The Eskenazi Museum of Art’s Genji screens are going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York! According to John Carpenter, Mary Griggs Burke Curator of Japanese Art at the Met, “the screens will be included in the exhibition The Tale of Genji: A Japanese Classic illuminated (March 5–June 16, 2019), the first major show in North America to focus on the artistic tradition inspired by Japan’s most celebrated work of literature. Covering the period from the eleventh century to the present, The Tale of Genji will feature more than 120 works, including paintings, calligraphy, silk robes, lacquer wedding set items, a palanquin for the shogun’s bride, and popular art such as ukiyo-e prints and modern manga. Highlights include two National Treasures and several works recognized as Important Cultural Properties. For the first time ever outside Japan, rare works will be on view from Ishiyamadera Temple.” The Eskenazi Museum screens will be displayed prominently, across from the Jodoji Temple fan screens and in the same room as the Harvard Genji Albums.
Tale of Genji, which was written in the early eleventh century by the court lady Murasaki Shikibu, is often called the first modern novel composed in any language. The original manuscript no longer exists, but many copies, though fragmentary, survive in the form of 54 chapters and 750,000 words, although there is some disagreement as to the order. The tale revolves around the life of Prince Genji and his descendants, their loves, losses, jealousies, and sorrows in the context of life in the Japanese imperial court. The central character, Genji, is the perfect courtier—handsome, clever, and accomplished—but his life, and those of his descendants, is overshadowed by sadness, guilt, and remorse.
The Eskenazi Museum’s screen is unusual in that it illustrates only two moments, rather than many, from the tale. The screen on the right is from the chapter entitled “Murasaki,” or “Lavendar.” Murasaki, one of Genji’s enduring love interests, is depicted as a young girl in the center of the veranda. Her pet bird has escaped to the highest branches of the flowering cherry to the left. Genji peeps through the fence, seeing Murasaki for the first time.
The screen on the left is from the chapter “Ukifune” (sometimes translated as floating or drifting boat) and depicts Genji’s grandson Niou catching a glimpse of Ukifune, who sits with her serving women folding clothes.
By illustrating story lines from the early and late chapters of the tale, the unknown artist creates emotional and karmic bookends that invite the viewer to contemplate the various narrative threads and emotional entanglements that occur across generations.
This Egyptian comb from the ninth century is a recent addition to our ancient collection. Carved from wood, with thick teeth on one side and finer teeth on the other, it has an ornamental design that was cut into the central panels. On one side, the design seems anthropomorphic: the viewer can glimpse eyes and a nose (which make the thick teeth seem like actual teeth and the fine teeth like hair). The comb itself is recognizable as a tool used in daily life, and the whimsical feeling that comes from the discovery of a hidden face is also familiar. Objects like this help us bridge large gaps in time and engage with life in the ancient world.
Although little known today, Ahron Ben-Shmuel was recognized as a leading American sculptor in the 1930s. Known as a “sculptor’s sculptor” among his peers, Ben-Shmuel was especially admired for his technical mastery of stone carving, although he also worked in terracotta and bronze. In the 1930s, his sculptures were featured in exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Sculptor’s Guild in New York.
Ben-Shmuel’s streamlined style reflected his study of ancient sculpture as well as the influence of modernism. Although only fifteen inches high, The Captive (alternately titled The Martyr, Saint Sebastian) conveys a powerful sense of anguish. In both subject (human suffering) and style (figural elongation), the piece has a clear affinity with German Expressionist sculpture.
The Captive will complement the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s holdings of German sculpture, revealing the international dissemination of Expressionism, and reintroducing a significant American modern artist to our visitors.
Thanks to the generosity of the late Thomas Solley and the Thomas T. Solley Endowed Fund for Asian Art, we were able to purchase an eight-panel folding screen. It is not only a significant example of Korean art but also a real showstopper. Chaekgeori, or scholar’s screens such as this one, can loosely be described as a still life genre painting suitable for the scholar or any other individual wishing to visually inform others of their erudition, sophistication, and taste. The earliest known Chaekgeori screens date to the late eighteenth century, a time of peace and stability after the destructive
Manchurian and Japanese invasions of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. With increased prosperity art patrons and scholars could once again relish the accoutrements of a genteel life. This type of painting continued to enjoy popularity through the mid-twentieth century.
The word Chaekgeori literally means “books and things,” and books, which are displayed in towering stacks on every panel, are certainly the most prominent and important motif in such paintings. Perhaps some of the books here are the Confucian Classics, which all respectable scholars would own and consult. But other objects also populate the screen: fine ceramics, writing brushes, exotic flowers and fruits, butterflies, carp, Buddha’s hand citron, pomegranates, and images of cranes, all of which reference the long-standing vocabulary of wealth and auspicious symbols representing prosperity, longevity, and fecundity.
There are also references to a larger world beyond the boundaries of Asia represented by the inclusion of the round, black eyeglass in the left-most screen. While smoky quartz or glass had been used by the Chinese at an early date to shield their faces and vision, proper eyeglasses were not imported to China until the sixteenth century. Eyeglasses in the East and West are associated with the scholar. Also of note are the Western-style rulers stuck in the brush pots in the two right-most panels. All the objects represented in the screen are not only artifacts of refinement but also of their owner’s worldliness since many of them were priceless imports from China and Japan and, to a lesser degree, the West.
The origins of this kind of genre painting are obscure, but the assemblage of objects and recent scholarship indicate that the ideas are drawn from both the long-established Chinese tradition of paintings referencing the scholar’s study and recently introduced ideas from the West such as antiquarian collecting.
Judith A. Stubbs, PhD
Pamela Buell Curator of Asian Art
After graduating from Indiana University with a Master of Arts in art history in 2017 and serving as a graduate assistant at the Eskenazi Museum of Art, Andrew Wang has completed a Kress Fellowship at Yale University and has accepted a new position as Instructional Design Librarian at the Ringling College of Art + Design in Sarasota, Florida. We recently caught up with Andrew to hear more about his experiences at IU and after.
1. Tell us a little bit about your experience at IU and specifically the Eskenazi Museum of Art.
I was the graduate assistant to Jenny McComas, Curator of European and American Art, from 2014 to 2017. I worked on a wide variety of projects during those three years, including regular maintenance of curatorial files and electronic records for the museum’s collections. I also assisted MFA students with the installation of their thesis exhibitions and curated special installations in the galleries.
I saw the museum transform dramatically in just a few short years. Jenny executed a major reinstallation in the first floor gallery, we migrated our data to a new collections management system, the museum was renamed, and David Brenneman joined as the new director.
I worked at the Fine Arts Library throughout my graduate program in the art history department as well, so I practically lived in the building.
2. What was your experience at Yale like?
The Kress Fellowship in Art Librarianship at Yale allowed me to pursue my own independent projects with the support and guidance of leading professionals in the field. I created visual indexes for the Visual Resources Collection, managed a digital exhibition, and designed a user study for Yale’s art history department. I also provided research consultations for students, instructed classes on research methods and information literacy, oversaw the Haas Arts Library’s social media platforms, and organized the annual Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon and rotating thematic book displays. I spent most of my time working at the Arts Library, but I spent one day a week at the Center for British Art so I could gain experience working in a museum library. At the center I conducted a collection analysis project to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the Reference Library’s holdings. The center is involved with so many groundbreaking projects, like the International Image Interoperability Framework.
3. Did you spend much time at the Yale University Art Gallery? How does it compare to the museum here at IU?
I took almost everyone who visited me in New Haven to the Art Gallery, so I ended up spending a lot of time there. Their permanent collection is encyclopedic in scope, like the Eskenazi Museum’s, and the galleries are organized similarly. I think Yale’s Art Gallery has exceptional strengths in its contemporary collection, with works by Gerhard Richter, Barkley L. Hendricks, and Kerry James Marshall, to name a few. They also have Marcel Duchamp’s last painting on canvas, Tu m’, which I loved seeing since Jenny and I had co-curated a special installation in celebration of the centennial of Duchamp’s Fountain. Yale has a larger infrastructure and staff, but the Eskenazi Museum has a competitive collection.
4. Tell us about your new job at the Ringling College of Art + Design.
My new position at Ringling College of Art + Design is Instructional Design Librarian. I was surprised by how much I really loved teaching and conducting research consultations during my time at Yale, and this new position at the Ringling will allow me to focus primarily on those aspects of librarianship. In collaboration with another Instructional Design Librarian (who also happens to be an IU alum!), I will be teaching undergraduate art students how to conduct research and about critical information/visual literacy. In this position I hope to continue to develop public speaking skills while bringing a fresh perspective to library instruction. I want to introduce more engaging activities and relatable analogies to help students take advantage of the resources offered at an academic institution. At the very least, I want students to understand their own agency in their research process and to feel more comfortable approaching librarians for help. I was attracted to this position because the director of the library at the Ringling, Kristina Keogh, was my former supervisor at the IU Fine Arts Library. She encouraged me to pursue so many professional development opportunities as a student, and I always loved working with her. I always said that it would be a dream-come-true scenario to work with her again.
5. How did your experience at IU and the art museum prepare you for post-graduation?
I can’t thank Jenny and the museum’s registrar, Anita Bracalente, enough for the opportunities they gave me at the museum. Working at the museum gave me such a well-rounded perspective on how to serve patrons as an art librarian. I feel as though I have a particularly nuanced understanding of what my patrons need, whether they’re conducting provenance research or just starting to browse the available literature on a new subject. Getting to work so closely with TMS, the museum’s collection management system, helped me better understand metadata standards, which is crucial for efficiently managing projects that are related to digital collections. The Yale Center for British Art also uses TMS, so I felt confident diving straight into my work there.
I think my curatorial experience helped me stand out as a candidate for the Kress Fellowship. At IU I had curated a special installation about Josef Albers’s pedagogy while he was an instructor at Yale, so I had a unique understanding of his legacy in the School of Art’s curricula. Also, working closely with MFA students provided me the opportunity to understand a variety of working processes. I’m especially grateful that Jenny trusted me to work with them.
6. What do you miss about IU and Bloomington the most?
I miss the B-Line/Clear Creek trail and how easy it was to bike everywhere! I made a lot of close friends while I was there, so I plan to visit as soon as I have time. I also find myself craving food from the Owlery and Rainbow Bakery.
7. Are there any areas of research that you are interested in exploring in the future?
I’d like to continue researching queer theory and underground subcultures, but I’m also starting to read more about critical and feminist pedagogy. Right now, I’m working on an essay about comics, their history of censorship, and their current place in academic libraries. My reading list is never-ending, so I’m not sure where my research will take me in the future.
8. Anything else that you would like to add?
I just want to reiterate my thanks to the staff at the museum who supported me throughout grad school. With the relocation of the Fine Arts Library, the renovations at the museum, and the relocation of both the art history and information and library science departments, I might not see the IU I knew as a student when I get the chance to visit in the future, but at least I know that I have a fantastic network of friends, colleagues, and mentors in Bloomington.
The internationally recognized painter Gerhard Richter has consistently defied expectations of what one should paint and how. In the early 1960s, Richter gained notoriety with his blurry paintings based on smeared photographs. Never one to be pigeonholed by a single theme or style, he created images of color charts, monochromatic works, glass constructions, and abstract pictures executed with a squeegee. Richter even experimented with painting over his “failed” gray paintings with colorful streaks of paint.
In 1986, he began a series of overpainted photographs. By combining the implied realism of the photographic image, historically considered the most factual of all media, with abstract gestures, Richter raises questions about the nature of representation. As he said, “Abstract pictures…make visible a reality that we can neither see nor describe, but whose existence we can postulate.” In this small, unique work, the juxtaposition of the thick impasto paint with a color photo of a forest taken by the artist leads us to draw our own inferences and to read the multicolor brushstrokes as floral, fungi, or ferns. Although the painting blocks almost two-thirds of the photograph, to Richter each element is equally important.
Lucienne M. Glaubinger Curator of Works on Paper
This year, our education department is launching the Sara and Bob LeBien Arts-based Wellness Pilot Program, which will connect children who have suffered from neglect or abuse with the healing and educational power of art. As part of this program, our education department staff will expand to include a certified art therapist.
About the Program:
Guided by an art therapist, children who have suffered from abuse or neglect will make art and look at works from the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection in the Learning Lab and galleries. They will be immersed in the creative process for self-expression, stress reduction, healing, and learning. The children’s studio work will be connected to experiences in the galleries for opportunities to validate the child’s expressions, emotions, and self-efficacy. Gallery and studio experiences will help the child form positive bonds with other children, the art therapist, and the cultures, artists, and ideas represented in the galleries.
Why Art Therapy? Why at the Museum? Making art is natural for children. Expressing through art mediums, like drawing, painting, or forming clay, is an accessible form of communication for children that is easier than spoken language. Artmaking fosters emotional development that bolsters cognitive, social, and physical advancement. For children who have suffered trauma, it is a powerful tool for expressing emotions or sharing experiences that may be difficult to articulate with words. If left unexpressed, these emotions and experiences can become a major barrier for overall educational development. For example, being mad or sad is not always easy to describe with words, but a child can put these emotions into a drawing, which can be the starting point for communication and healing. This reflective and expressive process leads the child to a better understanding of her/his feelings and thoughts.
Cognitive, social, and physical development also emerge when children experience the arts. Artmaking advances the development of motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and muscle control. Through artmaking, children naturally encounter cognitive complexities, such as cause and effect, or imagined and real. In their interaction with the arts, children have to make choices that have visual consequences, which, in connection with their body’s actions, is a highly efficient route to learning new concepts. Through talking about works of art, children learn critical thinking and looking skills; build vocabulary; and discover ways to reason in evidence, ask questions, and seek answers.
These kinds of complex thinking experiences, which connect the mind with the body’s senses, positively impact the brain’s neural connections. Conversely, research suggests that experiencing trauma has significant negative impacts on neural connections for children. For example, the number of times a child experiences the flight or fright release of chemicals directly impacts their wiring for learning, essentially weakening the structure upon which all learning relies. Experiences with the arts require problem-solving and brain activity that build a stronger physical learning structure. Studies show that both artmaking and looking at art reduce the stress hormone cortisol, and they can also increase endorphins, which combat the ill effects of stress. By pairing our newly renovated museum galleries and new education center with the practices of art therapy we can study the impact of a museum-based art therapy program for children. We think this has potential to change children’s lives, both directly through our program, but also as a model for other art museums.
I most sincerely thank Bob LeBien for his gift to pilot this program. If you are interested in learning more or would like to help support this program, please contact me at email@example.com.
Lucienne M. Glaubinger Director of Education
This article was originally printed in the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art’s magazine. If you would like to receive print copies of our magazine, sign up for our mailing list HERE.