Non-Western art played a pivotal role in the making of modernist painting and sculpture. Indeed, without non-Western influences the art of this century is unimaginable. What would the oeuvres of Picasso and Brancusi, to name just two prominent examples, look like had these artists never seen African art?

The relationship between modern and non-Western art was largely predicated on matters of form, and Western artists used motifs from such art with relish and respect. It would be no exaggeration to claim that for some modern artists their affinity with their non-Western counterparts bordered on kinship. Admittedly, such kinship may have been fostered on romantic (and condescending) notions about the enchantments of “primitive” societies; and, in the end, some artists may have been indifferent to the cultures from which the artifacts they admired had originated. This has become, in recent...

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