Sunday, November 17, 2013

African Art from MoMA to Newark and Brooklyn Museums

African Art Class @BrooklynMuseum: L-R: Kristen Windmuller-Luna (Teaching Assistant); Cameron Bell, Mimi Pichette, Gabriella Ravida, Margot Yale, Kosaluchi Nwokeneche-Mmegwa,Dina Murokh, Moi, Natthamon Wutilertcharoenwong
Phew! It has been two days of museum visits. Yesterday, my "Art, Apartheid and South Africa" seminar group went to the Museum of Modern Art, New York print study room (thanks to Collections Specialist Katherine Alcauskas, who was a grad student during my time at Williams College) to view their modern/contemporary South African works that were included in the Impressions from South Africa: 1965 to Now exhibition organized by Judith Hecker in 2011. From MoMA we went to my favorite museum, Newark Museum--which alas is going through a difficult time. I hope they find the right, dynamic and visionary director to turn things around and scrub the rust from what is really a gem of a museum. There we saw Sue Williamson's video work Better Lives, 2003--a pwerful commentary on black immigrant lives and experiences in post-Apartheid South Africa.
Ndop (royal portrait figure, from the Kingdom of Kuba) in Brooklyn Museum. Photo by Kristen Windmuller-Luna

Owusu Ankomah's Movement #36, 2002, Newark Museum. Photo by Kristen Windmuller-Luna

Then today, with my African Art class, I was back to New York, this time to the Brooklyn Museum's African gallery, and of course, to see Wangechi's show (again, for me!). Brooklyn's gallery of African art, which begins with sculptures and pottery from the upper Nile (Napata, Meroe), and Nok, but also Ife, Benin, Sapi-Portuguese and Tellem/Dogon, is always useful in speaking about the deep history of artistic traditions in Africa. Very few collections give that opportunity. From Brooklyn we of course went Newark to view their African gallery proper. There, the gallery is still--as with old or unfortunately standard permanent installations of African art--organized into thematic rubrics, with no sense of time, no gesture at African art's historicity. OK, yes, the Brooklyn returns to themes for everything in between that first section and the last where you find work by contemporary African artists (Shonibare, Odundo, Tshibumba, etc), but at least they tried to place datable objects within some kind of soft chronological order. Whatever, Newark still has some great stuff, like that Yoruba Man with Bicycle (which Kwame Anthony Appiah famously wrote about in his book In My Father's House) at the gallery entrance, and Sokari Douglas Camp's monumental Naked Gelede (1995).

At the end of the two days, I started seeing Art by African artists in my peripheral vision. How long will this last, doctor?

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