Roger Bediat, Abidjan, collected in situ 1920s-1930s
Hélène and Henri Kamer, Cannes, acquired from the above in the 1960s
Hélène and Philippe Leloup, Paris and New York
Robert Rubin, New York, acquired from the above between June 1988 - June 1989
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Baule. African Art, Western Eyes, August 30, 1997 - January 4, 1998; additional venues:
The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, February 14 - May 10, 1998
Museum for African Art, New York, September 11, 1998 - January 3, 1999
Museum for African Art/UBS Gallery, New York, Reflections: African Art Is..., July 1 - September 10, 2004
Pierre Meauzé, L'art nègre: sculpture, Paris 1967, p. 64, no. 1
Margaret Trowell and Hans Nevermann, African and Oceanic Art, New York, 1968, p. 105
John McKesson, "La Collection de Robert Rubin", Arts d'Afrique Noire, no. 71, Autumn 1989, p. 14
Susan M. Vogel, Baule. African Art, Western Eyes, New Haven, 1997, p. 15
Since the first publication of several Baule sculptures in Carl Einstein's seminal book Negerplastik in 1915 (see plates 53-57, 60, 89, and 93-95), Baule art has been at the core of Western appreciation of African art. The Baule style is seen as one of the canonic African art traditions and its art historical significance is rivaled only by few other cultures such as the Fang (Gabon), Dogon (Mali), Kongo (Western DRC) or Luba/Hemba (Eastern DRC).
In her landmark publication Baule. African Art, Western Eyes, Susan Vogel (1997: 26 and 28) notes: "While the relative naturalism and consummate workmanship of Baule objects were praised at the outset, today these objects are appreciated for their subtle rhythms and a beauty that stops short of sweetness. To the Western eye, an essence of Baule style is a balanced asymmetry that enlivens while suggesting stability and calm. [...] To an art historian, the most consistent feature of Baule art, and one expressed across the wide variety of Baule object types, is a kind of peaceful containment. Faces tend to have downcast eyes and figures often hold their arms against the body, so that Westerners might feel that the mood of much classical Baule art is introspective."
II. Statuary for Trance Diviners
As LaGamma (2000: 23) explains, from "a Baule perspective, human experience evolves out of and remains inextricably tied to the ancestral world (blolo) - referred to as "the village of truth" - which controls and determines the fate of the living. Blolo affects the quality of harvests or the availability of game as well as the physical well-being and fertility of members of the community. The underlying causes and solutions to collective and individual difficulties that arise are relayed by diviners. This information [was believed to be revealed to the diviners] by the omniscient gods and ancestors within blolo through various methods, such as dreams, dances performed while in trance, and several divinatory instruments [...]. Diviners commission[ed] figurative works as a means of attracting [the attention of bush spritis, called asye usu] and bringing them out of the bush and into the village. The sculpture is described as asye usu's "stool," because the spirit uses it as a resting point. Such works represent idealized male or female figures in their prime, which the asye usu consider desirable forms to inhabit."
Artists commissioned with the creation of sculptures used in divination had to follow closely the instructions of the diviners who might have been told certain details about the figure's required physical appearance, posture, scarification marks, jewelry and hairstyle by the asye usu bush spirit itself, often during a dream. According to LaGamma (loc. cit.), the "level of artistry directly affect[ed] their owner's ability to prophesize by seducing nature spirits and inducing them to divulge insights into the human condition." And Vogel (1997: 221) continues: "The largest, oldest and most elaborate Baule figure sculptures are made as the loci for gods and spirits that possess their human partners and send messages through them in trance state."
III. The Rubin Baule Statue
At exactly 24 inches (61 cm) height, the Rubin Baule Male Statue is of monumental scale and one of the most refined Baule sculptures known. A tour de force work with majestic presence, it gives testimony to the highest level of Baule artistry. The upstanding composed posture, strong calves, beatuiful triparted beard and coiffure, symmetrical scarification patterns and the serene facial expression incarnate a physical and moral ideal within Baule society. In her discussion of a iconographically closely related pair of Baule figures of smaller scale from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Vogel (1997: 236) elaborates further on this ideal: "Their beautiful [...] coiffures, and their refined scarifications demonstrate their desire to please; their clean, healthy skin, and rounded muscles show they can work successfully, producing food and crafting the things needed by society. At ease in the world, their flexed legs show compressed energy, and the muscular tension of alertness."
The surviving corpus of Baule statues of comparable scale and quality to the Rubin Male Statue is extremely small: cf. the aforementioned pair of male and female figures with half-open eyes in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, which was previously also in the collection of Hélène and Henri Kamer (published in Vogel 1997: 236); a seated female figure with closed eyes previously in the collection of Jennifer Pinto Safian (loc. cit.: 61); a standing female figure published in Einstein (1915: pls. 54-56); a male figure in the Folkwang Museum, Essen (Einstein 1915: pl. 57); and a standing male figure previously in the collection of James Johnson Sweeney (Sweeney 1935: cat. 69).
A distinctive feature of the Rubin Statue is the individual carving and insertion of wooden nipples. This feature is not known from any other Baule figure. The practice might have the same cultural roots as the individual carving and insertion of wooden plugs in old Attie (an Akan speaking group like the Baule) figures to represent scarification marks. The fact that in more recent Attie sculptures the scarification marks are not carved indivudally and inserted anymore could hint to a ritual significance of the insertion, e.g. the figure's spiritual activation through the diviner. Applied to the Rubin Statue this interpretation would suggest great age, a speculation which is further supported by the works early provenance and exceptionally fine patina, suggesting long ritual use.
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