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.
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:
- a fascinating article about The Materials That Make Mangaaka;
- A Historian’s Perspective on Kongo and Loango Art, by Phyllis M. Martin;
- or the journey one statue made from Rome to New York, documented in much detail here.
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.
— Yaelle Biro (@YaelleBiro) September 22, 2015
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.
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.
A short video documenting the installation, presentation and opening reception of Uzuri Wa Dunia – with as soundtrack a song especially written for the occasion. Open until Sunday!
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.
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.
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:
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.
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 🙂
Opening September 14, 2015, Picasso Sculpture will largest museum exhibition of Picasso’s sculptures to take place in the United States in nearly half a century. The exhibition brings together around 150 sculptures from Picasso’s entire career via loans from major public and private collections in the U.S. and abroad, with the largest selection of works coming from the Musée national Picasso (Paris). This survey of Pablo Picasso’s profoundly innovative and influential work in three dimensions will provides an opportunity to explore a rarely seen aspect of Picasso’s large and prolific career, a part in which an influence of African art is omnipresent. In MoMA‘s press release we read:
Over the course of his long career, Picasso devoted himself to sculpture wholeheartedly, if episodically, using both traditional and unconventional materials and techniques. Unlike painting, in which he was formally trained and through which he made his living, sculpture occupied a uniquely personal and experimental status in Picasso’s oeuvre. He approached the medium with the freedom of an autodidact, ready to break all rules. This attitude led him to develop a deep fondness for his sculptures, to which the many photographs of his studios and homes bear witness. Treating them almost as members of his household, he cherished their company and enjoyed recreating them in a variety of materials and situations. Picasso kept the majority of them in his private possession during his lifetime. It was only in 1966, through the large Paris retrospective Hommage à Picasso, that the public became fully aware of this side of his oeuvre. Following that exhibition, in 1967 MoMA presented The Sculpture of Picasso, which remains the first and last exhibition on this continent to survey the artist’s sculptures.
Picasso Sculpture will be installed throughout the entire fourth floor of MoMA’s galleries, allowing sufficient space for the sculptures to be viewed fully in the round. The exhibition will include a selection of relevant works on paper and about 30 of the remarkable photographs of Picasso’s sculptures taken by Brassaï. Picasso Sculpture is organized in chapters corresponding to the distinct periods during which the artist devoted himself to sculpture, each time exploring with fresh intensity the modern possibilities of this ancient art form. The exhibition focuses on the artist’s lifelong engagement with this genre from the point of view of materials and processes. The aim is to advance the understanding of what sculpture was for Picasso, and of how he revolutionized its history through a lifelong commitment to constant reinvention.
Although this show will not travel, the Picasso Museum is presenting a smaller version of the exhibition in spring 2016. And, Laurent Le Bon, the director of the Musée Picasso, recently revealed that he is preparing an exhibition with the Quai Branly Museum on Picasso and Primitivism (source). Now that’s something to look forward to!
From 20 March to 30 August 2015, Geneva’s Musée Barbier-Mueller will present a new exhibition, Nigerian Arts Revisited, dedicated specifically to Nigerian art. Many of the objects will be exhibited for the first time (see a preview above). On the museum’s website we read:
The Barbier-Mueller Museum invited the anthropologist Nigel Barley, a former curator at the British Museum, to take a look at the museum’s Nigerian collection, which came into being over more than a hundred years, thanks to the personal and informed “eye” of the collectors Josef Mueller and Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller. Without aspiring to cover exhaustively the cultural production of Nigeria across the two millennia of its history, the Barbier-Mueller collection is very rich in several respects. Faithful to chronological continuity, it provides a sample of the production of the major cultural centers of Nigeria, shedding light on archaeological pieces from Nok, Katsina, and Sokoto, works from Ife and the kingdom of Benin, and Yoruba, Ijo, and Igbo objects, as well as items from the Cross River and the Benue Valley. By virtue of their rarity, certain pieces in the collection constitute “monuments” of African art. Others, by their emblematic force, are among its great “classics”. The exhibition sets out to present these objects, including several displayed here for the first time, highlighting their aesthetic quality even while explaining, by means of the catalogue, the ethnographic context of their production and use. Nigel Barley provides new angles of approach for considering, understanding, and perhaps even better appreciating the art of Nigeria.
The subject of the show is interesting since Jean Paul Barbier and Monique Barbier-Mueller sold a substantial part of their Nigerian collection to the Musée national des arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie (now part of the Musée de quai Branly) in 1996 and 1997 – you can browse 242 objects of the 262 objects here. This exhibition will thus show objects that were not included in those sales or acquired since then.