Monday, October 20, 2014

El Anatsui's Fashion @ the American Academy of Arts Induction

Here is El Anatsui giving his formal speech during the American Academy of Arts & Sciences induction ceremony last week at Harvard. Since I met him in 1985, this is the first time I have seen him in a suit, and I cannot help but share the sight! Not bad at all, this suit ensemble.  

Photos: Courtesy the American Academy of Arts & Sciences

Anatsui's "Trains of Thought" @ Jack Shainman Gallery: Some photos

This past Saturday, El Anatsui's "Trains of Thought" exhibition opened at Jack Shainman's 524 W 24th St. Gallery in Chelsea, NYC. The works show the extent to which Anatsui keeps expanding on the language of semantic abstraction using the syntactical and lexical elements of folded, manipulated aluminum strips and plates, and copper wire. It is quite something seeing how he has, with the confidence that comes with mastery of a medium and technique, reintroduced the poetics of asymmetric negative and positive space--the fundamental design element associated with Igbo Uli drawing/mural and the Nsukka School's work--into his sculpture, and the result is compositionally stunning, because it challenges normative notions of pictorial order and balance. OK, this is a tease; I will be back to this subject, here or elsewhere. Soon.

*Except otherwise noted, all photos by Chika Okeke-Agulu

Photo: Arinze Okeke-Agulu

Image courtesy Jack Shainman Gallery

Arinze Okeke-Agulu, El Anatsui, Joy Okeke-Agulu, Ugochukwu Smooth-Nzewi, Ngozi Okeke-Agulu

Nigerian artist Victoria Udondian (C), Jack Shainman (L)

Nzewi, Udondian and New York-based artist Donald Odita

Jack and El

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Hood Museum Curator, Ugochwuku-Smooth Nzewi's @ Princeton

Perrin Lathrop, Jessica Bell, and Nzewi 3rd, 4th and 5th from Left @ 105 Chancellor Green, Princeton

Nzewi, responding to questions. All photos: Chika Okeke-Agulu

Last week, Ugochukwu-Smooth Nzewi, the curator of African art at Dartmouth College's Hood Museum of Art gave a talk, organized by Perrin Lathrop and Jessica Bell (both graduate students at the Department of Art & Archaeology, Princeton). Part of a series, "At Work with Artwork: Discussions with Museum Curators and Directors," Nzewi's talk ranged from his intellectual formation as a practicing artist and independent curator in Nigeria, to his further training as an art historian (under Sidney Kasfir at Emory), and his current work as a museum curator in a leading university art museum in the US. He also shared his experience as a co-curator of this year's Dakar Biennale. See my review of the Biennale in the October issue of Artforum International (subscription required for access). 
After listening to him, and as I concluded in my review, all I can say is this: If the people in Dakar really understand the stakes of the Dak'Art Biennale; if they truly appreciate what that biennale means to the artworld of Africa and its Diaspora, they cannot continue with what has been an self-evident, unfortunate, careless, business as usual attitude. The embarrassing event they put up this year, despite the curators' commendable effort to making a good show, must not happen again. Else, they will be hard-pressed to find any serious, self-respecting artist wanting to be a part of Africa's flagship biennale. If after 20+ years they still do not know what it means to treat art and artists respectfully, and that biennale production requires a healthy dose of professionalism, they should just simply pack up. OK, let me edit myself: the show must go on; but they should simply just sit up! Especially given how much the government of Senegal has invested in this much-needed event since the early 1990s.

Next stop for Nzewi, after the bitter-sweet experience of Dak'Art, is his major, traveling exhibit for the Hood Museum: a thematic survey of contemporary African art during the 1980s. As an art historian, that's a show I can't wait to see, in 2016. 

Marcia's show @ 1:54 Fair, London

So, Marcia is presenting her new body of work at the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London, which opens tomorrow. Represented by Purdy Hicks Gallery, her exhibition includes two new series "Ethnographica" (collages) and "Androgyny" (watercolors), along with her sculptures. Here is a sampler of the works on show.
Marcia Kure, The Androgyne IV: Faux Real, 2014Watercolour and mixed media on watercolour paper mounted on board, 60.9 x 45.7 cm
All images Copyright: The Artist

Marcia Kure, The Androgyne II: The 5th, 2014Watercolour and mixed media on watercolour paper mounted on board, 60.9 x 45.7 cm

Marcia Kure, Ethnographica V, 2014Collage on Arches watercolour paper 300LB, 60.9 x 45.7 cm

Marcia Kure, Ethnographica I, 2014Collage on Arches watercolour paper 300LB, 60.9 x 45.7 cm
1:54 takes place at the Somerset House, Oct. 16-19, and features 27 galleries, many of them based in Africa. In its second year, the fair can now legitimately claim to be the second prime venue to buy and sell contemporary African Art, after the Johannesburg Art Fair. Will it eventually surpass JAF, because sited in London? It all depends on which fair demonstrates firmer commitment to high quality work and commands respect of the international art market.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

"When the Present Begins" symposium @ Johann Jacobs Museum / Museum Rietberg, Zurich

When the Present Begins

A conversation over two days (Oct. 10./11.), proposed by Johann Jacobs Museum and Georg Schöllhammer, Felix Vogel and Tristan Weddigen on the occasion of the exhibition „Gastspiel“ (curated by Damian Christinger) at Museum Rietberg.


There was once a time when we talked about modern art, but today the term sounds strangely outmoded. If we remember correctly, this type of art grew out of two conflicting stimuli: the art that had gone before; and the society around us. Today, on the other hand, we talk of contemporary art. In fact, there are whole museums of contemporary art: it's almost as if the process of historic sedimentation had become frozen in an infinite sense of the present. But is there a threshold or a caesura, some form of recognition or forgetfulness between the one and the other, between the modern and the contemporary? Is this presence really as global as it would have us believe? Despite its best intentions and failed attempts at export modernity was essentially a western game. And if so, what retroactive effects does globalization have on the former centre that was once able to distinguish between itself and the other barbarians, between applied and fine art, or even between art and non-art? It    seems clear that institutional edifices such as those museums that schlep the ballast of the 19th century around with them are in danger of either being crushed by the burden or seeking some form of emergency exit in populism and spectacle. But it seems equally clear that all the newly created institutional edifices, such as the biennales, are unable at least on the strength of their own efforts to generate the critical terminology or new realities that would have more substance than their latest press release with its mix of curatorial matters and the interests of the promoters.

"When the Present Begins" is intended to be a halfway informative exchange of ideas about the state of the present, of the artistic contemporary. This exchange is taking place in two Zurich museums, of which one, the RietbergMuseum, is exclusively given over to non-western art. With its "Gastspiel" exhibition, it has admitted contemporary art for the first time to its premises. The Johann Jacobs Museum, on the other hand, finds the things to which it dedicates its energies along global trade routes. These may well be art. But, then again, they may not.

Speakers: Daisy Bisenieks, Angela Dimitrakaki, Adrienne Edwards, Pauline Y. Jao, Anke Hennig, Susanne Leeb, Royce Ng, Chika Okeke-Agulu, Peter Osborne, Marcelo Rezende, Moe Satt.

Moderators: Roger Buergel, Goerg Schollhammer, Tristan Weddigen, Felix Vogel

Museum Reitberg – October 10, 10-16h
Johann Jacobs Museum – October 11, 10-16h

Johann Jacobs Museum
Seefeldquai 17
8034 Zürich
Di 18-23h, Sa & So 11-17h
Eintritt Sfr. 7. - ab 26 Jahre
+41 (0) 44 388 61 90

Museum Rietberg
Gablerstrasse 15
CH-8002 Zürich
T. +41 (0)44 415 31 31
F. +41 (0)44 415 31 32

Friday, October 3, 2014

It is the Anatsui Season!

El Anatsui, Red Block, 2010 (detail). Photo: Chika Okeke-Agulu. Copyright, El Anatsui

Yep, Anatsui is in town; actually all over the east coast for a number of programs all happening this month. After the big show at the Brooklyn Museum last year and at Mt Holyoke College this year, he is back with new work, but also to receive an award, and to talk about his art and illustrious career. To begin with, he will be at Harvard to be formally inducted into the American Academic of Arts and Sciences in a series of by-invitation-only events, October 10-12; too bad ordinary folks like me don't get to see how they do it! Then on October 18, his solo exhibition opens at the Jack Shainman Gallery. (And by the way, Jack Shainman is also opening solo shows of Kay Hassan same day as El, and that of Turner Prize nominee, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye soon). On the 23rd, I will be having a public conversation with El at the Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University. While another solo exhibition of El's work opens on October 28 at the venerable Mnuchin Gallery in the New York Upper East Side. I am going to all these events, except of course for the--roll my eyes--exclusive Academy program in far away Harvard!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

CALL FOR PROPOSALS: “Black Arts United States: Institutions and Interventions”

Photo Credit: Wally Gobetz image of Rhapsody, by John Yancey in Charles E. Urdy Plaza, East Austin


“Black Arts United States: Institutions and Interventions”

June 4-6, 2015

Northwestern University

Black expressive culture in the United States has a long and contested history whose boundaries are almost impossible to qualify and whose animating forces continue to evolve. Yet the African American arts—whether film, theater, dance, visual art, music, literature, or performance—necessarily tack between the pull of tradition and the push toward innovation, a dynamic often reflected in the processes through which artistic practices are codified as either conventional or transgressive at any given moment. Such designations both illuminate the historical conditions in which black art is produced and determine what practices come to be circulated, canonized, denigrated, or forgotten.
Bringing together artists, scholars, activists, administrators, and representatives of arts organizations, this cross-disciplinary conference aims to reconsider how we understand what constitutes an intervention within the black arts, and how such interventions come into contact with mainstream and culturally specific institutional frames. Given the vexed conditions in which black aesthetic practice now unfolds—thanks to a shrinking public sphere increasingly shaped by market forces rather than cultural expertise—these concerns seem particularly pressing today, but they are part and parcel of that much longer history of black subjects’ coming to voice within American culture.
Accordingly, the conference organizing committee welcomes proposals on the following themes:
  • The relationship between tradition and innovation in the black arts
  • The role of “mainstream” institutions in shaping black artistic histories
  • The history of black arts institutions in the United States and the challenges facing them today
  • The politics of institutionally funded artists versus independent artists
  • The relationship between academic institutions and communities relative to black artistic production
  • New understandings of cross-institutional collaborations
  • Alternative networks for institutionalizing the black arts
  • Interventions into, critiques of, and/or resistance to institutions
  • The impact of criticism on the valuation of black art
  • The impact of audience expectation on black artistic production in an age of new media
  • Governmentality versus marketability of the black arts
  • Spatial and temporal assumptions about black arts
  • Non-urban spaces for black art production
  • Black arts and the environment
  • Black arts and/as activism
  • Black arts as commodity
  • Black arts and political economy
  • Black arts as a site of resistance
  • Black arts and the public sphere
Please submit a proposal (250 words or less) for individual papers of 15 – 20 minutes (approx. 8 – 10 double spaced pages in length) or visual presentations (short films, performances, videos), along with audio/video needs and a 2-page CV highlighting research and experience germane to the proposed presentation to email address) by December 5, 2014. Please include “BAI Conference Proposal” in the subject line. Participants will be notified of acceptance or rejection of the proposal by January 16, 2015.
“Black Arts United States: Institutions and Interventions” Call for Proposals PDF

The Black Arts Initiative (BAI) at Northwestern University cultivates an interdisciplinary approach to black arts. Launched in 2012, BAI seeks to engage myriad perspectives, strengthen Northwestern’s involvement in black arts, and connect with a broader community of scholars, practitioners and community members through research, pedagogy, practice, and civic & community engagement. You can learn more about us at our website:


Rhaisa Williams
Northwestern University
Ph.D Candidate in Performance Studies