Monday, January 12, 2009

A new week, and a new complication

Monday morning and the making of art begins. Over the weekend, we were able to get most of the supplies we had found on Friday delivered to the museum. So they were all in the building and the process of cleaning them and making them fit for work had begun. António arrived bright and early (before me in fact) and headed straight to the gallery. When I arrived, he was laying shutters, doors, and windows out on the ground. At the far end of the room, a really great contractor named Chai(sp?) was scrubbing the found objects with a hard brush and vacuuming them. With most of the dust off, he and António can begin painting them the vivid colors the artist has in mind. António also met with Andy Sutton from NMAfA’s Exhibitions Department, to select the paints with which he wants to work.

Later in the day… As the museum is also scrambling to prepare for the Obama’s inauguration (we are trying to put a painting of Obama by a contemporary Togolese artist and some textiles on view, and arranging for other activities and events), I have been running between the gallery, my office, other parts of the museum, and participating in scores of impromptu meetings in the halls. The other HUGE issue to come up today is that we have learned the other artist, Aimé Mpane, is having troubles with his visa. Last week –after two previous failed attempts to get a visa – Francine Berkowitz at the Smithsonian’s travel office was able to process a J-1 work visa for Mpane and he went to the US Embassy in Brussels in person. They approved the visa, said all was well, and he would get his passport in the mail in two days. Well, now it’s the night before he is supposed to fly and he still doesn’t have his passport. I’ve been scrambling, but it doesn’t seem like the State Department or anyone else can help. We’ve been able to track down that everything is issued; my colleague Frank Esposito has been coordinating with the airlines that Mpane’s flight can be changed, and I’ve told the artist to be at the Embassy to pick up his passport in person or find out in which post office it is waiting. And just when I thought getting António here would be the cliff-hanger…

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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."