Pioneering Scholar of Nigerian Art Gifts Major Collection To the Newark Museum

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Dr. Simon Ottenberg gifts 145 works of art, including paintings, sculpture and works on paper, more than doubling the Newark Museum’s existing collection of modern and contemporary African art.

Ada Udechukwu; Untitled, 2000; Pen, ink and wash on paper, 12 ¼ x 16 ¼ in.; The Simon Ottenberg Collection, gift to the Newark Museum, 2012 2012.38.24

The Newark Museum has announced a major gift of modern and contemporary African art from the collection of Dr. Simon Ottenberg, emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Washington, Seattle, and a pioneering scholar of modern and contemporary Nigerian art. The gift of some 145 works of art, including paintings, sculpture and works on paper, more than doubles the Museum’s existing collection of modern and contemporary African art. The strength of the collection resides in pre- and post-independence period works by Nigerian artists, with additional works by artists from South Africa, Sierra Leone and Ghana. Selected works from the collection will make their debut at the Museum in the upcoming exhibition The Art of Translation: The Simon Ottenberg Gift of Modern and Contemporary Nigerian Art, opening May 15.

Ottenberg developed his collection over the past 50 years, acquiring most of the works during research trips to Africa, and often directly from the artists themselves. His initial fieldwork in Nigeria during the 1950s and 1960s focused on traditional arts of the Afikpo Igbo culture. In the early 1990s, Ottenberg redirected his scholarship toward modern and contemporary Nigerian art, believing that the artists deserved to be better known. His research culminated in the 1997 exhibition, The Poetics of Line: Seven Artists of the Nsukka Group, at the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution. This groundbreaking exhibition introduced artists such as the now celebrated El Anatsui to a wider American audience.

“We are thrilled to be the home for this important collection,” said Dr. Christa Clarke, the Museum’s Senior Curator, Arts of Africa. “With Dr. Ottenberg’s transformative gift, the Museum can present more comprehensively the creative contributions of Africa’s artists over the past century and in doing so, contribute to an expanded understanding of art movements across the globe.”

Speaking of the decision to gift his collection to the Museum, Ottenberg said, “I chose the Newark Museum since it is a first-rate institution of long standing, has an energetic and innovative curator of African art, and is a place where my modern and contemporary art works help strengthen an important section of the collection.” Ottenberg will be recognized for his major gift, as well as his lifelong contributions to scholarship on African art and culture, on May 11 when he will receive the Newark Museum’s Distinguished Collector Award at its annual Gala. Gala attendees will be able to see works from the Ottenberg gift in the exhibition The Art of Translation before it opens to the public.

The Art of Translation takes a historical overview of modern and contemporary Nigerian art, presenting 24 works spanning the 1940s to 2000 by artists including Akinola Lasekan, Uche Okeke, Bruce Onobrakpeya, Jacob Afolabi, Obiora Udechukwu, Ada Udechukwu, Chinwe Uwatse, Olu Oguibe, Chika Okeke-Agulu and Marcia Kure. The exhibition considers how these artists have drawn upon their nation’s cultural and aesthetic traditions, translating their meanings, forms and functions as they have navigated the country’s changing social and political landscape. The Art of Translation is curated by Perrin Lathrop, Curatorial Associate, Arts of Africa, and remains on view through November 3.

“Over the past decade, the Newark Museum has been committed to collecting and exhibiting contemporary art from Africa,” said Mary Sue Sweeney Price, the CEO and Director of the Newark Museum. “To receive this major gift from Dr. Ottenberg – a pioneering collection – is also a testament to the groundbreaking role of the Newark Museum in expanding public understanding of African art.”

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The Newark Museum is located at 49 Washington Street in the Downtown/Arts District of Newark, New Jersey, just 3 blocks from NJPAC and 10 miles west of New York City. The Museum is open all year round: Wednesdays through Sundays, from Noon – 5:00 p.m. Suggested Museum admission: Adults, $10.00; Children, Seniors and Students with valid I.D., $6.00. Newark Residents and Members are admitted free. The Museum Café is open for lunches Wednesday through Sunday. Convenient parking is available for a fee. The Newark Museum campus, including its collections, facilities, and other resources, is accessible to accommodate the broadest audience possible, including individuals utilizing wheelchairs, with physical impairments, other disabilities, or special needs. For general information, call 973-596-6550 or visit our web site,

Newark Museum, a not-for-profit museum of art, science and education, receives operating support from the City of Newark, the State of New Jersey, the New Jersey Council on the Arts/Department of State — a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, the New Jersey Cultural Trust, the Prudential Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Victoria Foundation, the Wallace Foundation and other corporations, foundations and individuals. Funds for acquisitions and activities other than operations are provided by members and other contributors.

The Newark Museum is just a few steps from the new NJTransit Light Rail Washington Park Station. Direct connection with the Light Rail at the Broad Street Station and through Penn Station makes the Museum a convenient ride from all points in the region.

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Lisa Batitto
Newark Museum
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