Thursday, October 20, 2005

Paging Michael Brand At The Getty! How To Expand Your Collecting Horizons!

Now that the Getty is probably shipping much of its collection back to Italy, and there has been some likely idle talk about developing collections that are more... ethnically... diverse - I have some good news. There is a prime buying opportunity in New York!

It Was Multicultural Before Multicultural Was Cool


I was flabbergasted when I saw "African Zion: The Sacred Art of Ethiopia" in New York City in 1994, the first big display of Ethiopian religious art to travel to North America. I had known this art only in intriguing bits and pieces. But the sight of a hundred blazingly colored icons and glinting metal crosses in one place was sensational. I remember its impact in aural as much as visual terms, as a kind of charged chanting, though no music was playing.

What was news to me was news to a lot of other people too, not to mention the city's art institutions. The show wasn't at the Metropolitan Museum or the Brooklyn Museum. It was at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. Famed for its library and archives, the Schomburg has an active gallery, though one unlikely to pull in the huge crowds that "African Zion" should have had. "Lucky Harlem," I thought at the time.

And now, lucky Midtown. The first major gallery sale exhibition of Ethiopian art in the United States opened yesterday at PaceWildenstein on East 57th Street. Organized by the London dealer Sam Fogg, it's a fierce, gorgeous, category-scrambling encounter.


... in the fifth century A.D., when Ethiopia was, with Rome and Persia, one of the superpowers of the ancient world, Ethiopian Orthodoxy became the state religion. Later Islam swept in, cutting the country off from the Byzantine world and adding its own cultural impulses. Influences from sub-Saharan Africa were subtle and constant.

These ingredients contributed to a church distinctive in its beliefs, worship and art. The most familiar and durable forms are openwork crosses of bronze or iron mounted on long staffs carried by priests.

Meant to be seen in pierced silhouette against the sky or candlelight, they became ever more elaborate and delicate hybrids of Byzantine and Islamic designs. The workmanship of the finest of them is beyond superb, rivaling pieces from the royal ateliers of the West Africa kingdom of Benin. And Mr. Fogg has fantastic examples dating from the 12th to the 19th century.

The real attraction, though, lies in icons and manuscripts, several dating from the late 15th and early 16th centuries, a high point in Ethiopian church art, which means in Christian art, period.

So here we have a case of where the Getty can have its art and eat it too; spectacular examples of early Christian art that directly relates to the European art already collected by the Getty, while also being influenced by African cultures. So rather than having to develop an entirely new brand, all this requires is a simple brand extension.

And having seen examples of this work in London in some private collections - I also know it's seriously cool. So break out the platinum card, Michael (assuming Barry hasn't maxxed it this month on Porsche payments, of course) and start shopping!

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