The William Rubin Kota, like no other sculpture, embodies the aesthetic principles that informed Picasso in the creation of Cubism. In the Kota sculptor’s rendering of the female figure we see the deconstruction of three-dimensionality, which Picasso would forcefully tackle in 1907 with Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. ‘The William Rubin Kota is the quintessential link between styles and origins seen throughout art history,’ observes Susan Kloman, International Head of Christie’s African and Oceanic Art department.
William Rubin, the legendary curator of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, created an enduring legacy, not only by building the institution’s incomparable collection, but also by creating the most important art exhibitions of the 20th century, chiefly his Picasso and Braque: Pioneering Cubism in 1989.
The William Rubin Kota, Master artist, Gabon, 19th century. Wood, brass, copper, iron. Height: 26 in. (66 cm.) © 2015 Visko Hatfield. This work is offered in our sale, Arts d’Afrique, d’Oceanie et d’Amerique du Nord, in Paris on 23 June
More than a visionary, Rubin was a revolutionary with the ability to distil the most complex theories of art into comprehensible language, a gift that won him the accolade ‘the oracle of Modernism’. He was a revolutionary furthermore in his capacity to put ideas into action, as seen in 1984 with his paradigm-shifting exhibition at MoMA, ‘Primitivism’ in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern. The Kota sculpture was part of that exhibition, which demonstrated how African art influenced the evolution of modern art, particularly in the work of avant-garde artists such as Alberto Giacometti whose standing figures recall the Kota’s striking profile. Giacometti, like Rubin, owned a Kota sculpture and clearly found inspiration in its unique aesthetic.
ANTENNAModernism’s African rootsRead more
The rich history of this Kota figure stretches from 19th century Africa to Paris and then New York in the 1930s, where it was part of the legendary collection of Helena Rubinstein. It was a key work at the first major US exhibition dedicated to African art, African Negro Art, at MoMA in 1935, when the institution was still in its infancy. This seminal exhibition, organised by James Johnson Sweeney, was documented in a celebrated album of photographs by Walker Evans.
The Kota held pride of place in Rubinstein’s modernist apartment from 1931 until her death in 1966. It was then acquired from the auction of her estate by David and Carmen Kreeger, the eminent American collectors of Modernist and Impressionist art. William Rubin, one of the greatest ‘seers’ of our time, succeeded in acquiring this icon for his collection through his characteristic determination in the quest for excellence and beauty.
It is now offered at auction for only the second time in almost a century.