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U-M Museum of Art tackles curatorial dilemmas in African art reinstallation project

By Dave Lawrence

Visitors observe the artwork on display in the Bohlen Gallery of African Art. Photo courtesy of Levi Stroud.
What does it mean to exhibit African art in an art museum? This question, and many more, are at the heart of a recent University of Michigan class, speaker series and U-M Museum of Art gallery reinstallation that explore the latest thinking in representing the African continent and its various cultures in an exhibition setting.
Laura De Becker gives a talk in the 'Power Contained' exhibition. Photo courtesy of Levi Stroud.

Laura De Becker gives a talk in the ‘Power Contained’ exhibition. Photo courtesy of Levi Stroud.

Under the heading “Curatorial Dilemmas,” Laura De Becker, the UMMA Helmut & Candis Stern Associate Curator of African Art—along with Raymond Silverman, U-M professor of history of art and their co-taught class, “Black Art/White Cube: Exhibiting Africa in the Art Museum”—will start a series of conversations to prepare for the reinstallation of UMMA’s African art gallery. As a part of a lecture series titled “Curatorial Dilemmas,” UMMA is hosting three African art experts to discuss some of the groundbreaking reinstallations they have developed at their respective institutions. De Becker says that UMMA’s current African art gallery installation has been in place for nearly a decade. With pieces going in and out of rotation, the gallery has lost many of its original thematic connections.
  • Mary (Polly) Nooter Roberts
    Mary (Polly) Nooter Roberts
  • Pamela McClusky
    Pamela McClusky
  • Christa Clarke
    Christa Clarke
"I would like to reintroduce a clear structure in the gallery, pairing artworks in evocative ways to tell stories that are pertinent today," she said. The speaker series and class coincide with the exhibition "Power Contained: The Art of Authority in Central and West Africa," on view through Dec. 31, 2017, in UMMA's Brandon Bridge gallery.
The Bohlen Gallery of African Art. Photo courtesy of Levi Stroud.

The Bohlen Gallery of African Art. Photo courtesy of Levi Stroud.

The ultimate goal of these conversations, De Becker says, is to inform the reinstallation of UMMA's African art gallery, scheduled for winter 2019. "The discussions with the students and the speakers will contribute towards a plan for the gallery, which will then be pored  over carefully by staff at the museum," she said. "We will attempt to complement gaps in our collection through new acquisitions, especially with regards to contemporary African art, or through long-term loans and donations from local collectors of African art." "Curatorial Dilemmas: Representing Africa at UMMA Speaker Series" comprises the following talks at 7 p.m. Thursdays in UMMA's Helmut Stern Auditorium:
  • Oct. 19: Mary (Polly) Nooter Roberts, professor in the UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance and consulting curator for African art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
  • Nov. 2: Pamela McClusky, curator of African and Oceanic art at the Seattle Art Museum
  • Nov. 30: Christa Clarke, senior curator arts of global Africa at the Newark Museum

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