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More rain was forecast for Tuesday, so I headed over to the Musée du quai Branly, which is now called the even more tounge-twisty Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac; anything but what it actually is: the (gasp!) Museum of Primitive Art. Specializing, in the words of this book cover from one of the exhibitions, in:

I’ve visited several times, but my response on this occasion was slightly different. Having spent the previous afternoon at a museum of “outsider” art I was struck by the fact that nearly all of the works in Musée du quai Branly are equally “outside” the mainstream of Western art, despite their embrace by Picasso and other giants of the 20th Century Modern Art movement. The first exhibition concerned the collector, critic and publisher Félix Fénéon (described as a, “[d]andy caché sous des allures de faux-Yankee…“), included a poignant little book in which Fénéon asked a variety of art experts whether African art would ever be admitted into the Louvre. The role he played as an advocate for African art, and the collection he amassed, were interesting, but overall this exhibition wasn’t terribly impressive. One example will illustrate his good taste, but it isn’t that different from what you find in the museum’s permanent collection:

Mask from Tanzania (wood, fiber, teeth)

The other exhibition concerned Oceania. It was well curated and wide-ranging, but again left me somewhat blasé, in part because I had spent a lot of time there and had already seen similar works to those on display. Again, here’s a nice pair of statues to give you a glimpse:

Feminine and masculine figures, About 1900, Kranket Island, Port de Madang, Bay of the Astrolabe, Papua-New Guinea.

I actually spent most of my time in the permanent collection, which I’ve visited several times. Due to the enormous size of the collection, and the extremely confusing layout, I notice new pieces every time I visit. Here are a few that I particularly liked this year, and I’ve added a Musée du quai Branly Photo Set to capture what I liked best from all my visits.

Mexican bat mask.

Kiiappaat mask of Nuka Uttuaq, population Ammassalimiut, East coast of Greenland, 1934

Mask, Population Lega, Democratic Republic of the Congo, end of the 19th century (detail)

To be honest, I think my enjoyment of the quai Branly is rather similar to my reaction to the outsider art museum the previous day: The pieces have the potential to surprise me, to weird me out, and to amuse.

They can also be beautiful and well made. But they rarely or never bring me to the same sort of aesthetic bliss as I not infrequently get from impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces. My personal response isn’t an argument against putting them in the Louvre, since I’m no more likely to enjoy the average item there. And as we know, there’s no disputing about taste.