The exhibition Expanding Africa at the Newark Museum: New Visions, New Galleries launches the Museum’s plans to create a major suite of galleries devoted to the arts of Africa, past and present.
The new galleries, slated to open in 2015, will not only triple the space currently available for the exhibition of African art but will showcase the Museum’s innovative, audience-centered approach to exhibiting the artistic creativity of a diverse continent. This major collections-based project is the first initiative included under the umbrella of the Museum’s Signature Project for Sustainability and Growth.
The preview exhibit, now open to the public in the South Gallery, features exceptional examples of art from the Museum’s extensive collection of nearly 5,000 works spanning the entire African continent, showcasing its range and unique strengths. In addition to historic works, the exhibition includes contemporary arts of Africa, a collecting emphasis in which the Newark Museum has recently established itself as a leader.
Works on view include a powerful 19th-century sculpture made for a Chokwe leader; mid-20th-century portraiture by Malian photographer Seydou Keita; a “ fantasy coffin” from Ghana in the shape of a cell phone, and a dramatic wall hanging made of discarded metal by internationally-acclaimed artist El Anatsui. Presented variously as global, modern, fashionable, innovative, contemporary, historical and useful, together the works reflect the Museum’s expansive vision for representing Africa ’s artistry.
Expanding Africa also includes schematic drawings for the expansion project. The planned completion date of 2015 coincides with the centennial of this acclaimed African art collection.
According to Mary Sue Sweeney Price, Director and CEO, the African art initiative was chosen as the first to be introduced under the newly-restructured Signature Project because the plan was fully-developed and has already been recognized by major grant awards from important national and local foundations. The project has received $1 million from the Mellon Foundation and a $500,000 Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. An additional $148,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, another federal agency, will enhance collection storage. The Museum has also received commitments from the Victoria Foundation toward the new African galleries and the Verizon Foundation for related school curriculum.
Price noted that “the early recognition of these partners – even before the formal announcement of our plans – is extraordinary. Their backing indicates the importance of the Newark Museum’s African art collection, and its potential for even greater impact and engagement in our community and beyond.”
”These prestigious and highly competitive grants, along with other private funding commitments, are a solid beginning for the overall campaign for the African Art Initiative,” Price said. “We have already raised more than $2 million toward the combined operating, capital and endowment goal of $10 million.”
Price added, “the Museum’s funding partners have particularly applauded the level of scholarship brought to this project by Curator of the Arts of Africa and Senior Curator, Arts of Africa and the Americas, Dr. Christa Clarke. The grants will allow the Museum to expand curatorial and educational capacity to interpret this great holding, the largest public collection of African art in the state of New Jersey, and among the major holdings in the US.”
Central to the initiative is the development of significant K-12 educational resources offering new perspectives on African arts and culture. Already a leader in museum education, the Newark Museum will now have greatly enhanced educational content in its galleries, as well as print and on-line resources that will support curriculum in school classrooms throughout the state, as well as to national and international audiences. The Museum will also expand its on-line collection database and publish its first comprehensive catalogue of the African art collection.
The Mellon grant has funded an expansion of the Museum’s curatorial staff that is crucial to the realization of this ambitious initiative. When first announced in July 2011, the Mellon grant was described by Curator Christa Clarke as “transformative” for the Newark Museum . “The Mellon Foundation’s support of curatorial capacity permits the Museum to expand its reach and establish itself as one of the nation’s premier resources for the exhibition and study of African Art,” Clarke said.
Toward that end, the Museum has recently announced the appointment of Dr. Nichole N. Bridges as Associate Curator, Arts of Africa, a newly created position funded by Mellon. Dr. Bridges is a respected scholar who left a position as Associate Curator for African Art and Department Head at the Baltimore Museum of Art to come to Newark. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. in African Art History from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and has been the recipient of many distinguished academic fellowships and grants. The overall project team also includes a distinguished group of academics, curators and educators from outside the museum who are contributing to the planning process.
The Newark Museum’s initiative builds upon and extends its long and distinguished history of collecting and exhibiting the arts of Africa. The Museum began to acquire African art in 1915, just six years after its founding. Founding Director John Cotton Dana collected North African art on visits there in the late 1920s. In 1926, the Museum mounted one of the first museum exhibitions in the field. Director Emeritus Samuel C. Miller led the effort to establish the Museum’s first permanent gallery devoted to African art in 1970. In 1989, as part of the Museum’s Master Plan renovation, the gallery was moved and reinstalled in its current location and is now one of the most heavily visited permanent galleries.
When completed in 2015, the expanded galleries are projected at 8,400 square feet, triple the current space and large enough to accommodate both school and public interest.
According to Dr. Clarke, “the African new galleries will be a dramatic ‘stage’ for the presentation of works from the Newark Museum’s comprehensive collection and will impact the way our audiences – adults, families, students, teachers and scholars – think about, view and engage with African art.”
Source: Newark Museum