Sunday, February 24, 2013

Re-writing history of MoMA, NY and African Artists

It is often that one watches with despair as fiction becomes history, which is then perpetuated because some "authority" said so. I was reading a published statement recently by someone (it is not important that I name the person) who is considered knowledgeable on modern and contemporary African art to the effect that the Ethiopian artist Skunder Boghossian (1937-2003) was the first modern African artist whose work was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art, New York (MoMA). I was surprised by this, since I thought I knew a bit about this subject, having seen the Museum's acquisition records. So I went to Wikipedia--everyman's go-to encyclopedia--and behold the same statement is repeated there, but this time with a reference to the obituary written by the venerable Holland Cotter of the New York Times. The thing though is that this claim is, as far as I know, factually incorrect. Two paintings by the Zimbabwean sculptor/painter Thomas Mukarobgwa and and one sculpture by his compatriot John Ndandarika were gifted to the Museum in 1963 and included in a February 1965 MoMA exhibition of new acquisitions. Someone might say, aha, Mukarobgwa and Ndandarika works were gifted not purchased by the Museum! But guess what, the Sudanese artist Ibrahim El Salahi's painting The Mosque (1964), was purchased by MoMA in early 1965; and he even had a show the Museum that same year.
And when did the MoMA purchase Skunder Boghossian's 1964 painting Juju' Wedding?  In early 1966. As far as I know that was his first work to enter the MoMA collection.

Thankfully, it is easy to correct errors in Wikipedia. But not in the New York Times.

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