Critics’ Picks

Yinka Shonibare, The Swing (after Fragonard), 2001, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Yinka Shonibare, The Swing (after Fragonard), 2001, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Houston

“The Progress of Love”

The Menil Collection
1533 Sul Ross Street
December 2, 2012–March 27, 2013

“The Progress of Love” is a set of three distinct, concurrent exhibitions—held at the Menil Collection in Houston; the Center for Contemporary Arts in Lagos, Nigeria; and the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in Saint Louis—that investigate contemporary notions of love in Africa, Europe, and the United States. The project draws its name from an eighteenth-century painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard of a European couple in the throes of romance, in a garden; this painting has been reworked into a sculptural installation by Yinka Shonibare, The Swing (after Fragonard), 2001, which features a life-size, headless mannequin in African print textiles sitting on a swing in the midst of artificial foliage.

The Menil Collection supported a series of trips for lead curator and African scholar Kristin Van Dyke to travel to the continent, so that she could conduct research for her first contemporary show. After dialogue with curator Bisi Silva at the CCA in Lagos, Van Dyke’s thoughts about the exhibition turned to love and the various ways contemporary artists deal with cultural constructions of emotional and physical connection. When Van Dyke became director of the Pulitzer Foundation in 2011, its museum also joined the project. With twenty-two artists, Houston’s show is by far the largest, while the Lagos and Saint Louis sites feature seven and four artists respectively.

There is a huge array of media in the exhibit: photo, video, painting, sculpture, installation, sound, and more, from diverse artists (not exclusively of African descent) in Africa, Europe, and the US. One particularly powerful piece is an installation by Romuald Hazoumé with video and reading materials in a cardboard structure documenting the NGO the artist founded: NGO for Beninois Solidarity with Endangered Westerners. The often humorous videos invert traditional logic surrounding notions of development economics prevalent in the West, as people on the street in Benin are asked to donate out of a sense of love—to help poor white people in Europe and America. Among a plethora of other compelling work in the show, particular standouts are photos by acclaimed artist Zanele Muholi of lesbian and transgender South Africans in intimate settings and public spaces, and textured, vibrant ink portraits by Toyin Odutola.

This exhibition is also on view at the Center for Contemporary Arts in Lagos until January 27, 2013, and at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in St. Louis until April 20, 2013.