Schildkrout: Apologies for pretty much dropping out of this conversation due to lack of time, but I just read Chika’s post below. I simply want to correct what seems to me to be a misstatement about the Ife exhibition, not necessarily to engage in the larger discussion about
art vs. ethnology museums. The Ife exhibition was organized by the Museum for African Art in New York in collaboration with the Fondación Botin in Santander, Spain and the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments. It was not organized by an ethnology museum, although one of the venues was the British Museum, which I suppose may be the referent here for ethnology museum. The other museums presenting this exhibition all are/were art museums, and the current installation at the Virginia Museum of Art is by any definition an art installation, and I might add, an installation of the highest quality (in my view). The exhibition has changed from venue to venue, and the most “ethnological” installation was at the British Museum, so perhaps that’s where the confusion sets in.
One further point about organizing collaborative exhibitions with African institutions (or private collections in Africa) is that the logistics are not easy. Many major museums hesitate to take on the complexities of international loans from Africa (aside from South Africa). In doing both the Ife exhibition and the El Anatsui exhibition, both of which involved major loans from Nigeria, there were numerous issues that curators and registrars, packers and shippers, airlines and customs officials, are not used to dealing with. While an artist or gallery in Africa may send out a single piece via DHL without a problem (hopefully), an exhibition of high value objects and 30-60 crates, that have to travel across country before beginning its international odyssey, is a challenge. Well worth it, but a challenge that many museums, whether art or ethnology museums, hesitate to take on.