Choice art from Africa - handsome, fascinating

The idea was an intriguing one: to ask 10 distinguished individuals of completely different backgrounds to help Susan Vogel, executive director of the Center for African Art here, select 100 outstanding works of African art for a major traveling exhibition entitled ``Perspectives: Angles on African Art.'' Dr. Vogel chose as her co-curators Nigerian art historian Ekpo Eyo; Museum of Modern Art official William Rubin; American artists Romare Bearden and Nancy Graves; anthropologist Ivan Karp; writer James Baldwin; collector David Rockefeller; African artists Lela Kouakou and Iba N'Diaye; and art historian Robert Thompson.

Each picked 10 objects from a pool of 100 photographs, representing 55 African ethnic groups and ranging in time from rare archaeological finds to 20th-century neo-traditional sculpture. After each co-curator had made his or her choice, the pool was replenished by 10 more photographs. Thus, no one saw exactly the same works, and everyone was able to select those that best represented his or her background, tastes, and professional interests.

Needless to say, what resulted makes an extraordinarily handsome and fascinating show. It's one that is consistently high in quality and that has the added advantage of being spiced throughout by identifying labels quoting the selectors - often in colorful language - on how and why each piece was chosen.

After its closing at the center, 54 East 68th Street, on Jan. 3, 1988, this excellent exhibition travels to the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama, where it can be seen from Jan. 31 to March 27.

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