With its new exhibition Kongo: Power & Majesty, The Metropolitan Museum of Art once again continues to leave other museums in its wake when it comes to online presence. For starters, all 148 objects in the exhibition can be studied in detail on this special webpage. Here you can find an interview the exhibition’s curator, Alisa Lagamma, and a fantastic initiative is the exhibition blog, which regularly presents additional information about the presented objects, such as:
Visitors of the exhibition are suggested to use the hashtag #KongoPower to share and discover more about the exhibition on their favorite social media, such as Twitter and Instagram – especially the latter holds many pictures of the installation.
Kongo: Power and Majesty runs through January 3, 2016. Since there’s no auction at Sotheby’s New York in November, I unfortunately will not cross the ocean this fall and will miss the chance to see this exhibition – but its online presence certainly succeeded in giving me a satisfying virtual visit. I hope the descendants of these rich cultures, wherever they might be in the world, will experience the same – the Met certainly made it possible. Obviously nothing will beat the pleasure of being face to face with the exquisite selection, so do make the visit if you get the chance yourself.
In 2009, the Belgian fashion designer Walter van Beirendonck created a bicycle bag for a bicycle promotion campaign in Flanders. Ever since, one can spot these flashy bags on the streets of Antwerp. What no one realizes is that they were in fact inspired by the masks worn by members of the Duk-Duk secret society of the Tolai people of the Rabaul area of New Britain, the largest island in the Bismarck Archipelago of Papua New Guinea. The motif of the spiral eyes of these masks was used by van Beirendonck in his Glow collection (Autumn/Winter 2009-10) after having seen a real duk duk mask at a gallery on the Sablon in Brussels. And that’s the reason why one can often spot an Oceanic motif in the streets of Antwerp 🙂
Duk-Duk Members. Image courtesy of Maxwell R. Hayes, 1964.
From 15 October until 10 November 2015, you can vote for the fifth time for your favorite African or Oceanic art book of the year. This award is organized by Tribal Art magazine in partnership with Sotheby’s. Except for the honor, winners receive a substantial endowment of advertising and editorial space in the publications of both organizers.
A jury has preselected six books (three in French and three in English – see below) of which you can vote your favorite here. The two winning books will be announced early December at an award ceremony, which will be held at Sotheby’s in Paris. You can find more information about the Tribal Art Book Prize and its jury here.
Especially for the English titles, it is a tough choice this year, as the three preselected books are all excellent. As for the French selection, one my favorite publications of this year, Pierre Amrouche’s Regards de masques didn’t even make it to the initial selection.
The above ‘wall of masks’ was on view in Paris last week at Maison Valentino’s spring 2016 show – spectacular as it may be, these masks unfortunately are all fake, but maybe not so unfortunate since they were all painted black anyhow. The Valentino fashion show received a lot of negative comments because of its embarrassing cultural appropriation and stereotype ideas of African fashion. The African-inspired collection (the continent of Africa is a pretty big and diverse place to seek inspiration from as a whole btw) included raffia, feathers, studding, bone necklaces and bracelets, Kente cloth and much embroidery, fringing and embellishment whilst the show was soundtracked to the beat of the bongo drum. Valentino’s show notes said the “primitive…spiritual, yet regal” collection was inspired by “wild, tribal Africa“, and that it was a “journey to the beginning of time and the essential of primitive nature“. Add in handbags affixed with miniature masks (see below) and safari prints and you’re crossing the line between appreciation and appropriation. Valentino, as the show notes indicate, wanted to represent Africa “as vibrant, as throbbing, as imperfect purity“. Very cringeworthy if you ask me, especially since it is 2015. Read more about the controversy here, and about others misuses of African designs by the fashion industry here.
Do you have a doctoral degree in art history and want to research and assist with the development and preparation for the planned reinstallation and renovation of the African art galleries at the Metropolitan Museum in New York ? Then this job opportunity is something for you. This two-year postdoctoral fellowship at the Metropolitan Museum is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and provides curatorial training and an opportunity for the fellow to engage with a community of scholars from around the world. The fellow also has the opportunity to undertake an independent project in consultation with his or her supervising curator. In other words, a dream job! The fellowship period is September 1, 2016, to August 31, 2018, and applications must be received before October 16, 2015.
I just discovered an interesting ‘Illustrated Guide to Auction House Terminology’ (by Tiernan Morgan & Lauren Purje), which might be very helpful for those of you not so familiar with it; you can find it here. Do read ‘Third-party Guarantee’, which has been emerging at African art auctions too lately, and in all likelihood is here to stay.
The Three D’s. Considered to be the three key circumstances from which collectors will consign works to auction.
Sad tidings from Paris. Last week the famed bookstore Librairie Fischbacher closed its doors after having sold art books for more than 100 years. The closure will leave a big hole in the St-Germain des Près quarter. For such a bookstore to close it doors, smack in the middle in one of Europe’s busiest art districts, makes one afraid about the future of specialized book stores.. in Paris only one selling African art books is left: Librairie Mazarine – as for Belgium only Vasco & Co. Books on the Sablon remains.
Much more than a bookstore, places like this are important meeting spots for the African art community. I always joke that Vasco is like a kind of neutral zone, the Switzerland of the Sablon. How many chance meetings and conversations would already have taken place there?
Internet of course is mainly to blame for the decline in bookstores. In 2015, books are just one click away and conveniently delivered at your doorstep. Web stores such as Amazon nonetheless have a disadvantage, as they only have recent publications for sale. Once you start looking for older, out-of-print books, these sites are not very helpful. If you are interested in something particular as African art, real-life independent book stores still have the largest, unrivaled inventory of specialized books. People often complain that many of the old books are expensive (perhaps regretting not having bought them when they came out), but at least they are available and you can freely come browse them to decide if you want to purchase them. There’s a big difference between browsing books in an online store, or browsing the shelves in the actual world..
Speciality booksellers being close to extinction, expanding online and converting to a web-based business model is keeping the last ones alive, but the closure of Fischbacher tells us we’re close to reaching the tipping point. The commerce of selling books is obviously going through a lot of changes, and the only way to respond to them is to go online too. A clever initiative of Vasco & Co. is their frequently send newsletter which brings you up to date of new arrivals and old stock now made available online – do subscribe if you haven’t already. And support your local bookstores – or we’ll only realize how important they are when they are all gone..