March 25, 1985 12:00 PM

by Susan Vogel and Francine N’Diaye

If nothing else, this book is the perfect tool for combating the prejudices of Western art chauvinists. The 100 West African sculptures (mostly pre-1930) pictured in it are obvious influences on modern European artists, as many of Picasso’s and Modigliani’s works, among others, implicitly acknowledge. The sculptures also are graceful, emotionally charged pieces in their own right. The works are from the inaugural exhibition of the Center for African Art in New York (the exhibit closed in January) and were borrowed from the Musée de l’Homme in Paris. That means art from the former French colonies of West Africa is over represented; there is little from the sophisticated cultures that existed in what is now Nigeria, for instance. But what there is is a fascinating combination of the abstract and the functional: an antelope headdress, for example, from the Bamana people (Mali today), intricately carved and fluidly shaped. It was used in a dance symbolizing the mythical antelope Chi Wara’s teaching man how to farm. The design is strikingly similar to the Picasso sculpture now in Chicago’s Richard J. Daley Plaza. The notes accompanying the book’s photographs are by Vogel, director of the new Center for African Art, and N’Diaye, head of the Musée de l’Homme’s Black Africa section. Their comments amplify the enjoyment offered by this provocative body of art. (Abrams, $40)

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