Sunday, June 6, 2010

To the 2 African Ambassadors

The day before the opening of Who Knows Tomorrow at the Neue Nationalgalerie, my colleague Udo Kittelmann informed me that 35 (mostly African) ambassadors had notified the Nationalgalerie about their decision to not show up for the opening of our exhibition. Was I surprised? Of course not. It was not difficult to realize that the only reason these folks accepted our invitation in the first instance was because of the possibility of photo-op with the Federal President. And since he had resigned his job, there was no point coming to the Nationalgalerie. Did I for once imagine that suddenly these characters were so keen on participating in a much anticipated event during which the work of important artists from the continent took center stage in the German capital city? Of course not. But I hoped somehow that not every African ambassador could be that opportunistic and phillistinic.

As it happened two Ambassadors showed up, so I write this in appreciation. First was the Ambassadors of Angola who came to support Antonio Ole as a "respected citizen of Angola" as he put it. He engaged anyone who was willing to share a banter about Antonio's work. This is a guy who understood quite well what it means to be the chief representative of his country and people in a foreign land. I could not help but thank him especially for being a different kind of ambassador. Oh, and by the way there's an announcement about Antonio's exhibition in the embassy website!

Then also there was the Liberian Ambassador who despite not having any Liberian participating in the exhibition, came to see why African artists commanded so much attention that day in Berlin print and electronic media. But she had a problem with the show, specifically Pascale Marthine Tayou's installation right in front of the Neue Nationalgalerie: Tayou apparently made a mistake in his design of the Liberian Flag, and the Ambassador was upset! Of course, it took a while to explain to her that the design of every other flag of the 54 African states was intentionally "wrongly" designed by the artist. I am not sure that the Ambassador got that, but then how many of us really get the point of a lot of contemporary art anyway. Take my response to the work of the Italian artist Rudolf Stingel for instance. During my visit to the Neue Nationalgalerie for the final installation of Pascale's work, I was impressed to see that workmen were apparently laying this floral grey-toned carpet on the entire ground-level floor of the empty gallery. Hung on the ceiling of the massive space was a large chandelier that was for sure less impressive than the ones hanging in the Bellevue Palace. "So they are getting ready for the President," I said to Udo, gesturing toward the working men (Dr. Kohler had not yet announced his resignation). "Oh, that's Stingel's installation," Udo said.

Anyway, thanks to the two Ambassadors that came: His Excellency Mr. Alberto Ribeiro and Her Excellency Mrs Sedia Massaquoi-Bangoura.

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