family of art," "decontextualizing cultural objects," and "reproducing colonial" assumptions. (7) Clifford connects his critique to the discourses of identity politics and difference that raged during the 1980s, and as he predicts, the exhibition has become important within the discourses of modern art history because of the debates about formalism that ensued. (8)

In his exhibition review, Clifford also calls explicit attention to a pair of photographs that appear on the cover of the accompanying exhibition catalogue. One photograph depicts what Clifford refers to as a "Kwakiutl half mask." The other is a close-up shot of a carefully selected section of Pablo Picasso's oil-on-canvas painting, Girl before a Mirror (1932). As Clifford points out, the juxtaposition is problematic because it highlights what he says is a superficial set of "affinities" predicated on the objects' visual properties alone. Clifford uses the comparison to showcase the shortcomings of formalism, specifically its tendency to physically and theoretically abstract objects from their cultural contexts: it is a curatorial practice, he argues, that is in itself a perpetuation of colonialism--a strategy of oppression. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Renegotiating Identity; "Primitivism" in 20th Century Art as Family Narrative
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.