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Exhibtions Publications

“Whispering Woods – The Great Lobi Statuary” exhibition catalog available online for free

The most beautiful exhibition of Lobi statuary I personally ever visited, Whispering Woods (even more poetic in French: Les bois qui murmurent), was held in the Ancienne Nonciature in Brussels during Bruneaf 2016. It was organised by Serge Schoffel and featured art from the François & Marie Christiaens Collection. Unfortunately it lasted only a week and stayed a bit under the radar. Luckily, it lives on in its exhibition catalog. Enriched with beautiful field-photos, and a text by Viviane Baeke, the good people of Bruneaf have made it available online for free here (click right to download the pdf). You’ll notice that the selection of statues is outstanding, and perfectly illustrates how good Lobi art can be.

Protective altar of the Bouroumbouroum market. Image from: Labouret, Henri, Les tribus du Rameau Lobi, Institut d’Ethnologie, Paris, 1931.

 

ps on this page on the Bruneaf’s website, you can also freely download their other exhibition catalogs.

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Exhibtions

Virtual opening “Caravans of Gold, fragments in time” (Smithsonian National Museum of African Art)

Ten years in the making, the exhibition Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time, organised by the Block Museum of Art and curated by Kathleen Bickford Berzock, just had a virtual opening at the National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C. Perfect for a rainy sunday, the online opening event was made available online. Below, Kevin Dumouchelle, curator at the Smithsonian gives a virtual tour (intermitted by speeches).

As did Sahel: Art and Empires on the Shores of the Sahara earlier this year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the exhibition explorers the pre-colonial kingdoms and trade networks on the African continent. You can discover much more about the Caravans of Gold exhibition on its dedicated website here. Both of these shows worked with several African museums, bringing several iconic masterpieces to the US for the first time ever.

ps as a reminder, in case you missed Sahel due to travel restrictions (like most of us), you can find a virtual tour of the exhibition below.

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Exhibtions

Futur-velours.com – have your own design created as a Shoowa textile

A project I love.. the Belgian artist Bren Heymans has just launched the website of Futur-Velours. With this project, Heymans wishes to facilitate an artistic dialogue between female weavers specialised in traditional raffia embroideries working in Ilebo, Kasai (DRC), and Western artists, designers, collectors, and other interested individuals or institutions. Through this website, a group of seven weavers in Ilebo is available to create any design desired in the famed format of the Shoowa textile (‘velours de Kasai’ in French).

Bren Heymans already had 15 works created in collaboration with the weavers in Ilebo, four of which are currently on view at the just opened exhibition 100 X Congo at the MAS Museum in Antwerp, Belgium. On his website you can explore the other works not on view – several documenting Belgium’s problematic colonial history.

Via the Futur-Velours website you can order a unique edition of one of the 15 works Heymans had created, or send in your own personal creation to have made into a raffia weaving! As the whole creation process for these female weavers is a work with a lot of improvisation and creative freedom, the result will not be exactly identical to the requested design but an answer to it. A ‘form of jazz’ between the West and Congo Heymans wishes to stimulate.

Do note the whole process takes a couple of months, as these textiles take a lot of time to create. If you do send in a design, please be sure to send me a picture of the result once it is ready – even if it is just your company’s logo 🙂

Please do share this website with any artists or designers you know that might be interested. Surely this dialogue will result in some very interesting results, and will keep this important artistic tradition alive and kicking into the 21th century.

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Exhibtions Fairs News

Famous 1930 Galerie Pigalle exhibition to be celebrated during Parcours des Mondes 2018

Exciting news from Paris, from 11 to 16 September, for the occasion of Parcours des Mondes 2018, one of the famous early exhibitions of African and Oceanic Art, held at the Galerie du Théâtre Pigalle in Paris in 1930, will be celebrated by the publication of a book and a small exhibition featuring some 30 objects shown 78 years ago. Organized by Charles-Wesley Hourdé and Nicolas Rolland, in partnership with Tribal Art Magazine, a dedicated exhibition will be held at the Espace Tribal. A series of conferences will also be organized at the venue that same week. The limited edition publication (344 pages & 500 illustrations!) will include texts by Hourdé and Rolland, and excellent scholars such as Yaëlle Biro, Philippe Peltier and Virginia-Lee Web. Both authors were able to uncover a forgotten cache of amazing installation shots of the exhibition, which will be shown for the very first time this September.

The 1930 show more or less has a mythical status among people who care about such things. Not alone was the quality of the selected objects very high, the list of lenders to the show also reads as a who’s who of African and Ocenanic art in Paris in 1930: Charles Ratton, Pierre Loeb, Tristan Tzara, Pablo Picasso and André Derain all ensured the success of the exhibition and its lasting renown.

The original catalog, which is impossible to find, did list the 425 exhibited works, but only had a few illustrations. Charles-Wesley Hourdé and Nicolas Rolland however have managed to trace down most of the objects, so the book and show are definitely something exciting to look forward too. Many compliments to both for making this happen!

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Exhibtions Museums

Good curating: “Mobile Worlds” at the MKG Hamburg

A bit under the radar and running until 14 October 2018, the exhibition Mobile Worlds or The Museum of our Transcultural Present at Hamburg’s Museums für Kunst ind Gewerbe is worth your attention. The blurb on the museum’s website reads:

The exhibition “Mobile Worlds” draws inspiration from the collection housed at the Museums für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg. The MKG collection is in turn inspired by the great world exhibitions held in London, Paris and Vienna in the 19th-century. Now the world of the 19th century is passé, and with it the central position that the West has long claimed for itself. Even though our world knows many centers today, many Western museums still present themselves as though the traditional, museological division into geographies, nations, epochs, art and non-art were universally valid.

I can think of a museum or two where this indeed is still the case, so this central premise is relevant indeed. You can discover more about the show’s themes here. An interesting review in the New York Times was just published by Jason Farago; please find it here. Farago makes some excellent points:

When Europeans of the 18th and 19th centuries established their grandest museums, each building meant to unite the world’s cultural heritage under a single roof, they had no doubt as to who should explain it all: themselves. They took a Eurocentric view, categorizing the spoils of colonial enterprise by nation and region, splitting art from craft, and nature from culture.How much has really changed in this so-called postcolonial era? Apologies are made for the pillaging; diverse populations are invited to “respond.” But the museums’ old assumptions, their methods of classification and display, remain largely untroubled. How might you reorganize a universal museum for the 21st century, an age of migration and of perpetual exchange? One of the boldest answers yet is to be found in “Mobile Worlds,” at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, an applied arts museum in the northern German city of Hamburg that has a similar standing to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London or the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

And,

By and large, “Mobile Worlds” delivers on its contention that European museums need to do much more than just restitute plundered objects in their collections, important as that is. A 21st-century universal museum has to unsettle the very labels that the age of imperialism bequeathed to us: nations and races, East and West, art and craft. It’s not enough just to call for “decolonization,” a recent watchword in European museum studies; the whole fiction of cultural purity has to go, too. Any serious museum can only be a museum of our entangled past and present. The game is to not to tear down the walls, but to narrate those entanglements so that a new, global audience recognizes itself within them.

The curator Roger Buergel, best known for serving as artistic director of Documenta 12, hypothesis for a more conscionable museum is spot on. And as Farago points: “The past is hideously violent, and these institutions won’t be regenerated overnight. But history, “Mobile Worlds” reminds us, never stops moving forward — and museums won’t be reformed at all if we don’t put in the work.” The time is now!

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Exhibtions Museums

Last days to visit the ‘Les Forêts Natales’ exhibition at the Musée du quai Branly (closing Sunday 21 January)

Tempus fugit! It’s already the last week of the Les Forêts Natales exhibition at the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac (info and pictures here). If you haven’t had the chance to see this must-see show, please don’t sleep and go visit it. I would suggest to reserve at least 3 hours for it, as you’ll need them. It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see that much iconic masterpieces of Gabon in one single museum. I don’t think any other curator will ever dare to envision such a comprehensive selection – it did take Yves Le Fur more than 3 years to prepare it. With the closing of the Dapper Museum, he of course had the unique chance to lend about 25 of their top objects, but also the holdings of the MqB itself, the Barbier-Mueller Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and numerous private collectors proved indispensable for the success of this exhibition. The catalogue, which unfortunately is only available in French, is also recommended but does not prepare you for the real-life experience. Furthermore, not all exhibited works are included in it. Personally, I saw the show three times, and still I don’t have the feeling I have seen enough of it. Several sections of it (Fang, Kwele, Kota, Tsogho) easily could have been standalone exhibitions and still would be incomparable. I will never forget that wall of Kotas (more than 100 in total!) – see above.

Kuddos as well to the Friends of the Musée du quai Branly for their innovative thinking to include the source communities of this exhibition by organizing several ‘web tours’ (info). Several Mondays (when the museum was closed), they organized live broadcasted guided tours which could be followed in several places in both Gabon and Cameroon:

• Fondation Gacha à Bangoulap au Cameroun
• Musée des civilisations de Dschang au Cameroun
• Musée National de Yaoundé au Cameroun
• Galerie Doual’art à Douala au Cameroun
• Galerie MAM à Douala au Cameroun
• Institut Français de Yaoundé au Cameroun
• Institut français de Douala au Cameroun
• Institut Français de Libreville au Gabon
• Etablissement scolaire Le Ruban Vert à Libreville au Gabon
• Lycée français Victor Hugo à Port-Gentil au Gabon

A wonderful initiative, and a first I think. The Gabonese president, Ali Bongo Ondimba, also visited the expo – as can be seen below. He was rightfully very proud.

https://youtu.be/RMY0Dp2CoPc

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Exhibtions Fairs News

10 Reasons to come to Brussels in January

In two weeks time Brussels will again be the epicenter of the African art circus, with BRAFA and the winter edition of Bruneaf taking place at more or less the same time. Didier Claes (president of Bruneaf and vice-chairman of Brafa), just send out the above (full version here), which I thought was not a bad idea – as a paucity of public relations has been hampering both events in the past. After a short hiatus, Claes is president again of Bruneaf and it’s up to him now to bring the organization into the 21th century. An anticlimax had been last summer’s exhibition Finalité sans Fin, which brought together a fantastic group of iconic masterpieces, accompanied by an excellent catalogue – but which did barely get any promotion and was therefor not really noticed outside the regular crowd. A shame, as a lot of effort had gone into it – but not in promoting it. However, this sad episode served as a wake-up call and now Bruneaf is even on Instagram. It’s my sincere hope this historical event can continue successfully and learns from previous mistakes.

The strengthened presence of African and Oceanic Art at the Brussels Art Fair (BRAFA), shown by 12 (!) dealers, certainly has heightened the effort put into the winter edition of Bruneaf (which originally used to be the less exciting brother of the summer edition, now branded Cultures, confusing isn’t it). While the non-European presence used to be very small, BRAFA truly has become a not to be missed event in our field. Participating galleries are: Didier Claes, Dartevelle, Yann Ferrandin, Jacques Germain, Bernard de Grunne, Grusenmyer-Woliner, Monbrison, Ratton (both father and son!), Guilhem Montagut (for the first time!), Serge Schoffel, and Galerie Schoffel de Fabry – all of them combined, that’s a lot of great art!

Talking about insufficient public relations, no. 3 in Claes’ list, the Oceania exhibition at the Cinquantenaire Museum in Brussels deserves a special mention, as it must be the least publicized exhibition of Oceanic art ever. A shame as it is, although not very big, a great introduction to the art of this region, and, extra points from a young father here, very kid friendly! Fingers crossed that the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, reopening in June after years of renovation, is taking note and preparing a serious media campaign! Anyway, apologies for the rambling – as Didier Claes, I just wanted to invite you to Brussels this month, it’s worth the trip!

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Exhibtions Museums News

Exhibition tip: Beyond Compare – Art from Africa in the Bode Museum in Berlin

I wanted to share some pictures of this unbelievable exhibition currently on view at Berlin’s Bode Museum. This beautiful museum, known for its outstanding collection of European sculpture, now temporarily houses 70 masterpieces from the Ethnologishes Museum (which closed last year) until they will relocate to the newly build Humboldt Forum (to open at the end of 2019).

The African works are placed in smart juxtapositions with the permanent collection creating fascinating dialogues across time, place and religions. Unexpected similarities and differences become apparent: Michel Erhart’s late Gothic Virgin of Mercy appears next to the famous Kongo power figure, which, like the Madonna, was also created to protect a community. Mythical heroes from central Africa take their place among late Gothic Christian figures and open up new perspectives on both collections. The show address major themes of human experience, such as power, death, beauty, memory, aesthetics, and identity. For each of them, the curators (Julien Chapuis, Jonathan Fine and Paola Ivanov) were able to find great object pairings.

Beyond Compare is just one spectacular view after the other. One room downstairs contains the majority of works, but the remainder is spread across the museum, so it is sometimes a bit of treasure hunt (which cleverly makes you explore the whole building). I must say it is one of the most beautiful exhibitions I have ever seen in our field. I’ve become somewhat tired of seeing African art juxtaposed with modern and contemporary Western art, making up links which are not necarilly there. This show merely endeavors to find common themes and for once it is not about who inspired who (although links between St. Sebastian, Madonna-and-child statues and Kongo figures are vaguely suggested).

The installation as well is top-notch; it is clear the Bode Museum has a lot of experience presenting three-dimensional wooden works of art, and many objects can be walked around. It was amazing, as well, to see the standing statue of the Buli Master all by itself, without a case. The Benin leopard in the big staircase is a view I will never forget and the Benin queen (famous from the front cover of Tom Phillips’ Art of a Continent) paired with a Donatello sculpture, as well in bronze, is just genius.

Another plus is the excellent selection, it truly gives you a new perspective of the scope and importance of the Ethnologisches Museum’s collection, showing many masterpieces that hadn’t been on view at the Dahlem for a very long time (the Hemba ancestor figure, for example). This ‘conversation of continents’ is a big success and I would highly recommend a visit. I dream of seeing the Louvre or the Metropolitan doing something like this one day.. but Berlin did it first!

Kuddos to the museum as well for publishing an English version of the catalogue (Musée du quai Branly, please take note!). You can out more about Beyond Compare on the Bode-Museum’s website here. I’ll just let my snapshots do the talking (click to magnify), as you’ll see Beyond Compare truly lives up to its title.

Update: a reader comments, the primitive art indeed pairs very well with the African art 🙂

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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.

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Exhibtions News

“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!