98 unusual at the time, the eminent scholar Louis Perrois has noted that the NMA sculpture was carved in the same workshop that executed the female Tsogo post at the NMAA (fig. 6), an object acquired by Paul and Ruth Tishman.9 It is unknown when Hirshberg and Tishman acquired their Tsogo posts, but can it be it a coincidence to find two stylistically related posts with such a close family connection? We do know that Hirshberg had acquired hers before 1974, since the post was displayed at the inaugural exhibition in that year. It stands today as the opening sculpture of the recently renovated installation of the African galleries (fig. 6). Similarly rare is the puzzling iconography of a Kissi stone figure from Guinea (fig. 7). This figure may be holding a knife or club in its left hand, but the contents of its right hand are too worn to allow for an iconographical interpretation. Although they are found in museums and private collections, the sculptural quality of Kissi stone sculptures varies greatly. This fine example forcefully displays Kissi sculptural characteristics—bulging eyes, flaring nostrils, a tri-lobe coiffure, and an intriguing iconography.10 Also rather rare in private collections are ekpu, commemorative figures from the Oron peoples in eastern Nigeria that formed part of the Hirshberg Collection (fig. 8). A recent examination of the piece has revealed that it could have been made in the late eighteenth century or early nineteenth century, a period to which another privately owned ekpu figure of a similar style has been attributed.11 Hirshberg’s audacity in collecting may be appreciated by comparing the chi-wara headdress with a powerful ART on view Besides the seventy-four objects given over the years by the Hirshbergs, eighty-three sculptures were added to the collection by other collectors, among them Denyse and Marc Ginzberg, both passionate connoisseurs. The Ginzbergs played a pivotal role not only in strengthening the Neuberger’s African holdings with fourteen major gifts, but by drawing the public’s attention to the strong formal abstraction found in even the most utilitarian objects. They also strongly supported the hiring of the Neuberger’s first curator of African art, Christa Clarke.6 The largest gift of African art bestowed on the museum, however, was that of Lawrence Gussman, which came to the museum in 1999. A notable collector and resident of Scarsdale, New York, Gussman bequeathed to the Neuberger 153 sculptures from central Africa,7 nearly doubling the size of the African collection, which now comprises more than 300 objects. His interest in central Africa grew out of his involvement with the legendary Dr. Albert Schweitzer, who in 1957 invited him to work at his hospital in Lambarané, Gabon. Gussman subsequently returned to Gabon each year for the next thirty years. Like Hirshberg, he bought most of his objects from dealers in the United States and Europe. Key Objects If the founding of a museum’s collection reflects collectors’ taste, what are the overarching characteristics of the finest objects in the NMA African collection? The first of these is rarity, both of formal execution and iconography in a field in which the preferences of collectors naturally gravitate toward what is known. The second is a concentration on lesser-known ethnic groups. Collectors like Hirshberg and Gussman were daring in some of their choices of objects. The reasons for such choices remain unexplained in Hirshberg’s case but are less so in Gussman’s. Christa Clarke suggests that because Gussman “had never collected any other types of art, he had no preconceived ideas about African art and thus was open to forms that Western collectors rarely acquired.8 Finally, and in contrast to the first two characteristics, a number of iconic examples of African sculpture anchor the Neuberger’s holdings. Among the objects in the Hirshberg Collection from lesser-known cultures is a figurative Tsogo post from central Gabon (fig. 5). Such posts were typically located at the rear of a meetinghouse (ebanza) and were either “planted” in the ground or erected against a temporary altar. Unlike Baule, Yoruba, and Senufo doors that were familiar to collectors at the time, architectural elements such as posts were not. Although this acquisition seemed FIG. 6: View of the entry to the African gallery, in which the Tsogo post greets visitors. Photo: Pauline Shapiro. FIG. 7: Kneeling figure. Kissi, Guededou region, Guinea. Before 1550. Steatite. H: 17.8 cm. Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York, inv. 1976.28.05. Gift of Eliot P. Hirshberg from the Aimee W. Hirshberg Collection of African Art. Photo: Jose Smith.
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