We must learn what we can of all these works so that we may learn to look at them. But finally what we know about them can only enrich, not fundamentally alter, our penetration of the emotional meaning of what they are.

—Robert Goldwater

To fulfill his vision of a collection that would establish incontrovertibly that the achievements of artists from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas were comparable to those of their peers throughout history and across the globe, Rockefeller gathered around him the most knowledgeable advisors possible. Among them was Robert Goldwater, who became director of the Museum of Primitive Art in fall 1956. Goldwater first encountered non-Western art through the lens of modernism and as a prominent art critic. In contrast to d'Harnoncourt's method of prioritizing Rockefeller's acquisitions in the early 1950s, Goldwater initiated a professionalized acquisition process for making recommendations. Goldwater enforced a strict art-historical approach that blended a keen awareness of a work's aesthetics with thorough research on the context of its larger cultural significance.

Documents relating to acquisitions made by the Museum of Primitive Art before and after 1956 reveal two distinct methodologies. While d'Harnoncourt focused his concept of "primitive art" on an established typology and on acquisitions made from a small number of sources, Goldwater substantially broadened those frames of reference. He reached out to colleagues throughout Europe and America for information and expertise and widened the network of vendors from whom the Museum of primitive Art made purchases. As the ambition of Rockefeller's collecting became known, increasing numbers of exceptionally important works were proposed to him for acquisition. Goldwater and his staff vetted and provided a preliminary review of what ultimately became landmarks of the collection.

Selected Artworks

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