Category Archives: Exhibtions

Fétiche @ Venus over Manhattan, New York (until April 16, 2016)

FÉTICHE Venus Adam Lindemann Lega figure MOMA African art


A must-see if you are in New York before April 16 is “Fétiche” at Adam Lindemann’s gallery Venus Over Manhattan. This exhibition presents a mix of post-war and contemporary Western art with African and Oceanic art. The press release says:

The modern and contemporary works included in the show have no overt spiritual or mystical purpose. Though not religious in a traditional sense, there is significant financial and metaphysical value placed on contemporary art, and its ownership grants power via social status and prestige. The various motivations to possess art are seldom explored, though the entire art market relies upon a system of beliefs that highlights issues of relevancy, timeliness, and critical consensus. Fétiche explores the ways in which contemporary and indigenous works bestow authority and power within significantly different social structures.

You can find more info about the exhibition here (including images of the African and Oceanic art on display).

Fétiche also includes paintings by Alexander Calder juxtaposed with African masks owned by the artist, which are on loan from the Alexander Calder Foundation.

Image courtesy of Venus over Manhattan.

Image courtesy of Venus over Manhattan.

The below juxtaposition of Richard Prince’s ‘It’s all over‘ with two big tree-fern statues from Vanuatu is definitely spot-on. We can only applaud such a wonderful juxtaposition of high level Western art together with great examples of African and Oceanic art.

Image courtesy of Venus over Manhattan.

Image courtesy of Venus over Manhattan.


ps the iconic Lega figure on the poster, once in the Stoclet Collection, was already exhibited in New York once before. 81 years ago, in 1935, it was shown during African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art.

Fraught signifiers in African art: “Kota”

Detail of a Sango reliquary figure. Africarium Collection. Image courtesy of Sotheby's.

Detail of a Sango reliquary figure from Gabon. Africarium Collection. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

In the exhibition catalogue for his exhibition at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, Kota – Digital Excavations in African Art, Frédéric Cloth makes an interesting comment on the usage of the attribution ‘Kota’ for the well-known reliquary guardians covered with metal from Gabon. He writes:

The word ‘Kota’ refers to a small ethnic group living in northeastern Gabon (estimated between 14,000 and 40,000 peoples by the mid-twentieth century), but one might be surprised to learn that there are no works in this exhibition created by the Kota people themselves.

Yes, you read that right. The Kota did not make any reliquary figures ! Cloth continues:

The reason for this is the result of a complex history. When, in the nineteenth century, Europeans started to explore eastern Gabon along the course of the Ogooué River, one of the first people they met were the Kota. Only later, the European explorers encountered the peoples who produced the art we refer to as ‘Kota’; groups such as the Shamaye, Sango, Obamba, Wumbu, and Ndassa. Oversimplification over time led Westerners unfortunately to refer to all reliquary guardians from this region as ‘Kota’.

This imprecise nomenclature now is so embedded that even Cloth remained obliged to use it for the title of his exhibition. Such fraught signifiers unfortunately tend to be hard to eradicate. Other examples previously mentioned on my blog are the so-called ‘Boa’ (info) and ‘Kulango’ spoons (info) – notwithstanding recent scholarship proved them incorrect, both designations are still widely used.

Field-photo published in: Chauvet (Stephen), "l'Art Funéraire au Gabon", Paris: Maloine, 1933: p. 2, #3.

Field-photo published in: Chauvet (Stephen), “l’Art Funéraire au Gabon”, Paris: Maloine, 1933: p. 2, #3.

Installation shots “Kongo: Power & Majesty” (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Photograph by Peter Zeray, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Photograph by Peter Zeray, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

For the armchair traveller and those of us who will not have the chance to travel to New York, some professional installation shots from Kongo: Power & Majesty – click on the pictures to zoom. With thanks to the Department of Arts of Africa at the Met for providing the pictures.

Photograph by Peter Zeray, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Photograph by Peter Zeray, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Photograph by Peter Zeray, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Photograph by Peter Zeray, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Photograph by Peter Zeray, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Photograph by Peter Zeray, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Photograph by Peter Zeray, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Photograph by Peter Zeray, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Photograph by Peter Zeray, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Photograph by Peter Zeray, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“Kongo: Power & Majesty” at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Kongo Power and Majesty Metropolitan New York Lagamma

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:

transport shipping mangaaka Museo Pigorini Kongo Power

One month after the opening, Kongo has already received numerous raving reviews; for example in The New York Times, The New Yorker here and here, The Financial Times, The Guardian and The Wall Street Journal. The New York Times also has a special web page (here) about the Met’s mangaaka statue.

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.

Exhibition announcement: “Hughes Dubois – a Thirty-five Year Career in Photography” (Paris, September 2015)

The Chokwe Tshibinda Ilunga figure from the Kimbel Art Museum. Image courtesy of Hughes Dubois, 1988.

The Chokwe Tshibinda Ilunga figure from the Kimbel Art Museum. Image courtesy of Hughes Dubois, 1988.

For their 2015 edition, the organization of Parcours des Mondes will present an exhibition about one of the best known photographers of African art: Hughes Dubois. It runs from Wednesday 9 September through Sunday 13 September, daily from 11AM to 6PM at 22, rue Visconti in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. For thirty-five years, Dubois has worked for the world’s leading museums, institutions, art galleries and private collectors all over the world, for whom he has taken more than 50,000 photographs, published for the most part in some 150 works.

The exhibition will explore his work in an intimate way, and reveal a new side of his work. It begins with the first “North Sea” Polaroids, in which the young photographer offers a glimpse of his poetic vision of the landscapes of his childhood through a series of triptychs. The exhibition takes us then to the source of his professional work, with the presentation of 140 Polaroids of art objects. Until the American manufacturer ceased production of these mythical cameras in 2007, photographers used them to make test prints before taking their definitive shots. Dubois kept these Polaroids in meticulously annotated albums which today constitute the souvenirs of his archives, a selection of these Polaroids is shown here. They are arranged in thematic groupings which follow the photographer’s path, and become witnesses of a bygone practice now superseded by the digital age.

Dubois’ personal projects were realized with his wife Caroline Leloup-Dubois, with whom he worked in close collaboration. Enthralled by the Buddhist temple of Borobodur on the island of Java, they would shoot photographs together, by the light of the full moon, of the bas-reliefs depicting the phases of Buddha’s life. Beginning in 2016, a traveling exhibition will present life-size prints of these shots, which will give the viewer the opportunity to experience the monumentality of the edifice, and to feel the very unique aesthetic emotion which the light of the full moon creates, and which Dubois so delicately captures. A print from this future show will be seen here as a preview.

Detail of the Borobudur temple, Java. Image courtesy of Caroline Leloup & Hughes Dubois, 2014.

Detail of the Borobudur temple, Java. Image courtesy of Caroline Leloup & Hughes Dubois, 2014.

Exhibition tip: “Giant Masks from the Congo” (Brussels, May-September 2015)

Giant Masks from the Congo Suku kakungu Belvue Bruno Claessens

If you are in Brussels for BRUNEAF, don’t forget to visit “Giant Masks from the Congo” (info). It’s only a 3 minute walk from the Sablon (Place des Palais 7), and highly recommended (& free!). It’s an exhibition only the Tervuren museum could accomplish – showing for example half of the existing Suku kakungu masks: very impressive to say the least ! A small catalogue, written by Julien Volper, is available in Dutch, French and English.

Giant Masks from the Congo Yaka Suku masks Bruno Claessens Brussels

Giant masks from the Congo Yaka Suku figures Mbala Pende

Exhibition tip: “Uzuri Wa Dunia” ( Beauty of the World) – 5 days only in Brussels

Kela figure Mestach Uzuri Wa Dunia

I just returned home from the opening of this exhibition and I’m still processing what I got to see. A tribute to the Belgian collector, this show is an incredible tour-de-force of the Bruneaf team, presenting masterpiece after masterpiece. This once in a lifetime opportunity unfortunately lasts only five days (while the installation of the exhibition took double as long!) – so don’t sleep and do come to Brussels. The 100 (mostly African) objects are on view from Wednesday June 10 until Sunday June 14th at the Ancienne Nonciature, Rue des Sablons 7 (daily from 10AM to 7PM) and is accompanied by a catalogue. The several Fang, Kongo and Songye figures alone are already worth the visit. Apart from the objects in private Belgian collections, there’s also a handful of objects from the Sindika Dokolo Foundation (this year’s guest of honor). Bruneaf definitely celebrated its 25th birthday in a proper way with this exhibition – it’s a shame it will only be on view for five days.

Kaka paternity Uzuri Wa Dunia Bruneaf
Jukun Nigeria Dartevelle Uzuri Wa Dunia Bruneaf

“Kota: Digital Excavations in African Art” – an upcoming exhibition at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation (October 2015)

Kota digital excvations Frederic Cloth Pulitzer

This October, the Pulitzer Arts Foundation will present Kota: Digital Excavations in African Art, an exhibition that examines new ways to study and reveal the hidden histories of antique Kota reliquaries from Gabon. The exhibition, co-curated by Frederic Cloth (a Belgian computer engineer and independent researcher) and Kristina Van Dyke, will present more than 50 reliquary guardian figures from both public as private collections. Cloth (who also designed the software of the Yale University – van Rijn Archive of African art) developed a custom-build database and search engine exclusively used to analyze Kota statues. Using a series of algorithms, he was able to detect unprecedented patterns in his sample of over 2,000 reliquaries. I’ve witnessed this database first hand and must say it is very exciting to finally see somebody using digital tools properly to gain new insights in otherwise ‘silent’ objects. This new kind of approach presents exciting possibilities for groups of African objects that lack deep provenance and contextual data, although not all types of art obviously are as suitable to work with. The exhibition will explore both the algorithmic tool and the fascinating African sculptural tradition; you can read more about it here.

Earlier this year, Frederic Cloth already gave a sneak peek of his findings during a lecture, called Algorithms and Mathematics Applied to the Reconstitution of Lost Traditions, at the de Young Museum in conjunction with the opening day celebration of Embodiments: Masterworks of African Figurative Sculpture. You can see it below, it’s highly recommended:

“Dance of the Ancestors – Art from the Sepik of Papua New Guinea” at Berlin’s Martin-Gropius-Bau

Tanz der Ahnene kunst vom Sepik in Papua-Neuguinea

One of the highlights of my recent trip to Berlin was the new Sepik exhibition that had just opened at the Martin-Gropius-Bau (info). Tanz der Ahnen – Kunst com Sepik in Papua-Neuguinea brings together 220 objects – all from European museums, with the largest number coming from the former museums of ethnology in Basel and Berlin. There are no objects from private collections and additional items come from the museums of Munich, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Cologne, Bremen, St Augustin, Dresden, Lübeck, Rome, Paris, Cambridge and Leiden. The majority of the exhibited objects was collected before the first World War, so this is obviously a once in a lifetime opportunity to see so much ancient Sepik art in one place. The exhibition is curated by Markus Schindlbeck, from the Berlin Ethnologisches Museum and Philippe Peltier, of the Musée du quai Branly. It runs in Berlin until 14 June 2015, travels to Zürich’s Rietberg Museum from 10 July to 4 October 2015 and has its last stop at the quai Branly museum in Paris. Everything you want to know about this exhibition you can find in the press release here.

Image courtesy of Jirka Jansch.

Image courtesy of Jirka Jansch.

Besides the objects on view, I also loved the structure of the exhibition itself: the tour starts with the Sepik river (being projected behind two magnificent giant canoes – see below), from where you continue to the village with dwellings and the presentation of the latter’s inventory of utensils featured in the life of women, children and uninitiated men. Then a dance ground opens up before the visitors, dominated by the men’s house. The tour explores the inside the house and the ritual objects kept there. Masks and musical instruments used at initiations mark the transition to the world of initiated men, who formerly did not become full-fledged members of society until they had become warriors. The ancestors finally manifest themselves in diverse shapes. Every villager could transform himself into an ancestor and they appeared on the dance ground with the adornments worn by the forebears, recreating and re-enacting mythical times.

A fitting end for this tour would have been the display of some of the beautiful over-modeled ancestor skulls known from the Sepik region, but these unfortunately remained absent from the exhibition – I missed them. Although they will certainly be present in the featured museum’s collections, I guess the curators chose not to display ‘human remains’ out of political correctness. Personally, I find this rather peculiar, since all the old reports from the region make it clear that the Sepik themselves often had no problems selling these skulls – paradoxical the exhibition even shows an old field-photo of a Sepik man offering two over-modeled skulls for barter. I now regret not having photographed it – but visitors were not allowed to make photographs anyhow ! I made the photograph below at the entrance and then got stopped.. so if you’re interested, you’ll have to visit the show yourself – it is highly recommended. 

ps simultaneously, there’s also a great ZERO exhibition at the Martin-Gropius-Bau – and there one can take as many photograph as one wants 🙂

Dance of the Ancestors - Art from the Sepik of Papua New Guinea