Frans M. Olbrechts 1899-1958: in Search of Art in Africa by Constantine Petridis

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Frans M. Olbrechts 1899-1958: in Search of Art in Africa Edited by Constantine Petridis

4to. pp. 327. profusely illustrated in colour & b/w. maps. bibliography. hardcover. dw. (near fine - front upper left corner of dust wrapper bit scuffed). Antwerp: Antwerp Ethnographic Museum, [2001].

Published in conjunction with an exhibition.


ISBN-10: 9077069011 / ISBN-13: 9789077069011


This collection of essays by eleven authors, also published in a Dutch edition, surveys, evaluates, and honors the career of Frans M. Olbrechts in developing African anthropology and art history in Belgium, particularly focusing on these disciplines' growth at Ghent University and the city of Antwerp. Since Olbrechts's writings were mostly in Dutch, his contributions have not received the attention that they might otherwise have gained, particularly in the United States. The contributors vary in age from the very senior to recent PhDs. The book is a most valuable addition to the study of the history of African anthropology and art history.

The occasion for this publication was an exhibition of African objects at the Antwerp Ethnographic Museum in 2001, curated by the editor of this volume, Constantine Petridis, who took his PhD in art history at Ghent. The exhibition reevaluated two earlier exhibitions that Olbrechts was involved in, the exhibition "Congolese Art" held at the City Festival Hall in Antwerp in 1937-38, which displayed 1525 objects, and the "Ivory Coast Expedition of Ghent University and the Antwerp Vleeshuis Museum," held briefly 1939. A few objects that were in those exhibitions are included in this one. Reflecting Olbrechts's interests, the recent exhibition and this catalogue focus heavily on figures, rather than on masks, despite the latter's importance in the regions of Africa that held Olbrechts's interest.

Petridis's prologue, in memory of Adriaan Claerhout (1926-2000), one of Olbrechts's first students, briefly surveys Olbrechts's contributions and suggests that, while he was director of the Royal Museum of the Belgian Congo, Tervuren, for the last ten years of his life, his most seminal contributions were made in Antwerp and at Ghent University. Olbrechts was interested in studying African art as art, but he also had a deep interest in its sociocultural setting, although his own work rarely fulfilled that aim.