Saturday, January 24, 2009

the new installations are pretty much finished!

I picked the artists up at their hotel this morning, after having a bit of a scrape with a DC taxi. Aside from this unfortunate incident, the work has not turned out to be quite as much as we feared and the day has gone well. We’ve even managed to get the artists’ laundry done! – a pile of dirty clothes is a definite peril of an extended stay. But the better news is that António has finished his installation. It has been pretty amazing to watch. The melted aluminum we found dirty and in a pile under some signs at the scrap yard now looks like it is pouring out from the hand of a pictographic figure on a bright orange traffic sign. I just love the placement of this detail. Other fascinating things to watch happen include watching António work with Keith Conway, Kevin Etherton, and Andy Sutton from the Design department. They are cutting plastic, wood, and all sorts of odd bits that António then places quickly and confidently into his composition: a bit of green here, amp up the orange there… And my favorite part, the addition of orange and red pictographic images from the DC tourist map. The left side of the “fresco” consists of the maps António brought from Angola, and the pairing of the abstract map images with actual maps is wonderful. Of course, I am making it all sound pretty easy when it has required a lot of measuring, re-cutting, etc. to get each piece to fit just right. In fact, it's a bit of a miracle that we managed to put this together in just two weeks -- from finding the "junk," to Antonio conceiving his layout, to cutting, fabricating, painting and in all ways crafting this work.

Aimé spent the morning working on a new element for “Rail, Massina 3.” He would like for it to be interactive – a dialogue with the public, as well as António and me. He wants visitors to be able to write messages on playing cards, one side of which has been made blank. And so, he spent the morning painting over the numbered sides of cards. The message he wants people to be able to write is something that scares them, particular fears in relation to the Unknown. Once the fears have been written on the cards, he wants them placed in one of the boxes that stand in the foreground of his installation. The particular box holds a flag of Congo, and bears the words “fulu awa,” or , “trash here.” Aimé is proposing to have school groups come in, write their fears, and then reach in the box, remove the fears one at a time, and re-write them on a chalk board. We have been moving the chalkboard around in the gallery this morning to get the position just right. Initially, he had it closer to “Ici on crève.” I suggested that he move it farther away, so that it would be clear that it was part of “Rail Massina 3” and not one of the painted squares. He moved the piece, but also commented that to him, the works are one and the same. They are in dialogue with one another. He also chose to hang the black board quite low, so that it would be easily accessible by school children. You can see the realtionship between the 50 squares, the black board, and the facade of the new wall and boxes in the photo. Now, we just have to reach out to some local schools and see if they can come in and do this project with the artist.

Seeing the two artworks so near completion is pretty amazing and has me wondering about the difference between visual and verbal dialogues. Over the past two or so weeks, Aime and Antonio have really become friends. You can see a real camaraderie between them. This comes out, of course, in their verbal conversations, but they have been here as part of a visual dialogue. Their colors resonate with one another, both address issues of territorialism (in very different ways)... Anyone else's thoughts on the differences -- or lack thereof -- between visual and verbal dialogues are most welcome!

Later this afternoon, the artists will be going gallery hopping with Stephanie Hornbeck, one of the museum’s conservators, and tomorrow they get a much deserved break!

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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."