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Do not fear that the African art exhibit at the Arkansas Arts Center will be too strange (or cliched) to enjoy. Thanks to Picasso and Leger and their Cubist friends and Henry Moore, our eye traces the angles and spheres and sees indigenous modernity.
The works of art, traveling from the New Orleans Museum of Art, include the instantly recognizable but perhaps unappreciated wood figures with pointy faces, pointy breasts, bent knees. Close up, the reliquary figures of the Fang people expand on the familiar; now we see the fine carving of the chessman-like figures and their individuality.
One of the most striking sculptures in this highly sculptural show is a female figure carved by a member of the Mende people of Sierra Leone. The woman’s narrow face with swept back ridges of hair intersects at a right angle with an arc that describes arms and torso, the latter engraved with circle and hatch-mark scarifications. Her legs are stacked spheres that jut out from the body in a way that suggests, in the space above the legs, hips. It is fat, slim, wide, smooth and engraved all at the same time.
A crest mask by people of Mali is the reverse of European Cubism. While Cubists address dimensionality on the flat plane of the picture, the crest mask’s sleek design — arcs and chevrons suggesting a pangolin with horns — is flattened 3-D form.
Among the 90 or so objects included in the exhibit are fabulous beaded clothing, beautifully stylized engravings on wooden panels, small figures in ivory, leopard-head hip ornaments from which bells once dangled, a drum with legs, an ancestor memorial screen that looks like American folk art, a Nigerian headdress mask with the lines of Botero, a temple post that is a man astride a donkey and more.
European doors are an opening to the art, but understanding the meaning of the work in its cultural context has to be the next step. For that, you must purchase the catalogue.
The exhibit runs through April 16.
Two hundred Gallery Walks: That’s something to celebrate, and Hot Springs is doing it up big this weekend, bringing back to town the artist Benini for a show at Gallery Central opening Thursday, Feb. 2, and arranging for a trophy presentation to the winner of the “200th Gallery Walk Celebration Race” that runs at 2:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 3, at Oaklawn Park
Benini and his wife, Lorraine, will be honored for their role in establishing Hot Springs’ identity as an “art town” at a reception from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday at Gallery Central, 800 Central Ave. Benini’s exhibit, “Under the Texas Stars,” features paintings and three-dimensional works created at his new home in the Texas hill country. The artist will be on hand for Friday’s 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Gallery Walk as well.
Blue Moon Gallery also will host after-hours parties Thursday and Friday, exhibiting work by DebiLynn Fendley, who was featured in the first gallery walk in August 1989; Bart Soutendijk; the late Wendy Boulanger and other gallery artists as well.
Jimmy Leach and Julene Baker will be featured artists at American Art Gallery. Artists Workshop Gallery will host champagne receptions Thursday and Friday in honor of Stan Rames and Michael Michaeles and will exhibit favorite works by studio artists.
The Fordyce Bath House Visitors Center will hold a reception for artist-in-residence Steve Lawnick from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday. Lawnick’s photographs are featured in the exhibit, “Beginning of a Resurrection: The Bath Houses of Hot Springs National Park,” which will remain on display through the weekend.