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Joshua I. Cohen. Picasso’s Guitar (1912) and...

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Joshua I. Cohen. Picasso’s Guitar (1912) and Two Ivoirian Masks

Mascarade Kru avec Krumen

Mascarade Kru avec Krumen, Gabon ou Kamerun, vers 1875-1885, Tirage à l’albumine, 14 x 19.5 cm. Photographe non identifié (vraisemblablement Francis W. Joaque). Museum der Kulturen Basel, Bâle. (F)III 23738 © Museum der Kulturen Basel

Picasso’s inspiration for the sound hole of his Guitar (cardboard and mixed media, 1912) from a cylinder-eyed Ivoirian mask remains the best-substantiated instance of African influence on his art: Picasso confessed it directly to Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. What has frequently gone unnoted in the literature is that Picasso owned two cylinder-eyed Ivoirian masks of similar outward appearance yet radically different structural design. Of these two masks, the more elegant example Picasso acquired just prior to starting work on Guitar, and can be traced—by way of comparison with very similar and better-documented objects in other collections—to Sassandra, a port city in southwestern Côte d’Ivoire where local participation in international maritime commerce was longstanding. Painted with synthetic laundry bluing and composed of diverse materials held together with nails and glue, the Sassandra mask was assembled in precisely the same manner that Picasso made his Guitar. Picasso thus appropriated not an isolated “sign” but rather an entire constructive sculptural method from a mask that in many ways already instantiated African modernity upon its arrival in Europe. Departing from the dominant conceptual framework of “primitivism,” the paper argues that even in the face of colonialism, the sum of Africa’s cultural interaction with Europe included path-breaking contributions to twentieth-century art as evidenced in Picasso’s work.

Joshua I. Cohen (Ph.D. université de Columbia) est professeur assistant d’histoire de l’art africain au City College of New York. Son premier livre (en cours de rédaction) se concentre sur une série d’engagements par des artistes européens et africains avec la sculpture africaine entre 1905 et 1980. Ses domaines de spécialisation comprennent l’art moderne et contemporain en Afrique, le « primitivisme » dans l’art et dans les discours de l’histoire de l’art, les politiques culturelles en Afrique de l’Ouest, la tradition internationale du « ballet » africain, les études postcoloniales, et la muséologie.

Joshua I. Cohen (PhD, Columbia University, BA, Vassar College) is Assistant Professor of African Art History at The City College of New York and 2016–17 Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellow at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Department of Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas). He is currently working on a book that tracks Paris-based modernist appropriations of African sculpture by European and African artists between 1905 and 1980. A second book-length project examines twentieth-century international staged productions of West African dance, music, theater, and masquerade. His research and writing have received support from Fulbright, Lurcy, Kittredge, Dedalus, Mellon, Whiting, and other programs.Articles on Fauvism and Senegalese modernism are forthcoming in The Art Bulletin and African Arts.

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