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József Csató: Collections // How was Africa?

An African collection and recent works by József Csató

Carved wooden sculptures and masks are characteristic of the traditional art of almost all countries of West and Central Africa, which were mainly made for various rituals, healing and contact with the spirit world. The earliest known African sculptural tradition dates back to the middle of the first millennium BC in sub-Saharan Africa, in northern Nigeria. The so-called Nok culture certainly influenced the rich sculpture of the Ifei Kingdom in South-Western Nigeria in the 11th and 17th centuries, from which area most of the sculptures of the African collection forming the basis of this exhibition come.

The exhibition features bronze and wooden sculptures from the former collection of Dr. János Pogány, a pharmacist, and his wife, collected in Nigeria in the 1960s and 1970s. Some East African objects are also part of the collection, with scrolls and Coptic crosses, silver and ebony objects from Ethiopia. Most of the bronze and wooden artefacts belong to West African, Nigerian, Beninese and mostly Igbo and Yoruba tribes, and were purchased by the collector couple in Lagos.

Many of the most outstanding pieces of African sculpture came into the possession of European collectors during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The abstract depictions of African masks and sculptures, often overriding naturalism, had a profound influence on European modernist art, which was seeking new directions. Matisse, Modigliani, Brancusi, as well as Picasso and Braque, the fathers of Cubism, drew heavily on the aesthetics of African art. Picasso painted what is traditionally regarded as the first work of Cubism, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) during his so-called African period. Since the avant-garde, tribal art has been an unquestionable part of the European art historical tradition and an important source of formal and intellectual inspiration for Western art.

The pairing presented in this exhibition is therefore not unusual in art history, the sculptures on display in József Csató's selection and the artist's recent paintings reflecting on them highlight the many interconnections between different cultures. Csató's works shown here are part of his series of 'collections', the members of which are works that basically ignore narrativity and carry elements of still life.

The paintings feature a set of exotic motifs that have long characterized Csató's artistic universe, evoking the forms of Paleolithic and African tribal art. His works often feature totemic figures and hybrids reminiscent of prehistoric, primitive cultures and civilisations, which the artist consciously combines with Western compositional schemes such as landscape, portraiture and, in this case, still life. His unique fantasy world contains diverse prehistoric and art historical references, which are further nuanced by his particular visual language, oscillating between figuration and abstraction.

The exhibition was organized in collaboration with the artist's representative, Erika Deák Gallery.


Viktória Popper

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