Nearly three decades ago, the French curator and critic André Magnin began traveling across Africa in order to assemble a collection of contemporary art for a larger than life patron of the arts. As he criss-crossed the continent for the jet-setting French entrepreneur Jean Pigozzi, he found some of the best work in Kinshasa, Bamako and Abidjan.
Magnin is now a successful gallerist in his own right, with the multi-level Magnin-A space in Paris and a presence at fairs such as Paris Photo, 1:54 and AKAA, but many of the artists whose work he championed in the 1990s would eventually be showcased in major museums around the world, most recently at the Fondation Cartier, Louis Vuitton Foundation and Grand Palais in Paris. Some of those artists became figureheads who confirmed to critics, curators and collectors outside France that Africa was on the map, and on the move.
Names such as Malick Sidibé (from Mali), Chéri Samba (Democratic Republic of Congo), and Frédéric Bruly Bouabré (Côte d’Ivoire) are now well known in Paris and all over Europe, but dealers in the United States are finding that there is growing demand for that type of art in America as well. Romuald Hazoumè (Benin) is now represented by Gagosian—who hosted a beautiful exhibition in their Madison Avenue space in 2018—and the late Bodys Isek Kingelez (Democratic Republic of Congo) was the subject of the popular City Dreams exhibition at MoMA in New York last year. Earlier this year, Pigozzi gifted 45 works to MoMA, a major donation described as “a transformative gift” by the museum, which reopened last month.
Some of those works, which are part of what is now known as the Contemporary African Art Collection (CAAC), are being shown in Switzerland for the first time. The exhibition at the Galerie Gmurzynska in Zurich was curated by Jérôme Neutres, formerly of the Grand Palais. It features 12 artists from CAAC. The title of the exhibition, Expressions d’Afrique – Inside Jean Pigozzi’s Collection, pays homage to Raymond Roussel’s seminal text Impressions d’Afrique, which explained the influence of African art on artists including André Breton and Marcel Duchamp.