The revolutionary development of modern painting and sculpture in the opening decades of this century created a vast new audience for primitive art. Just when most native peoples were beginning to lose their old artistic traditions, twentieth-century taste rescued their art from the obscurity of the curio shop and the ethnographical museum. Westerners who would once have shuddered at the primitive artist's unclassical use of proportion found they could enjoy and admire the work of an African sculptor. Today objects originally destined for grisly rituals rest upon museum velvet or upon patrician coffee tables. And the more one looks at such objects, the more one finds in them the qualities -- beauty, relevance, meaning -- which earlier generations could detect only in Western art.
The pace of this discovery has been breathtaking. Forty years ago collectors sometimes assigned primitive art objects to the wrong continent, twenty years ago to the wrong area, ten years ago to the wrong tribe. Today primitive art is so firmly implanted in twentieth-century sensibility and the study of it so advanced that only the most difficult pieces still defy classifi-