The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas (AAOA) will celebrate the genesis of its permanent collection with a special exhibition that opens October 8. The Nelson A. Rockefeller Vision: In Pursuit of the Best in the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas is organized to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of The Museum of Primitive Art, the direct precursor to the Metropolitan’s Department of AAOA. The Museum of Primitive Art was a pioneering cultural institution that featured Nelson Rockefeller’s non-Western art collection. The announcement by Rockefeller of an agreement to transfer his collection to the Metropolitan Museum was made in 1969 and in January 1982 the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing opened to the public.
Highlighting some 50 masterpieces and many unpublished documents selected from the more than 3,000 Rockefeller gifts encompassing three areas—Africa, Oceania, and the Americas—the exhibition will reveal his vision for The Museum of Primitive Art, the first institution dedicated entirely to the artistic excellence of the arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. While a selection of historically significant works from the collection will be highlighted in a gallery for special exhibitions within the AAOA department, the overview of its founding vision will permeate all of the AAOA galleries, where additional commentary on works on permanent display will expand upon that narrative.
“A generation before ‘globalism’ became a household name, Nelson Rockefeller’s vision for The Museum of Primitive Art was to make evident the enormous spectrum of artistic expression absent from the Metropolitan’s fine arts holdings,” said Alisa LaGamma, Curator in Charge of the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, “When a survey exhibition of The Museum of Primitive Art’s collection was presented at the Met in 1969, Governor Nelson Rockefeller announced at a press conference that his non-Western art collection would be given a permanent home at the Met, thus ‘rounding out its art archives of the creative accomplishments of [humankind].’ This development and subsequent transfer of The Museum of Primitive Art to The Michael C. Rockefeller Wingmarked the culmination of a quest that was sparked in the 1930s, when a young Nelson Rockefeller first began a lifelong engagement with Latin America and its Pre-Columbian artistic heritage.”
Works highlighted in the exhibition will be presented together with archival documents. They will include the template for the collection developed by René d’Harnoncourt recorded in a series of notebooks titled “Catalogue and Desiderata. Additionally correspondence concerning the shaping of the collection through the 1960s and installation drawings and photographs of influential The Museum of Primitive Art exhibitions will also be integrated into the installation. Examination of these documents will reveal the systematic approach developed by The Museum of Primitive Art’s curatorial staff to advise Nelson Rockefeller on shaping the world’s great collection of non-Western art, or as Museum of Primitive Art curator and the AAOA department’s first head, Douglas Newton, described as “the best of everything.”
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