The European market for African objects emerged in the early twentieth century in Paris, when artists working there began considering the artifacts found in anthropology and ethnography museums as artworks.
Commodified African objects usually arrive in North America and Western Europe through a path either mediated by several dealers or through their purchase as souvenirs by tourists in Africa. Initially, these objects sell for a low price that escalates considerably once they reach North American and European collectors. The market value of an object depends on how the purchasing culture views it, not the producing culture. Objects gain monetary value because of their formal qualities, exotic appeal, and degree of “authenticity.” A complex construct within the discourse on African objects, the authenticity of an object directly relates to its use within its culture of origin. While some objects first created as everyday or ritual objects later become commodified, others are intentionally made to be sold. Such objects made for the market rather than to be used locally are deemed “inauthentic.”
The objects in this display previously belonged to private collections. Skidmore alumna Ivy Becker ‘82 acquired the staff in 1994 and donated it to the college in 1997; Bill and Gale Simmons donated the bell in 2000 as part of a larger collection, mainly purchased through New York City dealers. Official appraisals that came with their donation confirmed their “authenticity” and thus validated their market value.