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Previous Exhibitions - Skoto Gallery

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Aime Mpane -- Bach to Congo

Published: January 19, 2007

Skoto Gallery
529 West 20th Street, Chelsea
Through Jan. 27

As one of New York's very few full-time commercial spaces devoted mainly to contemporary African art, Skoto Gallery is worth keeping an eye on. Its present show is a strong solo by the Congolese-born artist Aime Mpane, who divides his time between Kinshasa and Brussels.

Skoto's front gallery is given over to large sculptural installations that address Western pillaging of Africa, military and cultural, that gained full force in the late 19th century and continues. In one piece a tiny sculptural figure of a European soldier casts a huge drawn shadow on the gallery wall. In another, shown at the 2006 Dakar Biennial, the life-size figure of an African man, made entirely from matchsticks, stares at a grave marked 1885, the year Africa was definitively carved up and distributed among several European nations.

Even with colonialism ended, the mining of African culture continues, as suggested in a third sculpture, of the German artist and self-declared shaman Joseph Beuys kissing African feet. Some of the continuing effects of a disastrous past are evident in dozens of small paintings hung salon-style in the gallery's back room, all done during one of Mr. Mpane's recent stays in Kinshasa.

Most were painted at night by firelight or candlelight in a city short of electricity. (Mr. Mpane could fully see the paintings only hours after they were done, in daylight.) They are images made, like the whole show, of shadow and light, and they are extraordinary. HOLLAND COTTER

Best in Show
Heartbreak of Darkness
by R.C. Baker
January 11th, 2007 4:39 PM

Aime Mpane's "Couple infernal (The Infernal Couple)"
photo: Courtesy Skoto Gallery
Aime Mpane: 'Bach to Congo'
Skoto Gallery, 529 West 20th Street
Through January 27

On entering this dimly lit gallery you are greeted by a teetering wooden totem of rectangular blocks topped with a classical head; a realistic nude man, likewise carved from wood, complements these references to Brancusi's sculptures and Michelangelo's David. Between them lies an overcoat, the words "I like Africa and Africa likes me" written across the back, recalling a shamanistic 1974 performance in which the German conceptualist Joseph Beuys tussled with a live coyote amid scattered copies of the Wall Street Journal. On the floor, On the floor, boards cut roughly in the shape of a woman and a child lie flat like toppled tombstones; they are separated by a hollow figure constructed of matchsticks that casts a towering shadow, which is echoed by a cross-hatched charcoal drawing looming on the opposite wall. Mpane's shadow-play, while dense with tragic allusions—a wooden cross reads "Congo–1885," the year the European powers met in Berlin to carve Africa into colonial chunks—also projects a rough beauty.
A separate series of strong paintings deftly captures the flickering light of a campfire as it turns faces and figures into visceral slabs of color.

Skoto Gallery, 529 West 20th Street. Through January 27.

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