Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Beyond Compare. Bode museum: curated by Jonathan Fine and Paola Ivanov, Am Kupfergraben, Monbijou Brucke, 10117, Berlin. From 27.10.17.

Beyond Compare. Bode museum: curated by Jonathan Fine and Paola Ivanov, Am
Kupfergraben, Monbijou Brucke, 10117, Berlin. From 27.10.17.

I cannot remember who it was that first said: "necessity is the mother of
invention." Perhaps this attribution does not matter considering the
exhibition currently under review. W.D.Y.G.T.F.M.P. (why don't you Google
that for me please.) If you are looking for a master narrative you will
search indefinitely for the dominant authority figure that is behind
Beyond Compare. I believe this is because Beyond Compare is an exhibition
which in most ways fulfills the promise presented to curator Alison La
Gamma, which she failed to deliver, for Heroic Africans. See my blog-post
from the year 2012.

Beyond Compare sets "art" objects and makes apparent both the material
cultures of early European history and aspects of the material cultures of
Africa peoples, in showing once again the canonical pieces that were
collected and until recently on display in Berlin's Ethnological Museum in

That museum is now closed and soon the Humboldt Forum shall take its place
in center Berlin, in the revamped Hollenzollern Palace. The exhibition is
nestled within the permanent display of the Bode Museum. African Arts: a
Chockwe Chiefs chair, a Chibinda Luba figure from Angola, rare exquisite
Sapi-Portuguese salt cellar from c.a. 1450 Sierra Leone, and Benin Bronzes
are hidden in plain sight. A floorplan with the galleries "highlighted"
with a just under fluorescent flaming deep pink magenta add a kind of
treasure hunt aspect to Beyond Compare. A provocative title that in the
consistent device of coupling European decorative figurative art with an
African "ethnographic" counterpart frustrates viewers because all of the
objects are compared and thrilling formal artistic and societal linkages-
how the art was used by the peoples who made it abound.

This exhibition is a real scientists or cultural historian friendly
exhibition, because as an experiment partly arrived at due to the acute
need to display these cultural treasures from Dahlem, in an interim museum
construction period, curators Jonathan Fine and Paola Ivanov demonstrate a
kind of heroic associative visual thinking and alacrity in their compare
and contrast examples which are the life blood of many art historians. In
this they invite the public to discover or rediscover the all too apparent
"primitive" in European culture, as a means to bid farewell to notions of
"the primitive" like professor emeritus Fritz Kramer recommends.

An improvement in placement of the selected "masterpieces" of the
ethnographic museum is that because they are now enshrined in galleries
accustomed to flooding the rooms with the cold light or rationalism
suitable for European decorative arts, now too one can see the dust of
ferrous oxide on the dented bronze face of a Benin Oba. His commemorative
head an emblem of the worship of lineage divinity and kingship, it is a
lost wax bronze vessel, opposing a wooden bust of the severed head of a
mythical Christian martyr, John the Baptist. One would have wished for
stronger lighting in the old galleries in Dahlem in-stead of rooms with
walls painted black and the theatrical spot-lighting which were evocative
in a ham-fisted kind of way of stereo-types of a dark continent.
Nevertheless my gut feeling about the current show Beyond Compare was that
it was by far too few African objects, one can only bide the time until
the Humboldt Forum opens and hope for more. However the comparisons, which
were studious and impeccably chosen ran deep with metaphor and symbolism
that was common, similar, analogous a bizarre translation or reflection of
the other, in Africa and Europe. A very strong example of this was the
Saint Anthony figure carved in the Congo which was paired with a wooden
Saint Christopher figure.

My hope is that more curators working in Museums situated in the
metropoles of the west, with access to classic pieces from across time and
geographic location will seek to make an exhibition based on similar
premises: an argument for cultural relativity. What I consider to include
premises like: that mankind, and facts of life, no matter how diverse has
far more in common that he / she has different. And that we as human
culture are long overdue in revising and celebrating material culture so
that we have a clearer vision of what our common journey as Homo Sapiens
Sapiens has been, by a more tolerant display of relics from the past which
can still be risky and informative to previously held erroneous stereo
types about culture and faith.

By Craniv Boyd.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.