The Met Museum in New York wants to focus on works of art from Africa

The Met Museum in New York wants to focus on works of art from Africa

The reopening, in spring 2025, of the Rockefeller wing, which welcomes all the arts of Africa but also of Oceania and America before European colonizations, will allow this essential evolution.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, one of the largest museums on the planet, wants to offer its millions of visitors an approach to works that is less “centered” on the West and turns more towards Africa and its 3,000 years of cultural history. It is also a way for the fourth museum in the world in terms of attendance – behind the Louvre, the British Museum and the Vatican Museums – to attract more African-American audiences and those from the African diaspora, recognizes Max Hollein, the general director of the Met which attracted 5.4 million visitors in 2023.
The prestigious New York museum thus wishes to highlight its 4,000 African works (out of 1.5 million pieces in total) coming from more than 200 cultures over three millennia in nearly 40 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

After tens of millions of dollars of work, the Met will reopen its “Michael C. Rockefeller” wing in spring 2025, which since 1982 has hosted all the arts from Africa but also from Oceania and America before European colonization. This reopening takes place in a context of vigorous debate around the place of Africa in Western museums, several European countries having engaged in a long process of restitution of works of art looted during colonization. “We wanted completely new architecture and scenography to exhibit African arts”praises Mr. Hollein, a 54-year-old Austrian art historian.

The Met museum in New York wants to break away from a vision too centered on the West and focus more on works of art from Africa.

“By offering a much broader perspective” and opened to Africa more than 40 years ago, “the Rockefeller wing had already marked a major development for this museum” founded and financed by American patrons, businessmen and collectors of works from Europe, America, Asia, the Middle East and even Greek and Roman Antiquity, recalls Max Hollein.

Digitization and inventory of works

The New York museum has also launched cooperation with African countries: for example, it sealed an agreement at the end of 2023 with Nigerian museums to “facilitate digitization and inventory” of their works. With the help of the countries concerned, the Met also organized in 2020 a grandiose exhibition on the arts of the Sahel empires in the Middle Ages (Ghana, Mali, Songhai and Ségou) and another, more modest, which was completed in March, on a thousand years of influence of the Byzantine Empire on the arts of the Christians of Egypt, Tunisia, Ethiopia and Sudan.

And in order to “get involved” even more in Africa and place the works in their local context, Max Hollein traveled to South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tanzania at the end of March to meet museum curators, historians and contemporary artists.

Eager like all American and European museums to rejuvenate and diversify its audience, the Met is banking on the incredible multicultural mosaic that constitutes New York. Particularly the historical African-American population. (AFP)

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