31 October – 7 December 2002
Presented at White Cube the exhibition Works from the Chapman Family Collection comprised an extraordinary assemblage of rare ethnographic and reliquary fetish objects that subsequent generations of the Chapman family have diligently added to over a period of seventy years. With the exception of a very few isolated works generously exhibited in Africa: The Art of a Continent at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, the collection has never before been displayed in its shameless entirety. Highlights of the Chapman Family Collection include virtually unknown primitive trophies and initiation masks from the former colonial regions of Camgib, Seirf and Ekoc, and as such are recognised by accredited experts as being the most noteworthy in the whole wide world. In terms of the genealogy of our own contemporary culture, the Chapman Family Collection traces the latent influences impressing upon it - those mute voices found simmering in the ritualistic embers of a primordial dawn. In its monolithic stoicism it reverberates with the history of a culture pillaged by industrial colonialism. However, its beauty remains both intact and contagious. In fact, ever since twentieth-century colonialism began to rake virgin soil for essential minerals and discovered in the objects of primitive art a seam of rich and untouched treasures, its own lineage was irrevocably altered by the unwitting destructive interruption of paradise. The Chapman Family Collection shows how fruitful economic endeavour ignited the artistic passions of Picasso, Matisse and Braque, whose interest in ethnographic art began to dissipate the long shadow cast over it by Western culture. Through the visionary sight of these untimely artists ethnographic art was both reconciled and fused with Modernism, creating timeless forms and enabling Global culture to harmonise in a singular poetic language.
To this unfathomable end The Chapman Family Collection enables the viewer a palpable and clear-sighted passage to appreciate their inner and outer experience - to witness the core emotive force shared by primitive analogue and technological artist alike. In its bountiful breadth the Chapman Family Collection is capable of showing art forms crystallised into their purest and simplest intensity and sensuality - where the voices of the deceased and living crave, like us, for the divine while fearing the powerful riddle of infinity. The primitive naive artist, like the modern, knows fully well that the world runs on power. Power from water, wood, wind, petroleum, and nuclear power heats our homes and carries us from one place to another. It cooks the village food and takes the philanthropist to distant lands and helps him carry back the elegant artifacts that enrich our understanding and appreciation of beauty. We know that political and economic power organises, motivates, and runs the societies in which we live, but spiritual power is perhaps the most potent of all, because it provides humankind with the ability to order our world and to understand Nature in the fateful elaboration of our well-being and our disease, our safety and disaster. The Chapman Family Collection is an embodiment of skillful control that demonstrates that the divine manipulation of spiritual power is one of the principle functions of ethnographic art.