What Is African Art? A Short History

Univ. of Chicago. Dec. 2022. 256p. ISBN 9780226793153. pap. $35. FINE ARTS
Probst’s (art history and anthropology, Tufts Univ.; coeditor, African Modernities) research explores the intersection of art and anthropology. This scholarly volume looks at how the study of African art has changed since the 19th century. The author is interested in art beyond its value as an aesthetic object, but in its social context. The volume, based on college seminars taught since 2005, is divided into three parts, loosely chronological. In the first, African art emerges as a field of study and critique—as museums in the 19th century were collecting, and African art became more visible to the world. Part two (the 1970s and ’80s) describes the Black Atlantic traditions in the United States as African art is recognized as a legitimate subfield of art history. The book concludes by discussing the reconfiguration of the field from postmodern and postcolonial perspectives and from the late 1980s to today.
VERDICT While generously illustrated to elucidate the text, this is no coffee table book for casual readers. It’s a deeply researched, important contribution to the study of art history, with relevance to disciplines beyond the study of African art.
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