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Museum for African Art Announces April 2011 Opening
Museum for African Art, looking south along Fifth Avenue . Rendering by Neoscape.

NEW YORK, NY.- Elsie McCabe Thompson, President, the Museum for African Art, announced that the Museum—one of the country’s premier gateways to the arts and cultures of Africa and the African Diaspora—will reopen to the public in its major new facility in April 2011. Designed by the renowned New York City firm Robert A.M. Stern Architects, LLP, the new building is located at 1280 Fifth Avenue, at East 110th Street, in Manhattan. There it will join “Museum Mile,” linking this prestigious row of museums with Harlem, one of the country’s most important centers of historic and contemporary African-American culture. (The Museum is currently closed to the public, and is operating out of temporary quarters in Queens, New York.)

The Museum for African Art’s new home comprises four floors (one below grade) of a nineteen-story residential tower and encompasses approximately 75,000 square feet of space. With a dramatic increase in public space, the new location will make possible significant growth in the number and scope of exhibitions, public programs, and educational initiatives, enabling the Museum to serve larger audiences than previously possible.

Ms. McCabe Thompson states, “The Museum for African Art is thrilled to be in the final stages of construction before moving into its new home. The Museum is eager to assume its role as both a thriving neighborhood resource—a place where people of all ages and backgrounds can feel a sense of excitement and belonging—and an important national and international destination for art lovers and those interested in the cultures of Africa and the African Diaspora.”

New Facility
Since opening to the public in 1984, the Museum for African Art has operated from three different locations in New York City: on the Upper East Side (1984–92), in the SoHo district (1992–2002), and in Long Island City, Queens (2002 to the present). In 2002, the Museum moved to temporary quarters in Long Island City, Queens, and in late 2005 it closed its gallery space there in order to focus on developing its plans for a new, larger facility that it would own. In the meantime, it continues to present an active roster of major exhibitions and public programs at a diversity of national and international venues.

The new Museum, which faces Central Park to the west, is distinguished on its north and west facades by trapezoidal windows with bronze-finished aluminum mullions that create a dynamic allover pattern. While the Museum thus maintains a distinct identity within the larger structure, the rhythm of its façade carries upward to the residences above.

Visitors will enter the new Museum through a soaring glass atrium. This will lead to a forty-five-foot-high lobby in which curving expanses of African etimoe wood form one of the walls and the ceiling. The lobby, which provides 5,000 square feet of informal exhibition space, will contain the Museum’s ticketing and information services, and will lead to a shop and a restaurant, as well as to a 245-seat theater and a multi-media education center. A grand staircase near the east end of the lobby will lead to the galleries and other public spaces above.

The Museum’s second floor will provide some 15,000 square feet of flexible gallery space. This will typically be configured as three rotating exhibition galleries that may be installed individually or as a group.

The third floor of the Museum will house the library, offices, and a gracious event space with a roof terrace overlooking Central Park. Future plans for this floor include the Mandela Center for Memory and Dialogue, devoted to programs exploring social justice and humanitarian issues.

Space for storage, conservation, and documentation will be located on the below-grade level.

Inaugural Exhibitions
The Museum will inaugurate its new space with three special exhibitions, all of which it has organized or co-organized. El Anatsui: When Last I Wrote to You About Africa is the first career-retrospective of this important contemporary artist. It brings together the full range of Anatsui’s work, from wood trays referring to traditional symbols of the Akan people of Ghana; to early ceramics from the artist’s Broken Pots series of driftwood assemblages and his wooden sculptures carved with a chainsaw; to the luminous metal wall-hangings of recent years that have brought the artist international acclaim. Prior to its presentation at the Museum for African Art, El Anatsui: When Last I Wrote to You About Africa will be on view at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, from October 2, 2010, through January 2, 2011.

Grass Roots: African Origins of an American Art examines the intertwined histories of the coiled basket in Africa and the southeastern United States. The exhibition demonstrates how this object—once a simple farm tool used for processing rice—became a work of art and an important symbol of African-American identity. It comprises more than 200 objects, including baskets made in Africa and the American South, African sculptures, paintings from the Charleston Renaissance, historic photography, and new video. Organized by the Museum for African Art with the cooperation of the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston and the McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina, the exhibition has been on tour in the United States.

In addition to El Anatsui and Grass Roots, the Museum will present New Premises: Three Decades of Exhibitions at the Museum for African Art, which explores the evolution in the Museum’s exhibition program. In the 1990s, following a decade in which it exhibited only traditional African art, the Museum began to show the work of contemporary African artists who worked both within and outside of the continent. Drawn in part from the Museum’s own collection, and including objects from past Museum exhibitions, New Premises suggests commonalities between artworks new and old, canonical and non-canonical, questioning the existence of an impermeable boundary between contemporary and traditional African art.

Also opening in the Museum’s inaugural year is Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria, which, with support from Banco Santander, will conclude its European and U.S. tours at the Museum in late 2011. The exhibition has been co-organized by the Museum for African Art and the Fundación Marcelino Botín, in Santander, Spain, in collaboration with the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments. Devoted to the extraordinary art of Ife, the ancient city-state of the Yoruba people of West Africa (in present-day southwestern Nigeria), it features more than 100 extraordinary bronze, terra-cotta, and stone sculptures, ranging in date from the ninth to the fifteenth centuries, many of which have never been on display outside of Nigeria. It is currently on view at the British Museum, London, where it has received great critical acclaim.

New York | Museum for African Art | Elsie McCabe Thompson |

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