In the coming years, non-European contemporary art will figure more and more prominently in the collection and exhibition programme of the MMK Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt am Main
. As is the case with the majority of contemporary art museums in Germany, the MMKs chief focus has hitherto been directed towards the European and North American avant-gardes of 1945 to the present. In the future, it will be expanded increasingly to include non-European concepts.
The comprehensive retrospective on the Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica presently on view (until January 2014) will be followed this coming spring by the major exhibition project The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Hell, Purgatory from the Perspective of Contemporary African Artists, which will present works by fifty-seven contemporary artists from twenty African countries on all three floors of the MMK. In the second half of 2014, the museum will dedicate solo exhibitions to the Indian artists Dayanita Singh and Subodh Gupta.
Since its opening in 1991, the MMK has stood for high-quality works of international contemporary art. Over the past several years, the hitherto Western-dominated contemporary art discourse has been shaped increasingly by non-European theorists, artists, curators and other players. In a society such as ours, defined by globalization, migration and transculturalism, it is of key importance for a museum of contemporary art to contribute to these developments and to manifest them in its shows and purchases, comments Dr Susanne Gaensheimer, director of the MMK in Frankfurt.
The Divine Comedy:
Heaven, Hell, Purgatory from the Perspective of Contemporary African Artists (1 March 6 July 2014)
In The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Hell, Purgatory from the Perspective of Contemporary African Artists, the MMK will serve as a stage for Dantes Divine Commedy on 4,500 square metres of exhibition space. In this early fourteenth-century epic, which combines central notions of Christianity with religious concepts of antiquity, the Italian poet Dante Alighieri (12651321) explores theological, philosophical and moral issues which have lost nothing of their social and political topicality to this day. His work forms the foundation for the exhibition developed by curator Simon Njami in cooperation with the MMK and to be presented subsequently at four further venues worldwide.
On three floors, one each devoted to heaven, hell and purgatory, works in a variety of media will be presented: paintings, photographs, sculptures, videos, installations and performances. A large number of the works will be conceived specifically for the MMK interior and premiered by the show. Taking their own widely differing cultural and religious backgrounds as a point of departure, the artists will examine individual thematic sequences of the Divine Comedy. In some cases the otherworldly realms will be visualized as godless places brought to life by the power of imagination; in other works they will be associated with ideas of divinity, hope or loss.
Against the background of the many Africa-related exhibitions of the past years, the MMK perceives the need to investigate the significance of African art not only in the post-colonial context but also with regard to aesthetics. The exhibition will accordingly not be limited to historical or political depictions; on the contrary, it will set its sights on poetry and art as expressive means of conveying and communicating the unspoken.
The exhibition underscores the fact that all human beings have something in common, despite the many obvious differences and regardless of origins, birth or cultural backgrounds. The conceptions of heaven, purgatory and hell are universal, irrespective of how they are are translated by the different cultures of the world. Why Dante? Because the Divine Comedy is first and foremost a human comedy. And I am convinced that nothing human can be alien to another human being, observes Simon Njami, the shows curator. The exhibition concept transports the universal issues of the Divine Comedy, an incunable of European literature, into the present and places them in a transnational contemporary context. Simon Njami asks: How can a minority rule over a majority? Why can a small group decide whats right or wrong for everyone? With this exhibition, I would like to call attention to the fateful aspect of power relations and give artists an opportunity to express their own stances on that matter.
Simon Njami (b. 1962 Lausanne, Switzerland, lives in Paris) has organized numerous exhibitions of contemporary African art, among them Africa Remix (works by eighty contemporary African artists shown at five venues worldwide) from 2004 to 2007, and curated the African pavilion of the Venice Biennale in 2007 and the FNB Joburg Art Fair 2008 in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was a co-founder and chief editor of Revue Noire, and artistic director of the Bamako Photography Biennial for ten years, and has published numerous writings on African art.