Why Africa?. the Art Taking Europe by Storm: Jean Pigozzi Is a Man with a Passion. He Has Been Collecting Contemporary African Art for Nearly Two Decades and Has Built the World's Most Important Collection of Modern African Art. Stephen Williams Went to Turin in Italy to Meet Him and View the "Why Africa?" Exhibition

By Williams, Stephen | New African, February 2008 | Go to article overview

Why Africa?. the Art Taking Europe by Storm: Jean Pigozzi Is a Man with a Passion. He Has Been Collecting Contemporary African Art for Nearly Two Decades and Has Built the World's Most Important Collection of Modern African Art. Stephen Williams Went to Turin in Italy to Meet Him and View the "Why Africa?" Exhibition


Williams, Stephen, New African


Jean Pigozzi has a grand vision--to eventually build a museum in the West, whether in Europe or America, dedicated to African art. "I want to be an ambassador for as much of Africa as I can," he says. "It's clear to me that Africa has much to offer the West, there is much that Africa can teach the West."

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Among the reasons for this vision is his observation that not enough room is afforded to African art in big museums in the West. "What's absolutely amazing is that neither the Museum of Modern Art nor the Metropolitan Museum in New York; or the Los Angeles County Museum, the Smithsonian in Washington DC, the Pompidou in Paris, the Tate Gallery in London--none of them have a contemporary African art department or a contemporary African art curator--zero! "It's amazing--it's as if Africa doesn't exist, art wise! No one has been interested. It's incomprehensible--a huge void. What is equally amazing, even more startling, is that none of the big multinational companies working in Africa--the Shells, the BPs, the Coca Colas, Unilevers and the Nestles--not one of them have come to me and said you know Jean, we've been working in Africa all these years, let's do something together--let's put something back; let's sponsor a show, let's build a museum. Whenever we've done a big show, I've been waiting for them to give me a call, to suggest something. It's never happened."

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Pigozzi hopes that after this New African exposure of some of the remarkable African works in his collection and reading his comments, the boardrooms of these international companies might wake up to the rich opportunities that are currently passing them by.

Why Africa? has attracted thousands of visitors to the Pinacoteca Giovanni Marella Agnelli gallery since it opened last October within the remarkable Lingotto complex in Turin, Italy. Constructed in 1923, the Lingotto building was where, for more than half a century, Fiat cars were built.

The Lingotto stopped producing cars in 1982 and now houses a luxury hotel on its ground and lower floors; offices and a shopping mall on its upper floors, and a conference centre and the Pinacoteca Giovanni Marella Agnelli gallery itself on the top floor, set in the middle of Fiat's famous roof-top test track.

Why Africa? has exhibited some 100 selected works by 16 artists from the world's most important modern African art collection of paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, models, ceramics and a site-specific installation, many on public show for the first time.

In an exclusive interview with New African, Pigozzi explained just how his fascination with modern African art began. He had been collecting Western contemporary art in a modest way when he went to the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris to view a 1989 exhibition called 'Magiciens de la Terre' (Magicians of the World). This was described as "a systematic exploration of the 'forgotten continents--Africa, South America, Asia and Oceania", and the African content, in particular, left a lasting impression.

Determined to start an African collection, he enlisted the services of Andre Magnin (who had a hand in organising the Magiciens de la Terre exhibition) as his curator. Magnin now travels the continent on Pigozzi's behalf, searching, photographing and reporting back on new artists to add to the Pigozzi collection.

Remarkably, Pigozzi never travels to Africa himself. "I like to imagine that Africa is what my wonderful artists show me," he says. "I want to keep on dreaming--but everything that comes into my collection is approved personally. …

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Why Africa?. the Art Taking Europe by Storm: Jean Pigozzi Is a Man with a Passion. He Has Been Collecting Contemporary African Art for Nearly Two Decades and Has Built the World's Most Important Collection of Modern African Art. Stephen Williams Went to Turin in Italy to Meet Him and View the "Why Africa?" Exhibition
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