Bruce Museum Opens Power Incarnate: Allan Stone Collection of Sculpture from the Congo

The Bruce Museum presents Power Incarnate: Allan Stone’s Collection of Sculpture from the Congo, on view May 14, 2011 – September 4, 2011.

Power Incarnate: Allan Stone’s Collection of Sculpture from the Congo features works drawn from the Estate of Allan Stone, the noted art dealer, gallery owner, and collector who died in 2006 at the age of 74. Perhaps best known for his expertise in Abstract Expressionism, Mr. Stone’s collection of African art is an extraordinary assemblage in its own right, a decidedly personal collection and a monument to a particular artistic vision. Guest curator for the exhibition is Kevin D. Dumouchelle, Assistant Curator for the Arts of Africa and the Pacific Islands at the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibition is supported by a Committee of Honor led by Salli Garrick and Marcia Powers and by the Charles M. and Deborah G. Royce Exhibition Fund.

The prevailing region represented in the exhibition is the Congo, and a particular type, the power figure, are the largest group among these sculptures. Found in the Kongo and Songye cultures, both of which historically produced figures intended to protect their communities, these power figures, often called nkisi or nkishi, along with other conceptually related sculptures from the Congo basin are the focus of the exhibition. The works belong to a series of highly complex, charged and subtle political and cosmological institutions, broadly dating from the early twentieth century. Small, differentiated social segments (blacksmith/carvers and diviners, or ngangas) that specialized in intervening in ‘wilderness’ on behalf of ‘civilization’ created and used these sculptures to harness spiritual forces to aid the community. To that end, these works are vehicles for humanity’s control of nature, not the reverse. The sculptures are not tools or representations of spiritual forces, associated with the ancestral realm but through the informed, selective application of additional materials to their surfaces, layered over time, these sculptures become power incarnate.

Power sculpture from the Congo has a longstanding, cross-cultural formal appeal, which led to its proliferation in early twentieth-century Western collections. At that early moment, collectors appreciated African sculpture narrowly as formal solutions to issues in modernist figural sculpture, and often removed the accumulated layers of power materials, which they regarded as impediments to aesthetic appreciation. Western audiences now appreciate that the varied surfaces of these works not only offer traces of the history of their use, but the accumulated evidence of their original intention as vessels for animating spirits. Power sculptures serve as indices not only of these spirits, but also of the agency of their original artists and practitioners. The dense layers of applied materials create what the Kongo referred to as ngitukulu, or “astonishment.” As vessels of power, these sculptures continue to act on us toda

“These artworks maintain a close visual and intellectual relationship to twentieth-century art, from the wild strokes of Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline to the assemblages of Joseph Cornell, on which Allan Stone made his name,” said Kevin Dumouchelle, the exhibition’s guest curator. “Indeed, the Stone collection’s figures from the Congo share a visual and intellectual relationship with the assemblage sculpture that Stone championed. While Western sculpture took its force from its visual or conceptual impact, the Congolese works add a key ingredient – active power itself.”

Image: Power Figure (Nkishi) with Mambele (Cowrie Shells) Unidentified Songye (Kalebwe subgroup) artist, late 19th-early 20th century Between the Lubefu and Lomami rivers, East Kasai Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo Wood, metal, cowrie shells, fiber, beads, animal hide, organic materials 21 x 6 x 5 1/2 inches (53.3 x 15.2 x 14 cm) The Allan Stone Collection

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