Exceptional African & Oceanic figures and how they inspired contemporary art

African & Oceanic Art specialist Susan Kloman unveils the standout pieces from a special sale on 12 May at Christie’s New York

Pairing works from the Ivory Coast, Mali, Gabon and Congo regions with those by Picasso, Giacometti, Basquiat, Bacon and Baselitz might seem like an unlikely combination. Yet, these contemporary and modern masters all absorbed the movements, shapes, forms and originality of African cultures as part of their artistic foundation.

As African and Oceanic Art specialist Susan Kloman relates, artworks from the region has directly influenced modern and contemporary art. Affinities of form reveal themselves: an important Bioma figure from New Guinea is echoed in surrealist works and the creations of Jean Dubuffet; the Rubinstein Dan mask from the Ivory Coast ‘shifts the paradigm of how we consider the human face just as Francis Bacon’s work rivets us through similar brute transformations’. The dialogue has been both rich and long standing.

Drawing inspiration from ‘Primitivsm’ in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, William Rubin’s seminal 1984 exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Christie’s New York will offer a finely curated sale of 11 lots during 20th Century Week. By interspersing the figures within viewing galleries exhibiting works from the Impressionist & Modern Art and the Post-War and Contemporary Art sales, the clear intent is to continue the conversation.