In Saturday’s perceptive and beautifully illustrated survey of contemporary African art. writer Pernilla Holmes provides a revealing mini-profile of “uber” collector Jean Pigozzi, an Italian businessman whom Holmes unabashedly describes as the premier collector in the world of new art from Sub-Sharan Africa. Pigozzi reportedly holds more than 12,000 pieces and follows a straight-forward set of rules in collecting. “The artist must be black, live in Africa, and they must be alive,” Holmes quotes him as saying.
Pigozzi’s rules make sense to me, though for blackness I would substitute “indigenous,” as in “of Africa,” or born and reared on African ground. While Holmes neglects to highlight any conceptual issues, her article is a fascinating tour of the contemporary African art scene that gives equal weight to cosmopolitan artists as to those steeped in “exotic” African traditions. The balance, though difficult to strike, is worth forging because without reference to their traditions, contemporary African artists, especially those living in the diaspora, risks losing roots altogether and becoming dependent solely on the “wings” of their imagination. Great art can of course depend strictly on the human spirit, in the abstract, but need not either.