PURCHASE, N.Y.- The Power of Bronze: Royal Sculpture from the Kingdom of Benin, an innovative and focused exhibition featuring ten powerful copper-alloy sculptures from Benin, part of present-day Nigeria, is on view at the Neuberger Museum of Art through February 13, 2005. The visually provocative ensemble demonstrates the astonishing achievements of Benin brass casting created between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries primarily for the royal ancestral altars. In bringing together these objects from a rich artistic tradition, the Neuberger affirms its commitment to provide the public with a dynamic center for the understanding and appreciation of African art, notes Marie-Thérèse Brincard, Curatorial Advisor for the African Collection at the Neuberger Museum of Art and curator of the exhibition.
The art of the Kingdom of Benin stands alone on the African continent. As early as the late fifteenth century, travelers to West Africa remarked on the lavishness of the Court of Benin whose ritual objects made of ivory and bronze were created to establish the kings divine and political authority. It was only in 1897, however, when the British military sacked Benin City and confiscated over thousands of objects, that the art of Benin became known to Western viewers through European museums and collections. The works were recognized immediately for their unequaled artistic achievement in Africa and have been exhibited widely.
Unlike any exhibition to date, The Power of Bronze takes as its point of departure a single sixteenth-seventeenth century plaque depicting a chief warrior, or Oba (king), flanked by attendants and musicians. Ten additional sculptures radiate from the plaque, serving as emblems of leadership, regalia, life, and court rituals, some of which are also illustrated as detail on the plaque. Linking the objects to the plaque is a rare figure of an Oba with a twisted loop extending from his crown. The Oba, believed to be a divine ruler, controls the life and death of his subjects and legitimizes his power symbolically through the permanence of brass. A bronze figure from Ife, the sacred city of the Yoruba, about 100 miles southwest from Benin, connects the exhibition with the place in which bronze casting is believed to have originated.
The twelve sculptures on display in The Power of Bronze are drawn from major public and private collections including the Albright Knox-Art Gallery (Buffalo); the Brooklyn Museum (Brooklyn); The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Kansas City); the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology (Philadelphia); Denyse and Marc Ginzberg; Drs. Marian and Daniel Malcolm; Laura and James J. Ross and two anonymous lenders. Though Benin objects are the most sought after for exhibitions, a commemorative head of a king from the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and a figure of a queen mother from the collection of Drs. Marian and Daniel Malcolm are displayed for the first time.
The exhibition is curated by Marie-Thérèse Brincard, Neuberger Museum of Art Curatorial Advisor for the African Collection. A fully illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition, including essays by Dr. Barbara Winston Blackmun, University of California, San Diego and Dr. Stefan Eisenhofer, Völkerkunde Museum, Munich. The exhibition and catalogue are dedicated to the memory of Lawrence Gussman, a great collector of African art and supporter of the Neuberger Museum of Art.