“A Subversive Power”
The Press on Meschac Gaba’s “Museum of Contemporary African Art”

It’s the largest new acquisition the London Tate has ever purchased—Meschac Gaba’s 12-room “Museum of Contemporary African Art.” To inaugurate its cooperation with the London institution, the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle presented seven rooms of the installation. The artist, who divides his time between Benin and Holland, not only regards his museum as a counter-proposal to a Western exhibition concept; Gaba also calls for a different view of contemporary art from Africa. For many journalists, his exhibition project was one of the most compelling contributions to the Berlin Art Week.
The magazine art included Meschac Gaba’s Museum of Contemporary African Art in its highlights of the Berlin Art Week. Both the German-French young curators’ blog Jeunes Commissaires and the digital city magazine Viel Vergnügen also urged their readers to pay a visit to the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle. In the Berliner Zeitung, Irmgard Berner wrote: “A room without walls with its own geography, whose elements interlock in a sensuous and playful way, linking together art and the everyday. (…) Meschac Gaba not only reevaluates things, but has also invented the very way in which he exhibits them. After all, what artists have to protect themselves more from the assumption that their work entails folklore than those from African countries? The western-dominated art system backs them into an ethnographic and post-colonial corner. And it’s precisely this unfortunate state of affairs that Gaba resists with his marvelous idea of a ‘Museum of Contemporary African Art.’” Andrea Hilgenstock at tip sees this similarly: “The western concept of the museum and the tunnel vision prevailing in art seem just as questionable to him as the capitalist paradigm, consumerist society, and world religions. This is not easy to glean from the work, even though the artist proceeds more playfully than intellectually. (…) One really has to immerse oneself in this conceptual art, which offers not folklore, but a very special view of the world.”

On Deutschlandfunk, Carsten Probst explained: “Gaba’s Museum of African Art is not an ethnographic collection, but rather an installation that confronts the visitor with the cultural boundaries between Africa and the so-called western world.” For art in berlin, the installation poses numerous important questions: “What role do cultural roots play in a globally-identifying art scene today? What, for instance, does it mean when we speak of ‘contemporary African art?’ And if such a thing exists, can it be presented adequately? Is the art of an artist of African origin necessarily ‘African art?’ Where is the dividing line between ethnography and art? (…) The ‘museum in a museum’ harbors a subversive power and provokes traditional western patterns of thinking.” In the Tagesspiegel, Simone Reber writes: “Permeability is part of Gaba’s concept. Two of his intellectual forerunners are Marcel Broodthaers and Dieter Roth—the first because he transplanted life and the salon into the museum, and the latter because his work reproduced itself rhizomatically. Is a Museum of Contemporary African Art at all meaningful in this context? Hasn’t African art long since been globalized? If you look for the catalogue to Gaba’s London exhibition of 2013, you find it in the Ethnological Museum, and not in the Art Library.”