“Beyond Compare: Art from Africa in the Bode Museum.” A temporary exhibit at the Bode Museum, Berlin, Germany, on view from October 27, 2017 to June 2, 2019.
In introducing their Beyond Compare exhibit at the Bode Museum, curators Julien Chapuis, Jonathan Fine, and Paola Ivanov have been very clear and consistent about the unique opportunity that allowed them to juxtapose African and European art: objects from the ethnographic collections became available while they waited for their new home in the controversial Humboldt Forum. The ephemeral nature of this experiment thus hovers over this temporary exhibition more than over most—a window is only briefly open to challenge our current museological practice, and will close again soon. That said, we are keenly aware of this because the curators, to their credit, have used this opportunity to raise fundamental questions about how we display the arts of different places and periods, and to investigate the meaning of continuing disciplinary and institutional divisions between them. In the catalogue, in the introductory wall panels, and in the “About this Exhibition” section of the exhibit’s companion app, they almost immediately segue from explaining this unique opportunity to challenging their visitors’ ideas and expectations. “What causes us to view objects as similar or different? What insights can we gain from the joint display of works of art with different histories? Why were some objects classified in the past as ‘ethnological’ and others as ‘art’?” In the end, however, the temporary nature of this exhibit and the questions raised by this remarkable and ambitious show are poignant and haunting because they underscore the disciplinary and institutional divides that will re-emerge when it closes in June.Continue reading