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Home » News » Spotlight on Alumna Susan Kloman, Christie’s Specialist in African & Oceanic Art

Spotlight on Alumna Susan Kloman, Christie’s Specialist in African & Oceanic Art

Published August 24, 2016

Kloman_smSusan Kloman received her MA in Art History at FSU in 1997, with studies and publications focussed primarily in tribal arts and early modern art. Almost twenty years later, those research interests continue to inform her professional activities. As International Specialist in African and Oceanic Art at Christie’s, Kloman travels between New York and Paris curating, arranging, and promoting art auctions that illuminate the influence of tribal arts on modern Western art.

Kloman’s 1997 thesis “Imogen Cunningham’s On Mount Rainier series” was written under the direction of Professor Karen Bearor. That same year her paper “Paula Modersohn-Becker and the Discourse of Motherhood in Turn-of-the-Century Germany,” presented in our 15th annual Graduate Symposium, was published in Athanor. Susan’s graduate research interests also included tribal Oceanic and African art, an interest which flourished in classes and travels with Professor Jehanne Teilhet-Fisk.

kloman_africaninfluenceAfter receiving her MA, Kloman moved to New York and began working in the art market. She served as head of the department of African and Oceanic Art at Sotheby’s and also worked as an independent consultant in the field until 2008, when she joined Christie’s as International Head of African and Oceanic Art.  In this position she oversees sales in Paris and New York, and has been instrumental in bringing high-profile pieces to auction: a Kota guardian figure originally owned by MoMA curator William Rubin, a Baule mask once owned by Picasso and later by foremost Picasso dealer Jan Krugier, and an Ivory Coast female figure attributed to the “Rockefeller Master,” which sold for $2.4 million.  The latter was part of a tightly curated New York auction this spring, Evolution of Form: African & Oceanic Art at the Genesis of Modernism, in which Kloman collaborated with specialists in modern art to focus on a few key pieces of African and Oceanic tribal art which had specifically influenced modern artists.

It is fascinating to see how Kloman’s graduate school interests have matured in her high-profile position in the international art market, and how she shares those interests through her work. In many recent curated sales and promotional materials for Christie’s, she elucidates the influence of African tribal arts on modern and contemporary artists from Picasso to Basquiat.  In an interview with Aesthetica magazine in 2013, Kloman discusses the Baule mask that was an essential source of inspiration for Pablo Picasso and ultimately for modern art as we know it: “It’s difficult to imagine today the shock and power African art would have held for those who had never seen something so different – the African mask and its reconfiguration of the human face.” She also describes the contrast between the motivations of the original mask maker and the modernist: “The Baule carver was not carving for ‘art’s sake’; his task was sacred. He had a particular mission to create something aesthetically correct, within assigned parameters of the culture. Picasso was working against the social norms; and sought the profane.”

See a Q&A with Susan in the August issue of Art+Auction, republished on BlouinArtinfo International, and below, two videos she produced with Christie’s in preparation for auctions, this year in New York and in 2013 in Paris.

African, Oceanic, and Tribal Influences on Contemporary Art, Christie’s 2016