Tuesday, July 16, 2013

An artist who sees his museum as a conceptual space

Drawn from ‘Museum of Contemporary African Art 1997–2002’, Tate Modern focuses on the Benin artist Meschac Gaba who first conceived it during his residency at the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten in Amsterdam.

He, as if, found ‘another reality’ while visiting several museums in Europe wherein he couldn’t imagine how the art he wanted to create could be integrated: ‘I needed a space for my work, because this did not exist.’ According to Gaba, the Museum of Contemporary African Art is ‘not a model… it’s only a question.’ It is temporary and mutable, a conceptual space more than a physical one, a provocation to the Western art establishment not only to attend to contemporary African art, but to question why the boundaries existed in the first place.

Before leaving the Rijksakademie in 1997 Gaba presented the first part of his project. Prefiguring many of the conceptual concerns and the aesthetic approach that Gaba would develop in later rooms. There were works made from decommissioned banknotes, as well as heaps of ceramic foods that reflected his astonishment at the excessive overproduction in Europe. By placing the traditionally subsidiary activities at the heart of his project, Gaba calls into question the nature and function of the museum and our relationship to it.

By supplementing these sections with others, such as the Humanist Space, Marriage Room, Game Room and Music Room, Gaba’s museum is a space not only for the contemplation of objects, but for sociability, study and play in which the boundaries between everyday life and art, and observation and participation are blurred.

While he broaches many serious questions in his Museum of Contemporary African Art, his approach is in equal parts sincere and playful.  In 2000, guests and ordinary visitors were invited to the Stedelijk Museumin Amsterdam witnessed the marriage of Meschac Gaba to Alexandra van Dongen. Well-wishers brought presents, which, together with the bride’s wedding dress, veil, shoes and handbag, their marriage certificate, guest book and wedding photographs and video, feature in the Marriage Room.

The desire, in the artist’s words, ‘to share my fantasy’ continues throughout many of the twelve rooms.  While interactivity is a crucial part of this project, collaboration is equally so. Other artists have contributed objects to the Museum Shop, and have prepared and hosted dinners in the Museum Restaurant.

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