Thursday, January 15, 2009

The work begins

Unbelievably, both artists are at the museum now. Jim Minor, who is in charge of the facilities here at NMAfA, picked them up at 8:30 this morning and they came and began work straight away. A few months back Aimé had been able to send the museum mock-ups of how he wanted the wall he shared with António to look. He and António had met in Portugal in August so that they could discuss the exhibition and the space they shared. Both artists came to an agreement as to how to how to construct the wall they shared, and so with both artists’ blessing and a schematic diagram from Aimé, Andy Sutton – NMAfA’s painter – was able to prepare the wall in advance of the artist’s arrival. Since we do not know what delays the Inauguration or other challenges may pose, this advance preparation feels comforting.

When the artists arrived this morning, António went straight to work on his the “totems” for his “Allegories of Construction II” – the sculptural piece which will appear at the base of the stairs. He has been splitting his time between finalizing the painting of the surface of the totems and laying out the materials for “Allegories of Construction I” – the wall assemblage he is creating in the gallery in response to Aimé’s work. For his “totems,” he has chosen bright, vibrant yellows, oranges, blue, and green to express what he is referring to as his current optimism. Rather than working with subdued, natural pigments and exploring the beauty of crumbling, decaying things, he is celebrating the building of a new future. The colors and constructive materials of Luanda’s new buildings and changing skylines seem to be informing this work. He also says that he wants his palette to engage with the of Aimé’s wall, which makes sense as the artists are creating these two façades in response to one another. Aimé is using a similarly bold palette, but his is inspired by a particular wall in Kinshasa, found in the Massina district. It is a wall that the artist walks past on his way to his studio and he says it makes him happy: in a city that is grey and dusty; the colors stand out. I am not sure how far the artists will get this afternoon, however, as this afternoon both Aimé and António are going to get Smithsonian identity badges so that they can get around the museum without escort. Aimé was also hoping to project an image of the text he wants to paint onto his wall but the battery in his computer is dead and he forgot the power cord, so he will be taking his first metro ride back to the hotel with his translator extraordinaire, Xavier Courouble, to pick up the power cable.

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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."