Thursday, January 6, 2011

check out our new blog!

Artists in Dialogue 2: Sandile Zulu and Henrique Oliveira will open February 2nd and once again, we will be blogging to let you know all about it!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

the show goes on

Aimé’s chalkboard is now almost completely obscured and surrounded by playing cards that visitors have decided not to deposit in the box marked fulu gawa (trash here). The artwork has taken on a life of its own and soon it will have to come down. I find myself busy now with efforts to raise funds to acquire some of the art works. They belong in a museum and it will break my heart to see them leave.

At the same time, I find myself preoccupied with efforts toward future projects. In particular, the next exhibition which will go in the space – the mid-career retrospective of works by Yinka Shonibare MBE. It will go on view on November 10th, 2009, so stay tuned as we will probably be launching a blog about the many trials and travails behind the scenes in getting that great show on view. Another project looks at African earthworks – so, lots going on!

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Living Exhibition

Tomorrow marks the two-month anniversary of the opening of “Artists in Dialogue.” The artists have returned to their respective homes and are hard at work on their next projects. This exhibition, however, lives on – literally. The fears Aimé asked visitors to write on cards, drop in a vendor box, and transcribe to a chalk board on the wall have multiplied. One-quarter of a way through the exhibition and the board is almost completely obscured beneath the layers of words, pictures, fears. In his hopes that we confront that which scares us, we can learn of a far range of concerns: many are scared of snakes, others the dark, or something particular – like a woman named Jillian – and still others the terrors held close to the heart, like strokes or failure. For those of you who can not make it to Washington DC to visit this exhibition, we invite you to submit your concerns to this blog. They can remain anonymous, but in making them public you – and all of us – can confront and, hopefully, overcome our fears.

Aimé has spoken repeatedly of how there are no “psy” in Congo – no psychiatrists, no psychologists, just dialogue. Only through dialogue is it possible to solve our problems.

Before I sign off, I have questions to ask of you, the quiet public who visit this exhibition and blog. We’d love to hear from you:

- Are there two artists you would like to see in dialogue in a future exhibition?

- What do you think of the format of this exhibition -- with it’s combination of extant and new work? Would you prefer just site-specific installations?

- What are some programs we should try to improve the museum’s dialogue with the public? Twitter? Facebook? Other?

- Anything else?

For those of you who are visiting the exhibition, please know that you can treat this blog as a comment book. We look forward to hearing from you. And we will write back. This is a dialogue, after all.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Open to the public!

After the press preview yesterday, the artists and I had a follow-up interview with Smithsonian magazine. Then, a reporter from Voice of America showed up unexpectedly, so we chatted with him, too. It’s amazing how an entire day can just evaporate like that. After all the talking, António was able to go to lunch with a friend from the Portuguese embassy, while Aimé and I grabbed a bite before he went to see some exhibitions at other museums on the mall. They decided to have an early night because first thing this morning they were heading to University of Maryland to meet with Dr. Shannen Hill’s Intro to African Art class. If any of the students should read this blog – please write in and tell us about the experience!

Tonight, the artists and I will meet with museum docents. Docents are volunteers who give their time to learn about the art and exhibitions at the museum and then to provide tours to school groups and visitors. They are, quite literally, the “front line,” helping visitors interpret and understand what they see. We have a diverse and dynamic group of docents and this will be my first time working with them as a curator here at the museum. I am looking forward to it, however, as it is always fun to talk with an interested audience!

Oh, the other big news! We are open to the public today! how could I forget... after all this behind the scenes activity, we finally get to see people just wander in of their own volition!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


The opening was a huge success, if I do say so myself. I am guessing around 250 people came. The ambassadors of Angola and DRC both spoke, which was really quite moving, as did Rosalind Kainyah of De Beers, Inc. Her support has made so much of this exhibition possible.

So, we had Congolese performers, food, wine, and lots of people. I think both artists were happy, which was best of all. This morning, we had the press preview and that also seemed to go well – especially considering it was snowing outside. We weren’t sure how many people would show in these weather conditions. But, they came and more importantly, they stayed. Stay tuned until the weekend to see what people have to say… One of the nice comments was a reporter said we “nailed it” with the entry wall. Others seemed really interested to learn more about the relationship that has developed between Aimé and António.

We’d (me, the artists, museum, etc) also be interested in hearing more from readers about what folks think goes into opening or press previews, the launching of an exhibition in general… It is a team effort of course: designing the invites, sending them out, maintaining the lists, staffing the doors, providing security… I haven't got any pictures yet, but will share when I can...

Monday, February 2, 2009

Opening night!

Believe it or not, the exhibition opens tonight. I have been gone since Wednesday, due to a death in my family. It’s a bit of a surreal transition coming back at this celebratory moment.

While I have been away, António’s artworks have been re-hung, including “On Taking the Pill” which we retrieved from a paper conservator at the very last moment. This work of art is 40 years old and shows the marks of its journeys through time. The entry wall to the exhibition also was completed during my absence. Now, it bears the profiles of each artist – Aimé and António chose a rich sienna color for their silhouettes, and above this, quotes by both artists, each speaking about the work of the other.

The gallery is also clean now. The work carts and drop cloths have been removed. The 3 ficus trees António included in his installation, “Allegory of Construction I” shed leaves, but these have even been removed. When I was standing next to the trees, Aimé walked over to me to say that he loved seeing the trees, his solid figure “Nude” and “Congo, Shadow of a Shadow” all in a row. Each was made of wood – trees, a solid figure, and the matchsticks. It was an unexpected, and interesting, dialogue of form and material to emerge from the exhibition.

Aime also had a busy weekend. He made a whirlwind trip to New York to install artworks at the Skoto Gallery in Chelsea, where he has an exhibition opening on February 12. I’ve tried to get him to go to the hotel and rest a little before the festivities tonight but he insists he thrives on adrenaline. António’s weekend was a little more restful. He was able to get to some exhibitions over the weekend, and has been raving about “Strange Bodies” over at the Hirshhorn.

I have to say that I am excited about the opening tonight, the press tomorrow, and working with museum docents (volunteers who give informed tours to the public) on Wednesday, but I am also feeling sad that the artists will be leaving us soon! I’ve been joking that they will have to join the staff, as we have all grown so accustomed to having them around.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Artworks in Dialogue

We are quickly getting the artworks up and in place, but we’ve had a bit of a glitch with António’s. His 6 black and white photographs, the “Untitled” series and the triptych, “Disintegrations” have all been hung but I think a little too low. I would like them all raised 2 inches, so that the base of “Disintegrations” is not obscured by the boat, and so that the photo portraits appear to be closer to standing height. Establishing the height at which to hang an artwork is not a science and people have different views. We’d welcome your feed back as I am quite certain not everyone agrees with me. It’s hard to gage one’s audience – how many children or people in wheelchairs will be visiting? How does an artwork look in relation to the floor? The ceiling? The unfortunate issue today is that the works have already been hung, and I am loathe to add to people’s work by asking them to re-hang the artworks. This dilemma does bring up an issue that is open to input, however, and that is the relationship between artworks.

Up until now, my writing has focused mostly on the actions of the artists, but of course, the designer Alan Knezevich and I have also been around all along. As the curator, I had the most say in what works of art would be included, as well as where they would be placed in the gallery. In terms of the placement, I really have been seeking to create visual dialogues between works of art. I wanted António’s “Untitled” series in a face-off (pun intended) with “Ici on crève.” I also wanted the black and white of the “Untitled” series next to the black and white canvases of “Disintegrations” in a dialogue of forms across media. And, I want to position António’s early pop art influenced work on paper, “On Taking the Pill,” in proximity to Aimé’s “Rail, Massina 3” in which we can see the rich traditions of Congolese popular arts – about which Johannes Fabian, Bogumil Jewsiewicki and others have written so well. So, the dialogues are between the artists, between and amongst their artworks, between genres, between them and me, and hopefully, will include you – audiences around the world.

Blog Archive

About the Exhibition

Artists in Dialogue: António Ole and Aimé Mpane is the first in a series of exhibitions in which two artists have been invited to create new work in response to one another. Accompanying these site specific artworks are a selection of older and more recent pieces by António Ole of Angola and Aimé Mpane, an artist who divides his time between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Belgium. Even though their works appear together for the first time, Ole and Mpane share close ties to their homelands and a connection to the human and natural environments of their native countries.

Ole has been creating and exhibiting his artwork since he was a teenager, and this selection spans his impressive 40-year career. From the crisp pop art style of his youth to his subtle and evocative assemblages and installations, Ole's work prompts viewers to consider poverty, political hypocrisy, territorialism, violence and decay. At the same time, a deep appreciation for the beauty of cast-off objects and the aesthetics of poverty underlies his works, which are on view in the United States for the first time.

Mpane, a prolific artist who is versatile in painting, prints, sculpture, video and installation, achieved international recognition in 2006. He utilizes his commanding skill with human expressions and the figure to probe the history and present state of the DRC.

This selection of established and new works provides insight into the personal visions of Ole and Mpane and how they communicate with diverse audiences. Their subject matter, use of unlikely materials and ongoing commitment to Africa resonate with one another and encourage dialogue.

About the Curator.

My photo
"I was told to describe myself as a well-dressed hipster and I only wish this were true. Despite my lack of cool, I consider myself lucky to be the coordinating curator at the National Museum of African Art. My interests include both contemporary and classical African art - and to be frank, I disagree with the notion of a great separation between the two - and I have worked in both museums and universities. I've been called an idealist because I believe that through learning about other cultures, ideas, and visions, we learn tolerance for one another - regardless of class, religion, country and the other great divides. But I also just love looking at, learning about, and being with African art and African artists. I like art in general, but it is the diversity, complexity, and richness of the works connected to the African continent that captivate and motivate me. It's the only work I've ever done, and among other great rewards, it has allowed me to travel to and on a couple of occasions live in Zambia, Nigeria, South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Angola and Senegal."