This book is the first to bring together texts documenting the encounter between Western artists and writers and what has historically been called primitive art—the traditional, indigenous arts of Africa, Oceania, and North America. Beginning with the "discovery" of that art by European artists and writers early in the twentieth century, this anthology charts the evolving pictorial responses, artistic aspirations, aesthetic theories, and cultural debates that have developed from this encounter. Written by artists, literary figures, collectors, museum curators, and cultural critics, these essays—most of them never before translated or reprinted—show the dazzling range of issues elicited by the confrontation with primitive arts and cultures.
Primitivism designates not a specific movement or group of artists, but a persuasive notion crucial to twentieth-century art and modern thinking generally. Because the encounter between the West and primitive art took place at the height of Western colonialism, a number of racial and political issues come into play, either overtly or implicitly, in writings about both the art and the people who produced it. The contributions to this volume speak to each other in provocative ways, giving a unique overview of those issues.
Jack Flam provides an introduction to the book and brief outlines for each of its four sections. Also included are a coda of quotations from artists and critics from throughout the century; a chronology of events, exhibitions, and publications; an extensive bibliography; and over forty illustrations.