Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The walls are rising

Barack Obama is now president, and we are all exhausted. The artists and I came to the museum last night for an Inaugural ball – and no, we didn’t get to meet the president. Alas. We did see AKON and actor Jeffrey Wright, however! We also did not get to our respective homes/hotels until past 1am. So I have to say that I am very impressed by the dedication of these two men, as they were back at the museum bright and early this morning.

Aimé and António are both aiming to have their installations finished by Friday. It is going to be challenging, but possible. Aimé has finished painting his wall and has begun working its surface with an adze – a trademark feature of his work. For him, the making of the work of art – the process – is the essence of the artwork. Thus, he works in a manner that leaves a trace. As he explains it, the adze is the tool of his forefathers. It is the tool used by so many of Africa’s artists; it is also a symbol of power. He is also intrigued by the tension between the surface of a work of art, and what is going on behind, or beneath the surface – and so one can see how he works his way through the surface to what is behind. He will be pairing this façade with three boxes that were used by street vendors in Kinshasa, Congo. The artist bought them from the vendors, then carried them back with him to Brussels. The museum then shipped the three boxes along with his other artworks to the museum. He will add flags from Angola, Congo, and the USA to the boxes. He’s got flags for the two African nations, and we have been shopping around to find the best place to get an American flag of the right dimensions. That’s not the only shopping we have been doing, however. Aimé would like to include plastic tables and chairs in the installation – the kind that you find on patios and street corners all over the world when the weather is warm. The problem is, the weather is NOT warm. It’s about 17 degrees Fahrenheit outside, and none of the stores we’ve been able to think of (not to advertise for anyone, but Ikea, Target, Walmart, Home Depot, etc) has them in stock or on their websites! There are some staff members willing to part with their own personal plastic chairs – which is actually great as they will look a bit dirty or used (just as the artist wants them) – but we aren’t having as much luck with the table. A couple of people on staff have leads they are looking into, however. Aimé says that you just find chairs like these in the streets of Kinshasa. People sit in them for hours, talk, and watch the day go by. He wants the museum visitors to have something of this experience – slowing down, talking, engaging with art. He also wants playing cards, one side of which he is talking about painting over, but these should not be so hard to find.

We might also need to do some more “dumpster diving” with António – a different form of shopping, I suppose. He may want more doors, shutters and other materials to complete his massive fresco. Right now, there are squares of brown paper positioned on the wall to mark where 5 windows will be hung. They have not yet been fitted into place as the designer and guys in the wood shop have been figuring out how to build light boxes behind them. This isn’t as easy a process as it may seem. First of all, there are no electrical outlets along the wall, and so the museum has brought in an electrician today to run the wiring. Then, Don Llewellyn and Melvin Vega from the Installation Department will custom craft wooden frames from which to hang the windows, and in which will be concealed the lights that Jim Minor managed to find in a local hardware shop. The effect should be startling, however – glowing open windows looking on to the installation by Mpane.

It is pretty wonderful to see the two artists talk to one another, observe one another’s work, and continue with this process of creating a visual dialogue. They are around and happy to answer questions from any of you, as well!


Concord Carpenter said...


very interesting blog. Thanks for sharing!

Artists in Dialogue said...

Thanks so much! I appreciate your feedback -- get others to share, too!

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."