Category Archives: Exhibtions

Controversy around Damien Hirst’s golden (Ife) head on view in Venice

I don’t know if you have noticed, but the influence of traditional African art on contemporary artists has never been so big. When frequenting any contemporary art fair these days, chances are big one runs into some very explicit references, and more often just plain copies of African masks and statues.

This trend is not new of course. Kendall Geers, for example, already made ‘nail figures’ (citing Kongo nkondi statues) in the early 2000s. But also many younger artists are following this trend and finding inspiration in the historical art of the African continent. Damien Hirst, one of the best known ‘Young British Artist’ of the 1990s, could not resist to join in, and his current exhibition in Venice, Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable, features a copy in massive gold of an ancient Ife head from Nigeria.

The head (illustrated above and below) is presented with the label ‘Golden head (Female)’, that, without any reference to its inspiration, which has been causing a huge controversy. While all of the artworks in the exhibition imitate or are inspired by the arts from a wide range of cultures throughout history, Ife has proven to a somewhat more sensitive subjet and a major fuzz about this head has emerged. Even CNN has dedicated an article to it: Damien Hirst accused of copying African art at Venice Biennale. On social media, Hirst has been widely branded as a ‘thief’, and the head continues to generate a lot of critique in so far even a spokesperson of Hirst had to react clarifying Ife is in fact cited in the exhibition guide. But the damage was done.

Things got rolling when the Nigerian artist Victor Ehighale Ehihkamenor, currently exhibiting at the Nigerian pavilion at the Venice Biennale, openly criticized Hirst in articles in the New York Times and Huffington Post. It is interesting to note that none of the representatives of other cited cultures have reacted to the show. There are numerous copies of Egyptian and Greek statues, for example. But none of those cultures have almost all of their national heritage outside their country of course, which is the case with Nigeria’s old Ife Kingdom. To make it even more interesting, also in the general press the show has received a lot of negative critique; ARTnews calling it ‘undoubtedly one of the worst exhibitions of contemporary art staged in the past decade’ (here) or generating statements like that it ‘offers scale in lieu of ambition, and kitsch masquerading as high art’ (in The Telegraph).

For my part, I think it is too soon to judge Damien Hirst – let’s see in 50 years what remains of his work. And, the famous Salon des Refusés in mind, I do recall some other artists who were once rejected by the general public. Jeff Koons also just copied someone else’s work (read about that here). Anyway, if it made only a handful of new people genuinely interested in the ancient art of Nigeria, we can only be happy about the effect this head provoked.

“Imaginary Ancestors”, restaging a famous Fang exhibition from 1933 at Almine Rech Gallery in New York, May-June 2017

After Adam Lindemann (info) and Javier Peres (info), a third major contemporary art gallery is staging an African art show. Imaginary Ancestors is an exhibition organized and hosted by Almine Rech Gallery in New York with Bernard de Grunne as guest curator for the Arts of Africa. The press release reads:

Imaginary Ancestors is a group exhibition looking at Primitivism in modern and contemporary art, which comprises two parts: One room will be dedicated to works by André Derain and Max Pechstein together with a restaging of the exhibition Early African Heads and Statues from the Gabon Pahouin Tribes. That landmark show was originally realized by Paul Guillaume at the Durand- Ruel Gallery on 57th Street in New York, from February 15 to March 10, 1933. This exhibition was the first show to be devoted to a single African art style, with a large group of Fang sculptures presented on a table alongside Derain paintings made at the time. For Imaginary Ancestors, Bernard de Grunne sourced the majority of the sculptures included in the original exhibition, which will be reunited for the first time since 1933 at Almine Rech Gallery New York. A second room of this exhibition will present modern and contemporary artworks inspired by primitive art including primitive pieces from the personal collections of Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder and David Smith.

You can find more info here. Almine Rech, married to Bernard Picasso, has access to Picasso’s African art collection still in the family’s possession, so the second part surely will be a treat as well. The opening is on May 2, 2017, and the exhibition runs until June 15, 2017. Kuddos to Amine Rech and Bernard de Grunne for making this happen; this surely will be a historical show. Below additional, less known, installation shots of the original exhibition at Durand-Ruel Galleries in 1933. I’m curious how the new installation will look!

“Picasso Primitif” at the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac (Paris, 28 March – 23 July 2017)

Timed with the preview of our April sale (info), next Tuesday sees the opening of the highly anticipated exhibition Picasso Primitif at the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac in Paris. Organized in collaboration with the Musée National Picasso and curated by Yves Le Fur, Picasso Primtif aims to explore the links between the omnipresent artist and the non-Western arts. This exhibition aims to decipher this relationship born of admiration, respect and fear. On the museum’s website we read:

“Negro art? Don’t know it.” It was with this provocative tone that the Andalusian painter, sculptor and graphic artist made a point of denying his relationship with non-European art. However, and as his personal collection demonstrates, the arts of Africa, Oceania, the Americas and Asia never ceased to accompany him in all his various studios. The documents, letters, objects and photographs brought together in the first part of the exhibition and displayed chronologically, are evidence of this, demonstrating Picasso’s interests and curiosity about non-Western creation.

In a second, more conceptual section, Primitive Picasso offers a comparative view of the artist’s works with those of non-Western artists, and leans more towards an anthropology of art than an analysis of aesthetic relationships. The resulting confrontation reveals the similar issues those artists have had to address (nudity, sexuality, impulses and loss) through parallel plastic solutions (deforming or deconstructing bodies, for example). Primitive art, therefore, is no longer considered to be a stage of non-development, but rather an access to the deepest, most fundamental layers of the human being.

It was about time somebody organized this exhibition; fingers crossed it exceeds the expectations. I must admit I was quite surprised by the show’s title, as the word ‘Primitive’ in general is widely frowned upon by the scholarly community when talking about non-Western art, but I guess it sounded catchy as a title.

Javier Peres announced as honorary president of Parcours des Mondes 2017

Parcours des Mondes recently announced this year’s honorary president: Javier Peres, a young contemporary art dealer and the founder of the cutting-edge gallery Peres Projects. Peres has been enthusiastically been collecting African art for more than 10 years, you can download an interview with him published in the Spring 2016 issue of Tribal Art Magazine here. In 2016, he published ‘Wild Style – Group Spirit’ (for sale here), the catalogue documenting the two group shows he organized exhibiting African art from his collection alongside contemporary art from his gallery. I’ve seen many unsuccessful attempts of mixing the two, but this contemporary art dealer, with a deep passion and engagement with both fields, gets it right.

This year’s edition of Parcours (the 16th already) will run from 12 to 17 September 2017. Peres Projects will also be exhibiting a small selection of African Art during the contemporary art fair Independent Brussels from 20 to 23 April in Brussels. Several works of Peres’ collection will also be included during the exhibition “Pascali Sciamano” at the Fondazione Carriero, which runs from 24 March to 24 June in Milan, Italy (info). Just to say that Peres indeed will be the perfect ambassador for this year’s edition of Parcours des Mondes. Below some images of his exhibition ‘Wild Style’ (more here).

‘Wild Style’ as well included a performance by the boundary-breaking artist Donna Huanca, who recently also had a highly-acclaimed exhibition at the Zabludowicz Collection in London. Below some pictures; the dialogue between contemporary and African art has never been so intense.

“Masterpieces From Africa” at the Dapper Museum prolonged until 2017

musee-dapper-masterpieces-leveau-extended-paris-african-art

 

Good news reached us from from the Musée Dapper in Paris. Their current exhibition, Masterpieces From Africa (and that’s just what it is!) is being extended until June 17, 2017. This tribute to the museum’s founder, Michel Leveau (who passed away in 2012), shows 130 exceptional objects from its holdings. It’s a must see – who knows when these objects will be on view again..

What’s unique, is that now both the famous Bangwa queen and king figures are on view in Paris at the same time, although at different museums (respectively the Musée Dapper and the Musée du quai Branly) – Paris truly is the capital of African art these days. To get a teaser of the Dapper exhibition show, see the Youtube clip below (in French, and including an interview with Christiane Falgarayettes-Leveau, the museums’ director and curator of the exhibition).

 

Upcoming exhibitions at the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac (Paris)

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The Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac surely is celebrating its tenth birthday properly. The end of this month sees the opening of two now exciting exhibitions. The first, “Eclectic“, from 23 November 2016 until 2 April 2017 and curated by Hélène Joubert, will show around forty key works, mostly African, from the private collection of Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière. He’s the 23rd richest man of France (source) so you can expect some stunning works for sure. Opening at the same time is “From the Jordan River to the Congo River. Art And Christianity in Central Africa” (info), curated by Julien Volper and showing about one hundred African works of Christian inspiration (crucifixes, sculptures, pendants, engravings and drawings) drawn from various private and public collections in Europe. This type of objects always gives me mixed feelings, as it were these same Christians that were responsible for the destruction of so many African cultures, but the syncretic objects that survived surely are interesting.

Perhaps the most anticipated upcoming exhibition at the Musée du quai Branly is Picasso PrimitifCurated by Yves Le Fur, a first segment of the exhibition will chronologically document Picasso’s interest in non-Western art, while a second part will be more conceptual and confront works of the artist with those of non-Western artists (as was done during Primitivism in 20th Century Art). Hopefully the exhibition will draw as much new attention to African art as the latter once did. It was about time someone organized an exhibition on this subject. However, personally, I do regret the use of the word ‘Primitif’ in the exhibition’s title; I thought we had moved past the use of the P-word by now. Picasso Primitif runs from 28 March until 23 July 2017 and will be followed by what surely will be an epic exhibition on the art of the Fang. I don’t see many other museums with such an impressive agenda, so kudos to the Musée du quai Branly !

ps I once mentioned that Fang figure on the exhibition’s poster on my blog, see Investing in African art and ‘the rule of 72’.

ps2 Picasso’s nimba figure is currently on view in Brussels at the Bozar where it presented with a huge Female head by the master in an exhibition on his sculpture.

MoMa’s “Primitivism in 20th Century Art” installation shots available online (William Rubin, 1984)

Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

If you liked last weeks installation shots of African Negro Art at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1935 (here), you’ll love these pictures of Primitivism in 20th Century Art held at the same museum in 1984. I was still a baby at the time, but going through these pictures I can understand it had such a big impact and would come to instigate a new generation of collectors. If you think of it, it is fascinating that two of the most influential African art exhibitions of the twentieth century were organized by a museum of modern art.

The good folks at the MoMa even made the (Chinese version of the) exhibition catalogue freely available online here (long download) – kudos to them!

ps anecdote of the day: after New York, the show would travel to the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Dallas Museum of Art – a tour that was sponsored by Philip Morris Incorporated. I wonder if cigarette companies still get to sponsor museum shows these days.

Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

MoMa’s “African Negro Art” archives online (1935)

Image courtesy of the Moma.

Image courtesy of the Moma.

In 1935 the groundbreaking “African Negro Art” exhibition was organized by New York’s Museum of Modern Art. It was one of the first exhibitions in the United States to display African sculptures as works of art, rather than as ethnographic objects. A reader just informed me MoMa has made their archives of this show available online – you can find them here. Besides the integral version of the exhibition’s catalogue edited by James J. Sweeney, you can also browse the checklist of all 603 displayed objects here. The site as well includes several wonderful installation shot – most of these objects now are rightfully considered as icons of African art and collectors are prepared to pay a considerable premium to own a piece with such a historic provenance.

Image courtesy of the MoMA.

Image courtesy of the MoMA.

Theaster Gates’ Boli at the Fondazione Prada, Milan (2015)

Theaster Gates, "Boli, a Portion of the Team Lives in Heaven", 2014.

Theaster Gates, “Boli, a Portion of the Team Lives in Heaven”, 2014.

Last year, I wrote how Theaster Gates won the Artes Mundi 2014 prize (info) with a work incorporating a Bamana boli figure. For his current exhibition at the Fondazione Prada in Milan, Gates has again used the image of a Bamana boli figure in an installation. Boli, a Portion of the Team Lives in Heaven shows a group of Mumuye-like standing figure surrounding a magnificent boli figure on a large black pedestal – a very remarkable view. Gates first exhibition in Milan (info) runs until 25 September 2016. Let me know if you find out the meaning of this installation.

A reader reacts..

If you feel that any religion or belief system “works” just as well as any other, as long as its’ followers believe in it, then this installation illustrates that quite well. The artist could have made up a God and his followers, and for the average viewer the Boli and Mumuyes might seem to be just that, but for those of us in the African art world the tribal images add another layer to the art work while preserving the enigma for everyone due to the “otherness” of the objects.

 

Theaster Gates Boli Fondazione Prada é

“Masks of Central Africa” – a traveling exhibition in China

Masks of Central Africa Guandong

Great news from China. On April 29th 2016, a new exhibition about Congolese masks opened at the Guangdong Museum of Art in Canton. It is organized by Ethnic Art & Culture Ltd (Hong Kong) and curated by Marc Felix – who in the last decades has been doing a tremendous effort to stimulate and enlarge the appreciation of African art in China.

The show displays 120 Congolese masks from private collections, 15 with their complete costume, and 16 musical instruments that were used in masquerades (coming from Phoenix’s Musical instrument museum). Field photos from the RMCA Tervuren are displayed on the museum walls. You can see some installation shots here or here. The first weekend attracted 52,000 visitors, so it’s certainly a success story so far. The (free!) exhibition stays at the Guangdong Museum untill July 24th 2016 and will then travel:

  • August 2 till November 6, 2016 at the Nanjing Museum,
  • November 25 2016 till March 5, 2017 at the Gansu Provincial Museum,
  • March 24 till June 26 2017 at the Yunnan Provincial Museum,
  • July 7 till September 10 2017 at the Henan Museum.

There will be 2 catalogues of 352 pages in A4+ format, one in Chinese and one in English/French, containing 800 pictures. Twelve authors wrote essays for the catalogue: Viviane Baeke, David Binkley, Arthur Bourgeois, Kellim Brown, Rik Ceyssens, Pol-Pierre Gossiaux, Marc Leo Felix, Manuel Jordan, Constantine Petridis, Z. S. Strother, Julien Volper, and Pan Yanqin. The English/French edition of the catalogue will be for sale at Congo Gallery in Brussels during BRUNEAF.

Masks of Central Africa Marc Felix

Marc Felix was kind enough to send me some pictures from the installation in Guangdong.

Note that the local curator unfortunately took a bit of liberty with the exhibition's title.

Note that the local curator unfortunately took a bit of liberty with the exhibition’s title by adding a new main title.

Masks of Central Africa China Marc Felix exhibition 2

Masks of Central Africa China Marc Felix exhibition 3

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Masks of Central Africa China Marc Felix exhibition 5

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