My name is Edleeca Thompson and I am the curatorial research assistant for the Arts of Africa Reinstallation Project, sponsored by the Texas Fund for Curatorial Research. The research for the reinstallation project involves photographing gallery spaces and observing the use of technology and interactive media, as well as visitor responses, in order to ascertain the “best practices” in exhibition design for African art. I am also collecting information on educational programs, activities, and events that support a more innovative approach to the representation and interpretation of African art. This information will be used for the upcoming reinstallation of the DMA’s Arts of Africa gallery in the fall of 2013.
Since June 2011, Roslyn Walker, Senior Curator and The Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art, and I have visited twenty museums (together or separately) in the United States and Europe for this project. For me, the most impressive displays are at the Louvre (Paris), the Musée Rietberg (Zürich), the Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum (Cologne), and the Museum Aan de Stroom (Antwerp).
In Paris we toured the Pavillon des Sessions, where African art has been presented at the Louvre since 2000. The first picture shows the cool and serenely elegant African gallery at the Louvre. Although the Louvre is most known for its vast collection of masterpieces of Western art, the arts of Africa and Oceania have become increasingly popular with the general public. In response to public demand for more information on the objects, the museum added more labels and portable laminated information cards that visitors can take with them as they tour the galleries.
The Rietberg Museum also follows the tendency toward cool elegance, but with more color contrast in their restrained, yet intimately formal, spaces.
The Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum carries spatial intimacy even further in an exhibit that explores the theme of death and the afterlife. The serene, contemplative environment, with its white walls, cushy flooring, featherlike ceiling, and soft, ambient music, evokes otherworldly experiences of the afterlife. The visitor approaches the gallery in stages before entering a large, veiled space. In order to view some of the objects, it is necessary to part the veil in front of the display case.
The Museum Aan de Stroom, which houses the ethnographic, maritime, folklife, and Antwerp history collections, by far exceeded all expectations regarding the use of technology. Here, the visitor is surrounded by multimedia devices.
The Art Institute of Chicago’s newly reinstalled gallery features a number of sculptures displayed in the round. The gallery also incorporates videos of ritual performances and still photographs of artists at work, as well as a historical timeline that parallels the cultural developments of both Europe and Africa.
The African collection at the Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University, was reinstalled in 2012 and includes objects ranging from pre-dynastic Egypt to the mid-20th century. Themes of body adornment, economics, and the afterlife are addressed through time and space.
All in all, being given this opportunity to travel and work with Dr. Walker has been a total blast! I’m excited for the DMA in anticipation of making the Arts of Africa exhibit more appealing and engaging for visitors for years to come.
Edleeca Thompson is Curatorial Research Assistant at the DMA.