Tag Archives: Modernists

Portraits of Power: African Kings in an Age of Empire

For too long, African art has been viewed in the West through a distorted lens. The modernists of the early 20th century saw in its shapes a kind of atavistic ideal — divorced from the realism of European traditions — which became in part the basis for the budding genre of abstract art. But a new exhibit at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, accompanied by the photographs above, seeks to overturn that narrative.

Heroic Africans: Legendary Leaders, Iconic Sculptures is a landmark collection of sculptures, masks and portraiture from a range of historic moments and cultural centers in Africa, all presented with meticulous historical detail. Context is important, says the exhibit’s curator, Alisa LaGamma. “African art always gets presented as a type. These people have this kind of mask, or people from this region produce those kinds of figures. It’s so generic and I was very uncomfortable with that.”

Instead, LaGamma’s exhibit shows how many of the works on display, if considered in a particular context, could conform to traditions elsewhere. Why should we see this graceful sculpture below of the Queen mother of the King of Benin in a different light than, say, a bust of a Roman emperor or latterday European potentate, styled with mythic flourishes and a hopelessly perfect nose? Throughout the exhibit, there’s an awareness of the imperatives that produced much of these sculptures and objects through the centuries: namely, the impulse of local societies and those who led them to create totems of their power.

The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection

Queen Mother Pendant Mask: Iyoba, 16th century

On the sidelines of Heroic Africans is a series of photographs of various African chieftains, tribal elders and kings taken in the late 19th century and early 20th century. These were produced by studios and ateliers that sprung up in parts of Africa; the pictures were disseminated as postcards and collectibles across the continent and to the rest of the world. The photos “are being taken at a very special moment in history,” says LaGamma. “A lot of the artistic traditions that make up the body of the exhibit wind up becoming anachronisms.”

After all, the introduction of photography came alongside the advent of direct European colonial rule through much of Africa. There was a craze to catalog and document the continent’s alien, subject peoples. There was also, in particular, an obsession with African nobility. In Ornamentalism, a history of the British empire, the social historian David Cannadine discusses how European imperial powers cemented itself by reinforcing and co-opting local hierarchies: “ceremony, monarchy and majesty… were the means by which this vast world was brought together, interconnected, unified and sacralized.”

As we can see, a lot of local African potentates were happy to pose for the foreigner’s lens. The postcards still show leaders in all their pomp and majesty, but they inevitably bear the weight of Africa’s subjugation by foreign powers. At the same time, more traditional objects and sculptures that defined whole communities and spoke of their ancestors were being whisked away to museums and private collections in Europe. Amassed as nameless artifacts in dusty imperial showrooms, they lost their local resonance. “There’s a disconnect that happened then,” says LaGamma, “between the image of power and the reality of that power.” That connection may not be ever fully restored, but LaGamma’s efforts are heroic in their own right.

Heroic Africans: Legendary Leaders, Iconic Sculptures is on display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City until January 29.

Ishaan Tharoor is a writer-reporter for TIME and editor of Global Spin. Find him on Twitter at @ishaantharoor

Dean Chalkley’s Young Souls premieres in London and online at 125 magazine

Dean Chalkley, known for his portraiture and music photography, aired his debut film Young Souls at The Bethnal Green Workings Men club in London last week. And, if like me, you didn’t get along to the screening, or didn’t know about the film, I urge you to catch it online. It is under 10 mins, running at 9 mins 36s to be precise. I’m going to grab a cup of tea and watch it now…

Click on Young Souls to go to 125 magazine’s site where you can watch it.

If you want to hear it from the photographer follow the links to Dean writing on his blog in a post Young Souls now live to view on 125 magazine. Looks like it was a fun and successful evening.

The film will also be screened alongside an exhibition of photos at The Youth Club Gallery from 22 July – 4 August. However, I can’t find the gallery listed, and can’t see on the PR where it is located, will find out and post details with a pic. Dean also has a show coming up at the Reading Museum The New Faces “depicting a group of young ‘Modernists’ from London” running from 30 July – 4 September.

Filed under: Fashion Photography, Photographers, Photographers blogs, Photography Shows, Portraiture, short films Tagged: 125 magazine, Dean Chalkley, music, Northern Soul, Reading Museum, short film, The New Faces, Young Souls

Paris Photo 2010 Post Show Press Release

Fresh back from our trip to Paris for the splendid 24th addition of Paris Photo, we´ve just picked up the following press announcement about various sales and other success stories:

The 14th edition of Paris Photo turned the spotlight on central Europe †Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia †and included 106 exhibitors from 25 countries. Some 38,000 visitors came to the fair, compared to 40,150 in 2009, a slight decrease in number owing to the fact that there was no late night opening this year.

Sales took off

Transactions went at a sustained pace and most exhibitors reported a better volume of sales compared to 2009. Some achieved results that were described as “exceptional,” “astonishing,” “miraculous,” by the gallery owners themselves whose expectations were modest owing to the prevailing economic climate.

Vintage sales:

Sales were good, and even excellent, especially for those galleries whose shows coincided with some of the exhibitions currently on in Paris (Heinrich Kühn at the Musée de l’Orangerie, André Kertesz at the Jeu de Paume, Les Primitifs de la photographie at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France) as well as the big photography auctions and the Central European theme. The photograph by Joseph Sudek put up for auction by Johannes Faber gallery went for a record €300,750 at the Sotheby’s sale. This brought numerous buyers to the Viennese gallery’s booth at Paris Photo. Another image by the Czech artist went for €190,000. Meanwhile, the New York gallery Edwynn Houk, sold the picture entitled Arles (1929) by Hungary’s Moholy-Nagy for US$ 265,000. Budapest’s Vintage Gallery was showing largely Hungarian modernists and achieved better sales than last year with a total of €58,000 for 22 vintage pieces sold. France’s Françoise Paviot sold her self portrait of Man Ray for €75,000 and the entire set of small contacts by Brassaï made in 1958 for between €2,500 and €4,000 each. Obsis gallery of Paris sold its entire collection of images of the 1931 colonial exhibition held in Paris to a Paris museum for more than €100,000. A specialist in anonymous photography, the gallery Lumière des Roses (Montreuil) sold two thirds of the works on its booth, and in particular 8 autochromes (1925/1930) by Léon Gimpel at €7,000 each. Surfing on the current wave of enthusiasm for photographers who worked in fashion (Avedon, Irving Penn, Guy Bourdin, Helmut Newton…), Hamiltons Gallery of London sold the famous Mainbocher Corset (1939) by Horst P.Horst for US$ 150,000.

Contemporary sales:

Filles du Calvaire (Paris) gallery recorded its best sales ever at this year´s Paris Photo. alabama foundation repair . The gallery let go of three editions of a portrait by Paul Graham from his End of an Age Series, 1996-1998 at €24,000 a piece to buyers who included some Turkish newcomers to the fair. SAGE Paris sold his entire collection of the light-boxes made in 1999 by Japan’s Naoya Hatakeyama, ie. some 30 works costing €6,000 each which went to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and to a Brazilian foundation. Berlin’s DNA gallery sold 80% of its wares including two large format staged images by Japan’s Tatsumi Orimoto at €38,000 each and two videos by Bulgarian artist Mariana Vassileva costing € 8,000 each. New York’s Yossi Milo recorded better sales than at his last participation in Paris Photo in 2006 with some 40 works priced at between €6,000 and €10,000 acquired by new collectors from England, the USA and France. With its artist Gábor Åsz as the winner of the 2010 BMW-Paris Photo Prize, Loevenbruck (Paris) found buyers for four of the Hungarian’s unique pieces at €20,000 each.

Photography book sales:

Book sellers also reported very good sales this year: Toluca sold 20 of its 28 copies of « What Man is really like » by Rachel Whiteread, Ingo Shulze and Naoto Fukusawa for €7,000 each. Librairie 213 let go of some 20 rare books with the most expensive costing €12,000. Man Ray’s book entitled Electricity (1932) offered by Denis Ozanne at €35,000 also found a buyer.

Beautiful presentations and plenty of discoveries:

Visitors, collectors, institution directors were unanimous in their praise for the high quality of the exhibits, the beauty of the works and their excellent presentation as well as the good number exciting discoveries that arose from the exploration of the Central European scene. Firmly anchored in a rich historical ground, the Czech, Polish, Hungarian, Slovenian and Slovakian scenes are today undergoing a renaissance. In addition, the exhibitions of the finalists of the BMW-Paris Photo Prize, Leica Camera’s show A Juste Titre as well as the SFR Young talents show won many accolades from the public.

Paris, world capital of photography:

This year Paris Photo coincided with a number of key auctions, including the Avedon sale at Christies’ and a big auction at Sotherby’s. It also took place in the context of the 30th anniversary of Photography Month which offered a plethora of exhibitions throughout the city, in addition to a number of “Off” fairs and happenings. More than ever, Paris Photo is the world’s leading event for photography and Paris is its global capital in November.

Paris Photo 2011: from Bamako to Cape Town, African photography

From 17th to 20th November 2011,Paris Photo will be back on the road to discovery, heading to the African continent to highlight talents from Bamako to Cape Town. Six platforms will be created to spotlight the diversity of both historical and contemporary creativity in sub-Saharan Africa. Paris Photo will select the content of these platforms with the help of artistic advisor Simon Njami.*

* A writer, art critic and independent curator, Simon Njami conceived the exhibition Africa Remix, the first Africa pavilion at the Venice biennale in 2007 with Fernando Alvim. He was also behind A Collective Diary (Tel Aviv 2010) and A Useful Dream, fifty years of photography in Africa (Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, 2010). Njami was co-founder of La Revue Noire and served as its Chief Editor. He was director of the Bamako biennale for 10 years and his latest book is a biography of Léopold Sédar Senghor (Fayard, 2007).