Agunna of Oke Igbira (d. circa 1930), Yoruba culture, Nigeria, Veranda Post, early 20th century, wood, pigment, Museum Purchase, Lawrence Archer Wachs Fund, 2003.271.
The reinstallation of the Cincinnati Art Museum’s permanent collection of African art was unveiled on December 10. African artifacts, including masks worn by ritual performers, the tools of healers, objects of status used by community leaders, textiles and other decorative items used in the home, have gone on view, some for the first time.
Cincinnati Art Museum’s African art collection has a rich history that started in 1889, just three years after the museum opened its doors, with an exhibition featuring artwork collected by Carl Steckelmann.
The Steckelmann collection of nearly 1,300 objects was purchased in 1890, making the Cincinnati Art Museum one of the first to acquire a major collection of African art. Steckelmann’s personal story and his collection are featured in the new gallery space. Some objects are on display in visible storage drawers, revealing the depth and breadth of this impressive and extensive collection.
The museum has continued to expand its African art collection over the years with the help of donors and patrons, widening its geographic reach beyond central and western Africa—the areas most traveled by Steckelmann.
The reinstallation was led by Cincinnati Art Museum Chief Curator Cynthia Amnéus. Nichole Bridges, associate curator for African art at the St. Louis Museum of Art, and local scholar William Hommel lent their expertise to this project, choosing works of the highest aesthetic merit.
“We are very excited to reintroduce our African collection reinstalled in a new gallery with a new interpretation,” said Amnéus. “The museum has an important and historical connection to African art in the Carl Steckelmann collection. Accompanied by other important pieces, this gallery will bring African art to life and make it relevant for all ages. Some of the objects in the gallery are light sensitive, requiring that they be rotated off view from time to time. This will give us the opportunity to bring additional objects out of storage and we encourage visitors to return again and again to engage with the objects created by these accomplished African artists."
In line with the Cincinnati Art Museum’s strategic plan and just over a year after the reinstallation of the museum’s permanent collection of Western antiquities was unveiled, the new African gallery helps expand the museum’s diverse, encyclopedic collection on view.
“We are immensely proud to open our new African art gallery at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Our African collections are an early part of the museum’s collecting history and are evidence of the deep, rich and complex story of a diverse continent. It is my hope that our new African gallery will link people and perspectives across cultures and history at the Cincinnati Art Museum,” said Cameron Kitchin, the Louis and Louise Dieterle Nippert Director of the Cincinnati Art Museum.