African Art in Transit

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Cambridge University Press, Jan 27, 1994 - Art - 220 pages
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African art in transit is an absorbing account of the commodification and circulation of African objects in the international art market today. Based on extensive field research among art traders in Cote d'Ivoire, Christopher Steiner analyzes the role of the African middleman in linking those who produce and supply works of art in Africa with those who buy and collect so-called "primitive" art in Europe and America. Moving easily from ethnographic vignette to social theory, Steiner provides a lucid interpretation which reveals not only a complex economic network with its own internal logic and rules, but also an elaborate process of transcultural valuation and exchange. By focusing directly on the intermediaries in the African art trade, he unveils a critical new perspective on how symbolic codes and economic values are produced and mediated in the context of shifting geographic and cultural domains. He calls into question conventional definitions of authenticity in African art, demonstrating how the categories "authentic" and "traditional" are continually negotiated and redefined by a plurality of market participants spread out across the globe. This book will appeal to anthropologists, art historians, and anyone interested in the production of value in the art world, the mediation of knowledge in transcultural exchange, the invention of traditional aesthetic forms, and the ethnography of trade and bargaining in a contemporary African setting.

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Commodity outlets and the classification of goods
The division of labor and the management of capital
An economy of words bargaining and the social production of value
The political economy of ethnicity in a plural market
The quest for authenticity and the invention of African art
Cultural brokerage and the mediation of knowledge
African art and the discourses of value

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About the author (1994)

Christopher B. Steiner is an author, researcher, and professor of Art History at Connecticut College. He is also the Director of the Museum Studies Program and directs the interdisciplinary Museum Studies Certificate Program. Steiner also taught art history and museum studies at the University of East Anglia, the University of Southern California, and the University of California - Los Angeles. Steiner conducted field research on the African art trade while he was a Fulbright scholar in Ivory Coast in 1987-88. He was awarded a postdoctoral fellow at the American Museum of Natural History. Steiner holds a B.A. and M.A. from Johns Hopkins University and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University. He is the author of the award-winning book: African Art in Transit.