An African Affair
February 15 - April 19, 2015
December 2012, thirty earthenware pots and a few clay and wood sculptures arrived at the Museum, a gift from Thomas McNemar who spent twenty years in West Africa amassing an extensive collection of African art. He became a dealer whose clients ranged from major European and Stateside museums to private collectors across two continents. He returned to America and opened a gallery in New York, followed by a stint in San Francisco before settling in Lexington, Virginia, where he grew up.
December 2013, another gift turned up, again from Mr. McNemar. Over 120 sculptures include carved storage boxes, chief’s chairs, lidded wooden bowls, fertility objects, an oversized, society house heddle pulley, fetishes, shrine figures from a house of the ancestors, and masks and more masks. A Kwele (Gabon) hanged man figure used to remind a culture not to commit adultery and an emaciated figure to ward off AIDS join society house statues, reliquary objects, and textiles. The cultural and geographic roots are as varied as the objects themselves. The Museum’s collection comes from fifty cultures found in seventeen West and Central African countries.
The late Barton Benes introduced Mr. McNemar to the North Dakota Museum of Art. Barton’s own collections, including over fifty African masks plus significant sculptures, now reside on the top floor of the Museum in Barton’s Place, a recreation of his art-filled New York apartment. Over the years Benes, McNemar, and Museum Director Laurel Reuter became friends. Benes had swapped his own art for McNemar’s “African stuff” so it seemed fitting that it all comes back together in North Dakota. McNemar explained, “If I give my collection to the Smithsonian Museum it will go forever into storage. If I give it to the North Dakota Museum of Art people will see it.”
North Dakota Museum of Art Press Release