For André Magnin, Founder of Parisian gallery MAGNIN-A, opening the gallery in 2009 in the heart of Paris, which is dedicated to art from Africa, was an aesthetic and political project. His love of art from the continent, and hence him dedicating his life’s work to promoting it, is because ‘there is great diversity in art from Africa. It is rich in freedoms and knowledge that have been liberated from occidental artistic codes,’ he says. Here he tells us why this matters and how MAGNIN-A was a culmination of an epic adventure through Africa, that he’s still on.
Q: Where did your interest or love of the work of contemporary African artists stem from?
A: I realized when travelling throughout Africa from 1986 to 1989, in order to prepare the first exhibition of contemporary art from the entire world in 1989 (the historical exhibition Magiciens de la Terre, presented at the Center Georges Pompidou and at the Grande Halle de la Villette, of which he was Deputy Commissioner) that despite the lack of any official context, any places dedicated to art, without telephone or social media, I only had the streets, the oral exchanges, words of mouth and encounters to be able to access the artists. I had to fully immerse in the largest capital cities as well as the tiniest villages to explore the potential and exceptional creativity of the artists, in all their diversity. It was in this context that my passion was born
Q: Since this pivotal show at the Centre Pompidou, you and MAGNIN-A have been pivotal in exposing many African artists to the global art market. Tell us about this.
A: Thanks to the success of Magiciens de la Terre, I met Jean Pigozzi who offered me the opportunity to build a unique collection dedicated to African artists, living and working on the continent – The Pigozzi Collection, the largest collection of contemporary African art in the world. As a result of the growth and enrichment of this collection, we have organized more than 40 exhibitions, solo show and group shows from 1991 to 2009 in museums and foundations worldwide, hence bringing visibility to numerous artists. At Art Basel in 2009, aside from South African galleries, Stevenson and Goodman, we wondered about the surprising absence of African artists at international art fairs. I then challenged myself to contribute to the creation of a genuine market for contemporary art from Africa on the international scene. This is when, together with my collaborator Philippe Boutté, we launched MAGNIN-A. Since then, from 2010, we have attended numerous art fairs around the world such as; Paris Photo, Art Genève, Art Paris Art Fair, Art Brussels, Independent Art Fair, 1-54 London, New York and Marrakech then AKAA.
Q: How does contemporary African art contribute to the broader discourse of contemporary art?
A: The German Artists Anselm Kiefer, born with WWII, clearly stated that the
whole of his work originated from his roots and context. Artists do not disavow their culture or knowledge; they create from a context. They come from somewhere, as we all do, thereby enriching the territory of contemporary art, which contributes to a global history of contemporary art. As a curator my interest in art from Africa and hence cultures from the continent, contributes to advancement in global knowledge.
Image caption: View of MAGNIN-A exhibition space (Paris)