Look Closer focuses on the art anthropologist and collector Hans Himmelheber (1908–2003). His research into the artistic personality and aesthetics heralded a fundamental shift in African art history. Himmelheber made a total of thirteen trips to West and Central Africa where his research and collecting activities spanned the period from colonial times through independence and into the 1970s.

The exhibition is thought-provoking: how does knowledge about the production of art in Africa come about? What do words like “art” and “artist” actually mean? What is the role of African agents and perspectives in the production of this knowledge? Look Closer cites examples of Himmelheber’s approach of closely looking, documenting, and describing.

Visitors can explore questions surrounding the purchase of art and its trade; research and teaching; or art and the portrait. Looking back at the past is not the exhibition’s sole concern, however: four contemporary artists – Désiré Amani, Michèle Magema, Obou Gbais, and David Shongo – offer their views of the Himmelheber Archive.

The exhibition presents the findings of a research project undertaken jointly by the University of Zurich and the Museum Rietberg. In recent years, the museum has received an extensive archive of Himmelheber’s own collection, photographs, and films as well as his private papers.

To facilitate discussion of alternative comments and perspectives on the Himmelheber Archive, and make them accessible around the world, a new digital platform called africa-art-archive.ch has been created using contributions from African, American, and European artists and scholars.

Supported by Dr J. Plattner in memory of his wife Nelly Pajarola Plattner and the Accentus Foundation’s Elena Probst Fund.