Fondation Louis Vuitton throws into sharp relief the raw energy of African art

Fondation Louis Vuitton throws into sharp relief the raw energy of African art

This summer, Fondation Louis Vuitton is shining the spotlight on Africa. It has dedicated all of its galleries to more than 700 works from 40 artists from the continent and the art will be accompanied by a programme of music, film and performance.

The overview focuses on art made from the 1980s onwards and is divided into three parts. It starts with ‘The Insiders’, 15 key artists whose work has been collected and loaned to the gallery by Jean Pigozzi. In 1989, Pigozzi started buying works specifically from sub-Saharan Africa and today has the largest collection of art from the region of any individual. It makes for an exuberant introduction.

Photographs of elaborate Nigerian weaves by JD ‘Okhai Ojeikere; fantastical architectural models and cityscapes by Congolese artist Bodys Isek Kingelez; and masks made from jerry cans, old hoovers and plastic dustpans by Benin artist Romuald Hazoumé all evoke an innocent, pre-internet era.

‘Remembering the Future of a Hole as a Verb 2’, 2012, by Kemang Wa Lehulere. © The artist. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg. Photography: Benoit Pailley 

Black and white portraits of people in front of wax print backgrounds by the late Malian photographer Seydou Keïta are there, alongside photos of dandyish young men on a night out by fellow Malian legend, Malick Sidibé. The pair’s influence on subsequent generations of African photographers is apparent throughout the show. ‘All the artists I collected had to be from black Africa, live and work there,’ says Pigozzi. ‘Nearly all of them are self-taught, and 99 per cent of their inspiration came from their daily lives […] their creativity has not been “polluted” by art school.’

In a second gallery, ‘Being There’ is devoted entirely to contemporary art from South Africa. ‘The artistic community works together and is very dynamic in South Africa,’ explains Fondation Louis Vuitton artistic director Suzanne Pagé. ‘The focus was to concentrate on three generations of artist from the country, from the leading lights (such as Johannesburg-based William Kentridge and David Goldblatt), to those born in the 1980s and the post-apartheid, “born free” generation.’ 

Alongside the works of Kentridge and Goldblatt are equally socio-political works by equally renowned artists such as Jane Alexander, David Koloane and Sue Williamson. For 50 years Goldblatt has documented many of his country’s woes, from half-constructed villages to deserts choked by asbestos pollution, to the student protests of 2016, which included the dismantling of the statue of colonialist Cecil Rhodes at Cape Town University. Identity struggles and gender politics in the aftermath of apartheid (from 1994 to the present) are tackled by many of the younger artists, among them female photographer Kristin-Lee Moolman who captures fashion-forward youngsters in Jo’burg’s townships. 

A third gallery features pieces from the Fondation’s permanent collection and extends to African artists working outside their countries of origin, such as Benin-born, Rotterdam based Meschac Gaba, and Afro-American artist Rashid Johnson. The internationalism brings with it a change in atmosphere, and throws into sharp relief the raw energy (and edges) of the works that went before.

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