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Exhibition Recommendation « MAD Blog
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Exhibition Recommendation

Speaking of the African dimension in design, I would recommend the exhibition Man Ray, African Art, and the Modernist Lens, currently on view at the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. This wonderful project, curated by Wendy Grossman, not only examines how photography positioned and influenced the reception of African art among the cognoscenti and the general public, but also how African jewelry and fabrics became chic fashion items in the period between the wars. From the June, 1923 issue of Arts and Decoration which features décor and textile prints inspired by “Native African Art,” to the style and collecting of Nancy Cunard, Lillian Daché and Helena Rubenstein, we see how African art and design became signifiers of “avant-garde” attitudes as they projected their images through judicious placements of photography in popular publications and public relation events.

Man Ray, 'Nancy Cunard,' ca. 1926

Man Ray, 'Nancy Cunard,' ca. 1926

Cunard’s stash of ivory bracelets, which she worn on both arms from wrist to elbow, became her hallmark. Daché complemented her reputation as a milliner with a collection of Congo prestige headwear which was exhibited in 1937 in Charles Ratton’s Paris Gallery as “La Mode au Congo.”

Man Ray, 'Mode au Congo' (Model Adrienne Fidelin, 1973)

Man Ray, 'Mode au Congo' (Model Adrienne Fidelin, 1973)

While Rubenstein, according to Grossman, positioned her collecting as a parallel to her global search for “new,” even “exotic” ‘ingredients and formulas” for her beauty products.

It is interesting to contemplate these historical events along with the M’Afrique installation that designer Stephen Burks organized for the Italian design company Morosco at the Salone del Mobile in Milan this past April, 2009. African-inflected products by individuals as diverse Tord Boontje, Patricia Urquiola, Bibi Seck and Ayse Birsel, Philippe Bestenheider and Ron Arad were installed with work by African painters and photographers.

'M'Afrique' installation, designed/curated by Stepen Burks for Morosco

'M'Afrique' installation, designed/curated by Stepen Burks for Morosco

As Keth Recker noted in his article “Milan, Senegal” in the Summer, 2009 issue of Hand/Eye magazine, all of this indicates how the century-old relationship between Africa and modernism continues to infuse a “younger, more casual, refreshingly irreverent” element to contemporary design and art. It is precisely those elements that we are seeking in the work we are considering for MAD’s The Global Africa Project.

Photos:
Man Ray, Nancy Cunard ca. 1926: http://manray.tribe.net/photos/2f1d1f78-3a2c-4709-9a0c-7000fcbbaf0c
Man Ray, Mode au Congo (Model Adrienne Fidelin, 1973):http://killerbeesting.blogspot.com/2008/07/adrienne-fidelin.html
M’Afrique installation, designed/curated by Stepen Burks for Morosco: http://www.iconeye.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3725

 
 

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