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In the years after the end of the First World War, large numbers of Africans and African Americans emigrated to the cities of Europe in search of work and improved social conditions. Their impact on white European society was immense. In Paris, where the artistic climate was particularly sensitive and experimental, avant-garde artists courted black personalities such as Josephine Baker, Henry Crowder, and Langston Hughes for their sense of style, vitality, and "otherness." Leger, Picasso, Brancusi, Man Ray, Giacometti, Sonia Delaunay, and others enthusiastically collected African sculptures and wore tribal jewelry and clothes. More importantly, they adopted black forms in their work, and their style soon influenced a larger audience anxious to be in vogue. A passion for black culture swept through Paris, and by the end of the 1920s, black forms that had provided the initial spark to the modernist vision had become the commercially successful Art Deco style. Negrophilia, from the French negrophilie--the contemporary term to describe the craze--examines this commingling of black and white cultures in jazz-age Paris. Painting, sculpture, photography, popular music, dance, theater, literature, journalism, furniture design, fashion, and advertising--all are scrutinized to show how black forms were appropriated, adapted, and popularized by white artists. The photographs, writings, and memorabilia of poet Guillaume Apollinaire, art collectors Paul Guillaume and Albert Barnes, shipping heiress and publisher Nancy Cunard, and Surrealists Michel Leiris and Georges Bataille help to recreate the contemporary atmosphere. The book raises questions about the avant-garde's motives, and suggests reasons and meaning for its interest. 115 b/w photographs and illustrations.
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Petrine Archer-Straw, a freelance art historian and curator, lives in Jamaica. She has written and lectured internationally on various aspects of modern art and culture.From Library Journal:
Black culture was very much in vogue in avant-garde Paris in the 1920s as white artists celebrated it as a means of escaping bourgeois values. At the same time, an emphasis on the "primitive" often reduced blacks to racist stereotypes. In this lively, highly accessible study, Archer-Shaw utilizes her background as an art historian and curator to discuss black life and its complex, often disturbing interaction with white European society. The focus on art (including painting, photography, fashion, and sculpture) distinguishes this book from other important works such as Michel Fabre's From Harlem to Paris (LJ 11/15/91), which concentrates on the literary scene, and Tyler Stovall's more general Paris Noir: African Americans in the City of Light (LJ 12/96). Archer-Straw's book also differs from these works by devoting considerable attention to whites as well as blacks, including shipping heiress Nancy Cunard, art collector Paul Guillaume, and photographer Man Ray. Recommended for all collections with an interest in black culture and/or art. (Notes and bibliography not seen.)DLouis J. Parascandola, Long Island Univ., Brooklyn, NY
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