African Art: a prestigious Swiss collection

Milan, Wednesday 14 October 2020


Dan (Ivory Coast), region of Man on the border with Liberia

Wood with a crusted coating that hides traces of red dye
H 23 cm
It is sculpted in a manner that transmits emotion. The open mouth seems to indicate a voice emitting a sound. This mask’s function was to protect the owner and their family.The small iron wire fixed on its forehead was an important element in divinatory rituals. Indeed, the owner, to induce the spirit who acted as an intermediary between the world of the living and the afterlife, would scatter a mixture of magic substances around the iron to invoke the spirit’s protection. This act, repeated throughout the years, has left marks on the surface of the wood and shows how long this mask has been used for rituals.All around the edge, there are holes in a square section which are found in other Dan masks produced in the nineteenth century. Under the chin, there is a fragment of a beard made of vegetable fibres.


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- Former Serge Brignoni (*) collection, acquired before the ‘40s;
- Former private collection (Lugano);


- FISCHER EBERHARD & HIMMELHEBER HANS “Die Kunst der Dan” Rietberg Museum Zurich 1976;
- GIANINAZZI CLAUDIO & GIORDANO CHRISTIAN “Culture Extraeuropee: Collezione Serge e Graziella Brignoni” City of Lugano Edition 1989;
- MUSEE DE L’HOMME “Arts primitifs dans les ateliers d’artistes: Serge Brignoni” Paris 1967;

(*) Serge Brignoni (Chiasso 1903 - Bern 2002). A painter and sculptor who was born in Chiasso in 1903, Serge Brignoni developed a passion for the art of the “South Seas” which, since the start of the 1900s, had started to appear in Europe. He was awestruck by sculptures created by people in the Far East, India, south-east Asia, Indonesia and Oceania, particularly for the way they creatively depicted a fantastical, surreal world. Between 1930 and 1980, he collected a large amount of so-called “primitive” art sculptures in the European antiques’ market. The curiosity he felt observing the many objects that came from Oceania oriented his artistic career towards the experience of Surrealism and metaphysical art.In 1925, he discovers African art. During a trip to Paris, he visits the many antique galleries which, in those years, displayed objects from French colonies in Africa. It is this that allows him to come into contact with African sculpting, where he admires the way they are stylised and the purity of their forms. From there onwards, he starts his stellar career as a collector and connoisseur of ethnic art. But his sculpting work continues without pause and his works place him among the key figures of Surrealism on an international level. Throughout the years, the city of Lugano dedicates many cultural initiatives to him, which exhibit some of his works. There are numerous exhibitions dedicated to Brignoni as a collector of primitive art: evocative exhibitions presented to the public of Lugano in the Palace of Extra-European Cultures (Museum of Villa Ciani).It is to this Museum that Brignon donates his vast collection of primitive art works in 1985.


African Art

Via Paolo Sarpi, 6 - milano
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