29 Sep 2020

Avant-garde, ‘negro art’, colonialism and racism

: remarks on primitivisms in the interwar period
Philippe Dagen
Paris, France
The School of Modernities

“The beautiful story of modern art gives credit to the avant-gardes, from Cubism to Surrealism, for having acknowledged the greatness of African arts. A more attentive study forces us to renounce this happy version of primitivisms.
One understands better then why surrealism placed some distance between itelf and what was then called ‘negro art’ - a dubious appellation in itself - by studying the discourses and attitudes of those who, like Paul Guillaume and Paul Morand, are the main propagators of this infatuation; and why to ostensibly prefer Amerindian and Oceanic arts is not only a matter of taste in sculpture, but also a political and moral question.”

Photo © Camille Dagen

Philippe Dagen is an art historian and an art critic, and a curator. He is Professor of contemporary art history at the University Paris 1 – Panthéon-Sorbonne. He is the author of numerous books on modern and contemporary art. Specialist of the question of primitivisms, he published, among other books : Le silence des peintres. Les artistes face à la Grande Guerre (1996), Le peintre, le poète, le sauvage (1998), and more recently Primitivismes : une invention moderne (2019). In 2013, he curated the exhibition "Charles Ratton. L’invention des arts « primitifs »" at the Musée du quai Branly, and he is currently preparing an exhibition on primitivisms in the interwar period.


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