African art in transit is an absorbing account of the commodification and circulation of African objects in the international art market today. Based on extensive field research among art traders in Cote d'Ivoire, Christopher Steiner analyzes the role of the African middleman in linking those who produce and supply works of art in Africa with those who buy and collect so-called "primitive" art in Europe and America. Moving easily from ethnographic vignette to social theory, Steiner provides a lucid interpretation which reveals not only a complex economic network with its own internal logic and rules, but also an elaborate process of transcultural valuation and exchange. By focusing directly on the intermediaries in the African art trade, he unveils a critical new perspective on how symbolic codes and economic values are produced and mediated in the context of shifting geographic and cultural domains. He calls into question conventional definitions of authenticity in African art, demonstrating how the categories "authentic" and "traditional" are continually negotiated and redefined by a plurality of market participants spread out across the globe. This book will appeal to anthropologists, art historians, and anyone interested in the production of value in the art world, the mediation of knowledge in transcultural exchange, the invention of traditional aesthetic forms, and the ethnography of trade and bargaining in a contemporary African setting.
"...an important contribution to African studies as a whole, and anthropology of African art and economics in particular. It is a detailed and lucid ethnological account of the way in which middlemen construct value in the art markets in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire. A vital study for anyone interested in contemporary African Art, it is, for the field to date, the most theoretically informed study of authenticity as a construct, and as it is used in the market to create value. For African art, it is a landmark study..." International Journal of African Historical Studies "...a welcome contribution to the anthropology of art and transnational markets." Times Higher Education Supplement "African Art in Transit is one of the most important works published in African studies in recent years; it is a work to be celebrated." Journal of African History "[Steiner] can conjure the social milieu and dynamism of the African market as effortlessly as he can negotiate, with a soufflee lightness yet unerring insight, among the heavyweights of social theory." Antiquity "A long needed, landmark volume which draws attention to an area of research generally neglected in both the art and sociological literature...I shall eagerly assign it in courses I teach." Anthropos "The work is written in a clear, creative style, with eloquent descriptive phrases, making this important theoretical as well as factual and analytic study a reading delight. The bibliography and index are very complete; the references are meticulous in providing solid field documentation and other sources; and a 30-page section of notes contributes a wealth of additional, related information...This study fills a critical gap in the fields of anthropology and art history; it also contributes valuable cross-cultural materials to political economy and sociology." Choice "Steiner has written an important and comprehensive description of trade in West African art objects...Steiner's book is very valuable to both anthropologists and art historians. He is an excellent fieldworker besides being thoroughly versed in the 'literature'." J. R. Rayfield, Canadian Journal of African Studies "...specialized but illuminating work." Publishers Weekly "'African Art in Transit' is an important contribution to African studies as a whole, and the anthropology of African art and economics in particular. A detailed and lucid ethnographic account of the way in which middlemen construct value in the art markets in Abijan, Cote d'Ivoire, it is, for the field to date, the most theoretically informed study of authenticity as a construct, and as it is used in the market to create value. For African art, it is a landmark study for the ways in which it brings social and economic theory to bear on the creation of surplus value through bargaining processes, that is, through the competitive 'meditation of knowledge' in the art market." Jonathan Zilberg, The International Journal of African Historical Studies