Los Angeles

Forms and Faces of Primitive Sculpture

Franklin Gallery

Harry A. Franklin has mounted an exhibition of primitive sculpture of such excellence as to be nearly without equal in commercial gallery circles and rivals many museum efforts. It is first of all composed of only the finest examples and secondly the range of material is both impressive and illuminating. Drawn from pre-eminent and obscure primitive cultures around the globe, the ancestor figures, totems, dance masks, fetishes, house lintels, etc., emphasize the vast inventiveness of the unsophisticated intellect when describing the human face. Prescribed by traditions, predicated by environmental conditions and religious precepts which differ with each acre of jungle soil, the visages range in demeanor from the outright amusing to the awesome, from the benign to the violent, and from the formal to the unconventional. Whether working in wood, metal, rattan, feathers, shells or seeds, the primitive artist was as creative in the uses to which he put his fragile materials as he was in the solution of the formal compositional problems faced by his profession. The aboriginal mind assessed appropriate values of balance, of texture, of line and form and color with an instinct and candor to be admired. Of special attention in this show is a New Caledonian totem post of surprising novelty, a handsome and delicately carved antelope headpiece in Bambara style from the Sudan, a fearsomely delineated Basonge mask from the Central Congo which plays convex and concave surfaces against each other in a duet of motion and a spectacular Tapairate feather dance mask from the Brazilian jungles. Strongly represented by many fine pieces is the Sepik River region of New Guinea. One cannot ignore one work from this artistically rich island—a half life-size female figure in the act of giving birth. The event is only just begun with the head of the child protruding from the vulva. This depiction when recently expressed by a contemporary Los Angeles artist became the subject of a still-to-be-concluded obscenity trial. It is interesting to mark that we find the unsophisticated primitive palatable while our own contemporary expression offends.

Curt Opliger