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