Friday, September 26, 2008

The National Gallery of Art (Abuja) and Art Fairs

Earlier today, I got news of an Art Off The Main: African, Caribbean and Latin American Art Fair taking place during the first week of October. As usual, I thought this was news worthy, as I did not know such a fair existed (pardon my ignorance!). I checked the website. It is always exciting to see any effort to represent, or rather to present, work from Africa and the Caribbean (and Latin America) in sites where they have greater chances of attracting attention of the "art world." I am not sure who will see this art fair, but from the list of participating galleries and artists, which includes none of the major galleries invested in the work of artists from these regions, one could almost predict that the fair crowd will be, in the context of Chelsea as the center of contemporary art in NY, a "marginal" art crowd.

Actually, there is perhaps nothing wrong with this. Because that's how things are. And perhaps I would not be concerned with who is or not participating in this fair, if I did not see the National Gallery of Art (Nigeria) listed among the galleries. I am sure there must have been some reasoning behind the decision of that institution to be associated with this event, but I do not think it advisable. To begin with, this is not the type of forum the NGA should be officially identified with, not so much because it is wrong to support fairs for African, Caribbean and Latin American artists, but because as a national institution, I would think it should set its sights higher. I am sure many would wonder if the listing of Nigeria's National Gallery as a participating gallery is mistaken, given that no other peer institution from the relevant regions are involved, not even the important Chelsea galleries that normally include artists from Africa and the Caribbean. So it is either the NGA has seen a great potential in the event and thus hopes to invest in its future with its support, or it underestimates (and thus undermines) its own symbolic capital.

Maybe I am surprised by the NGA's participation in the Art Off The Main, because I don't quite recall its official presence at the Johannesburg Art Fair this year. If, as I believe, the NGA seeks to insert contemporary Nigerian artists' work into the international critical and commercial networks, it seems to me that being in Johannesburg, where several of the serious galleries focusing on or having sustained interest in the work of African artists (including October Gallery, Michael Stevenson, Jack Shainman, Goodman Gallery, Galerie Peter Herrmann, Perry Rubinstein Gallery, Townhouse Gallery, etc) would have been the right thing to do. So, if the NGA really wants to promote the work of Nigerian artists overseas (I commend it for sponsoring a Nigerian contingent to the Dakar Biennial), it ought to make a smarter choice about how to invest its limited resources. There is no doubt in my mind that participating in the Johannnesburg Art Fair would have been much more useful for the NGA and the artists; it is a much more respectable site to pitch a tent bearing the name of Nigeria's National Gallery.

1 comment:

African Woman said...

Thanks alot for the great post
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