The Language of Beauty in African Art is a major new exhibition at the Kimbell Art Museum — with some 200 artworks, including masks, jewelry and ceremonial figures.
The show began at the Art Institute of Chicago, where Constantine Petridis was the originating curator, and it’s the first sizable show of such art in Fort Worth in more than 25 years.
Kimbell curator Jennifer Casler Price says the wide selection of artworks from 60 sub-Saharan cultures is meant to prove a point. African textiles, masks and spiritual figures have influenced Western art for more than a century. But this exhibition shows how Africans appreciated such art on their own terms. Across much of the continent, they valued similar traits in their jewelry or statues.
“That’s why it’s called The Language of Beauty because these cultures have words that describe these artworks,” Price said. “And in many of these cultures, they do have a word for an object that combines beautiful with good” — essentially, the well-crafted with an embodiment of admirable behavior.
Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Henri Matisse — to give three examples of groundbreaking, modernist artists — avidly collected African masks and textiles. African items were something of a craze in early 20th century Paris.
But while such modern artists sparked a widespread appreciation of African works in the West — using them to revolutionize ideas of what constitutes painting and sculpture — they did so by ignoring any African context or history.
Price says, while these works are beautifully crafted, they were also were created for specific purposes — to uphold social ideals. Or to inspire awe.