It can be easy to do if you live nearby, but please don’t take Skidmore College’s Tang Teaching Museum for granted. While other local museums regularly present wonderful exhibitions of art we love, shows at the Tang often take it a step further – challenging us to think about art in new ways and helping us to see a bigger picture of the world than we are accustomed to seeing.
While this process at times can be unpleasant, a current Tang exhibition titled Environment and Object: Recent African Art makes the most of the visual joys of a group of well-established African-identified artists (not all of whom live on the continent or were born there) to expose and explore some very difficult issues that Africa currently faces. Curators Lisa Aronson and John Weber have chosen well, highlighting the process, the politics, and the pictorial results in equal measure to create a show that is as enjoyable as it is disturbing, with art that feels both relevant and exotic.
Though many name artists are included, this selection of 16 has a pair of stars around which the rest seem to revolve – the internationally renowned Ghanaian artist El Anatsui and his Nigerian student Bright Ugochukwu Eke each re-use discarded material to make vast tapestries of form and color (analagous to the vast continent itself). Eke’s two site-specific constructions of plastic drink bottles (some of them still a bit sticky) and charred slices of fallen timber were made with the help of a legion of Skidmore students, an ideal application of the “teaching museum” concept, and they look great in the space (to watch videos about the process, click here).