The IBWA was one of the key text I had used in my research on the Black Magus so I was very much looking forward to the event. I was not disappointed. The event was introduced by Neil MacGregor the Director of the British Museum, former Director of the National Gallery and one of my favourite art historians. I find him a great communicator and enthusiast , and he has since risen even higher in my esteem as I have since discovered he has declined a knighthood. He underlined the importance of the role of British Museum as the original research by the first edition of the IBWA began with images from his institution.
The key note speakers were Professors Henry Louis ‘Skip’ Gates Jr and David Bindman , the joint general editors of the IBWA's second edition. They have complementary roles: Gates the cultural historian; Bindman the art historian. Gates, gave as you would expect from this accomplished speaker a witty and informative introduction to the second edition; his personal anecdotes brought the IBWA to life ; Bindman gave the authoritative, considered review of the IBWA positioning it in an historical, aesthetic context. They appeared to work well as a team - relaxed with each other- Gates passing on a particularly awkward question on race from the audience to Bindman which might have caused an embarrassed silence elsewhere, was handled with good humour, like two old friends having a row around a dinner table.
This was essentially Harvard University Press – the IBWA’s publisher – chance to big-up the book which they did big style! There were hundreds of copies of the second editions four volumes on display along with some great post cards and a beautiful, extremely high quality promotional brochure all attesting to the extremely high production values of the second edition.
I had no intention of buying a copy, let alone buying all four of the current volumes and accepting an option on the remaining six, as keep in mind each book is priced at £60 or more so that’s a non trivial commitment. The Gates, Bindman lectures had been very good but not enough to make me want to buy them at that price. However once I’d seen the books – their quality, their colour, their feel - found in picture after picture, essay after essay I was sold. As an art image book the IBWA is breath taking, page after page of stunning, revelatory pictures. When these pictures are seen against the scholarship of its essays , specifically the updated thinking in the second edition following new discoveries and interpretations such as Martin Bernal's "Black Athena" in the almost fifty years since the first edition, I was sold.
A special price on the night and a promise by the Harvard University Press to extend that deal to the other six volumes whenever they are published, sweetened the purchase as well as a chance to have them signed by the General Directors which I caught on camera......
Prof David Bindman (left) and Prof Henry Louis ‘Skip’ Gates Jr signing my copies of The IBWA
The Profs' signatures