chapter  12
17 Pages

The Exotic Primitive

ByBen Burt

The art world’s fascination with colonial notions of primitive culture has motivated the Western collection of exotic artefacts and influenced its own painting and sculpture. Accordingly, exotic artefact traditions have been appropriated by the art world with condescension, ranging from patronizing to hostile, evoking stereotypes such as Orientals and primitives. The idea that certain peoples were primitive, representing the ancient antecedents of the Western civilization that was destined to improve or supersede them, was at first an impediment to appreciation of their artefacts, which were long collected as “curios” rather than as “art.” Primitive art actually gained popularity from the work of European painters and sculptors who discovered the idea in the 1900s. As authentic primitive art, exotic artefacts became commodities to be bought and sold on the lucrative international art market through which wealthy countries stocked their public and private collections.