For its seventh iteration, Modern & Tribal Masters – an ephemerous pop-up exhibition re-named Cross Collecting NOW !, is on show at Berney Fine Arts, Münsterplatz 17 in Basel. This yearly event, concurrent with ART BASEL, brings together major works of art from the classical modern and contemporary art scene of the West with Masterworks of Tribal Art from Oceania, Africa, and the Arctic Circle.
In this temporary, week long exhibition the galleries show superb works of art from notable artists such as Alexander Calder, Anish Kapoor, Joan Miro, Kenneth Noland, Antonio Saura, Louis Soutter, Frank Stella side by side, and in dialogue, with Tribal Master Works such as a magnificent green jade Hei Tiki from the early Maori culture of New Zealand, a superbly carved, wood Mwei mask representing a male ancestor from the Sepik River of Papua New Guinea, a remarkable pair of Eskimo sun goggles from Alaska, or an extremely rare, basalt, zoomorphic effigy from the archaic Akwanshi/Atal cult of the Ekom, in Nigeria.
Western art has an esthetic and moral connection to the Non-Western arts, and it has incorporated the art of these far-off lands and cultures–directly into the foundations of 20th and 21st century art–making them now inseparable. The founding of radical and new artistic movements in Western art dates to the birth of the XXth century and was often caused by the obvious interconnection between Tribal Art and the artists, collectors, and dealers in Europe and the Americas. Following this trend, Tribal Art became an instant and constant source of inspiration, as one of the most essential and seminal encounters and influences leading up to the art of today, considering the early days when Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, André Derain and Maurice de Vlaminck introduced Tribal Art to the western world.
Cross Collecting seems new in the approach to assembling and exhibiting art, even though merely few collectors live with art, objects and furniture relating to only one period. Tribal art and glassworks from the 1930s might be exhibited on a contemporary design table with Modern paintings nearby. In fact, mixing styles is not as unusual as it seems at first sight: wealthy Romans showed objects and statuary from previous periods and styles, side by side with contemporary artworks. Renaissance Princesses and Princes were not limiting their sophisticated tastes to art from their century and their collections included many artefacts from Hellenistic and Roman times. In the following centuries, the same interest persisted in cultural and wealthy circles: the evolution of taste and science created the “Cabinet de Curiosités” or Wunderkammer (Cabinet of Wonders) by mixing rare stones, art objects, taxidermized animals and birds, tribal art, exquisite books, Medieval manuscripts, and paintings in a single study room.
Solely in the 19th century science has been separated from art, categorizing periods and styles for educational reasons. This was the time of creation for the Natural History Museums with distinct departments in Geology, Zoology and Anthropology. Antique and Modern Art Galleries were opened, Art History and Connoisseurship flourished. The 20th century collectors and auction houses followed the trend and bought artworks in all categories.
Today Cross Collecting is back in fashion: museums like the “Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature” in Paris invite contemporary artists to exhibit their art in dialogue with the specialized artefacts of their permanent collections, the Louvre in Paris invited famed Israeli artist Michal Rovner in 2015 to project her videos on antique artefacts, art fairs such as “Frieze Masters” in London are a good example of this trend where stands mix Antique and Tribal objects, as well as Old Masters with more recent art.