Afrofuturism and the decline of our art museums


In keeping with the times, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is now unveiling an “Afrofuturist period room” which “transforms a 19th century interior into a future speculative home” of historically oppressed blacks.

It’s quite a start in museology. Entitled “The day before yesterday we could fly,” the gallery is expected to have long lines. The bulletin, the Met’s popular quarterly publication, will dedicate its February 2022 issue to the project and include a “new graphic” that “brings the exhibits to life.” A coordinated Afro-Futurist festival at Carnegie Hall promises that “epiphanies will abound in this experiential saga across the realm of astro-darkness.”

According to the museum preview, the title of the Met exhibit comes from “Legendary Tales” by children’s book author Virginia Hamilton of the Flying African tale. “Activated by vision, sound and storytelling, and furnished with a kaleidoscope of works from the Met collection – from Bamileke pearls and 19th-century American ceramics to contemporary art and design,” he “Brings generations of African diasporic creativity to the fore. “

Afrofuturism’s Most Complete Achievement Is The 2018 Blockbuster Movie Black Panther and his take on Wakanda, a fictional kingdom and the home of Marvel Comics’ Black Panther superhero. The idea has since germinated to become a highly prized cultural asset. Black panther forever arrives on screen in July 2022, destined to be a cinematic blockbuster. Afrofuturism mixes the old negritude and science fiction. It “values ​​humanity, the Earth and the universe as a whole,” says Ytasha Womack on behalf of Carnegie Hall. “There is something about seeing yourself as part of a larger continuum and a universe that empowers. “

“Before Yesterday We Could Fly” comes from nowhere and no time. It’s a curiosity and a totem, not really a period piece. Other period rooms in the museum recreate and illustrate a historical conception: the Ottoman living room in Damascus, Gubbio studiolo and the dining room of Adam, for example. These interiors speak for themselves, as does their plausibility. These are not confections of contemporary electronics and art, Bamileke beads and 19th century American ceramics with a tearful, semi-fictional backdrop of historical injustice and a message as obvious as a piece of morality. medieval.

The Met 508 gallery, previously devoted to the Italian decorative arts of the 18th century, was natural to house the new painting. Goodbye Rococo and good riddance! The busy intersection of visitors between the large mintage weapons and armor and the Egyptian collection does not adjoin any extant period pieces, but the display of worthy artifacts in context is not the point. This “period room” intends to offer a moment of racial learning to as many museum visitors as possible.

Conservatives Sarah E. Lawrence and Ian Alteveer are the main players in the business. By claiming that all period rooms are fabrications of a fixed moment in time and in the past, they hope to upset the concept. Shifting from preservation to politics, backed by noisy intramural factions, the looters of the lost museum let go of their trust, abuse their artifacts, and lack the connoisseur to bow to the current vogue.

Lawrence describes the Afrofuturist room as “an exciting opportunity to push the boundaries of what can be a period room”. Yes, and apparently without the slightest concern for historicism or authenticity. Associate curator of modern and contemporary art Ian Alteveer agrees. The whole is “perfectly suited to the visionary collapse of the past, present and future of Afrofuturism”.

Lawrence, a recent arrival at the museum, is chief curator of European sculpture and decorative arts. Trained at Swarthmore and Columbia in both Renaissance art and critical theory, Lawrence professes that “every period piece is founded on the fiction of authenticity.” She points out that these are recreations and, to some extent, inventions. Finding a crack in the wall, Lawrence embarks on the anti-historical fantasy, relinquishing his duties as curator in his social justice Disneyland.

One can only speculate on the tortured “conversations” and plots that led to the redesign of the 508 gallery. In 2020, the two curators assembled a team of artists, curators, filmmakers and academics, then asked all Met staff to respond to the project. They hired Hannah Beachler, who received an Oscar for design Black Panther, as principal curator and designer. “This project is important to me because it is a necessary conversation with time, loss, community and hope,” says Beachler.

Met director Max Hollein, appointed in 2018 amid major institutional distress, agrees. “The Afrofuturist period room offers an important opportunity to start new dialogues and to shed light on stories that have not yet been told within our walls,” he adds, “a space built from the present and from tomorrow rather than a filtered perspective on the past ”. Hollein and his associates radiate indifference to the heritage inside what is arguably the world’s largest art museum, preferring Met Gala-style performances and flashy stunts instead.

The Met has been a troubled place for at least a decade, and its storylines are legendary. It no longer functions like the gold watch of the former director Philippe de Montebello. Montebello retired in 2008, and since then the museum’s finances, planning and expertise have suffered. Managing the 2,300 prima donnas staff is like keeping cats, and its interface with contemporary media has been patchy. As in almost all art museums, anti-European activism and prejudices have taken their toll.

“The inclusive nature of Afrofuturism and other types of non-European futurism creates a kind of open source aesthetic,” says the Art journal. It’s one way of looking at it. Another is to see “The day before yesterday we could fly” as an emblematic example of the reckless shift from preservation to the political message in art museums across the country.


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