The Discerning Eye: African Art from the Collection of Carl and Wilma Zabel/Artists and Patrons in Traditional African Cultures: African Sculpture from the Gary Schulze Collection

By Imperato, Pascal James | African Studies Review, December 2006 | Go to article overview

The Discerning Eye: African Art from the Collection of Carl and Wilma Zabel/Artists and Patrons in Traditional African Cultures: African Sculpture from the Gary Schulze Collection


Imperato, Pascal James, African Studies Review


Charles Bordogna. The Discerning Eye: African Art from the Collection of Carl and Wilma Zabel. Tenafly, NJ.: The African Art Museum of the SMA Fathers, 2005. 36 pp. Photographs. Map. Bibliography. $15.00. Paper.

Donna Page. Artists and Patrons in Traditional African Cultures: African Sculpture from the Gary Schulze Collection. Bayside, N.Y.: Queensborough Community College, the City University of New York, 2005. 84 pp. Photographs. Endnotes. Bibliography. $30.00. Paper.

Major exhibitions of African art in the United States were once confined primarily to leading museums in large metropolitan centers. There were always exceptions to this pattern, such as the exhibition at the African Art Museum of the SMA Fathers (AAMSMA) in Tenafly, New Jersey, which was established in 1980, and the permanent exhibition of more than three hundred objects of African art at the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum, which opened in Chanute, Kansas, in 1974. The AAMSMA is a unique repository of African art whose original holdings were collected over the years by an order of missionaries in Africa that historically has valorized the arts of the peoples of Africa and viewed the museum as a bridge between cultures and peoples. AAMSMA's successive directors have actively and selectively enhanced the collection and fostered important temporary exhibitions of extremely high quality. Placing a great emphasis on education, the museum's exhibitions are generally accompanied by scholarly monographs or catalogs that reach large audiences worldwide. Robert J. Koenig Jr., who has directed the museum for the past decade, has not only sponsored exceptional exhibitions, but also has greatly enlarged the museum's permanent collections and attracted a large cadre of supporters from the greater metropolitan New York region. The Discerning Eye, his latest exhibition, ran from October 2, 2005, to April 2, 2006.

The exhibition focused on the collection of Carl and Wilma Zabel. As Holland Cotter, the art critic of the New York Times, observed, the Zabels "chose to lavish their attention on a type of art often overlooked or dismissed, namely East African sculpture.... Some [objects] depart audaciously from preconceived standards of sculptural beauty. In doing so, they automatically extend the way beauty can be defined" (November 25, 2005). The catalog essay by Charles Bordogna explores in detail the impressive diversity of sculpture from Tanzania as well as from Kenya and Madagascar. While objects from other areas of Africa are also discussed and illustrated, it is the Tanzanian objects that are at the heart of the volume. The excellent examples of Makonde, Pare, Shambaa, Zigua, Zaramo, Nyamwezi, Fipa, Luguru, and Sukuma art provide a window on the superb range of sculptural forms created by the peoples of modern-day Tanzania. The excellent essay and the lengthy text entries for the fifty objects illustrated make for an easy understanding of their cultural contexts and symbolic meanings.

The Discerning Eye represents a valuable and unique contribution to our understanding of East African artistic traditions. It reflects the scholarship of the author, the dedication of Carl and Wilma Zabel in assembling so impressive a collection over many years, the vision of the AAMSMA's director, and the noble endeavor of the SMA Fathers.

QUEENSBOROUGH COMMUNITY COLLEGE (QCC) of the City University of New York reopened its Art Gallery in 2004 after a multi-million-dollar renovation. Located in the Oakland Building, the oldest structure on the campus, the gallery is currently equipped with up-to-date security and environmental controls, high-quality exhibition space, a theater, and an art research library. Under the dynamic directorship of Faustino Quintanilla and reflecting the broad vision of QCC President EduardoJ. Marti, the gallery not only hosts major temporary shows, but also has a splendid permanent exhibition of African art. …

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