Ever wonder what goes into planning and installing an exhibition at a museum? Today’s blog post answers that question. Emma Kessler, curatorial assistant for the Arts of Africa, the South Pacific, and the Americas, takes us through the process of envisioning and installing the museum’s new Focalpoint exhibition Hats as Materials of Cultureon view now through May 7, 2017 in the museum’s third floor gallery of Arts of Africa, the South Pacific, and the Americas.
The Raymond and Laura Wielgus Gallery houses the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection of art from Africa, the South Pacific, and the Americas. While the vast majority of the objects in this gallery remain on continuous display, the Focalpoint section features a series of rotating exhibitions. Here we create two or three exhibitions a year on a range of topics. Recent displays include the art of ancient Peru, a look at fakes and forgeries, costumes and ornaments from New Guinea, and an investigation into tradition and authenticity in Native American art.
When deciding on a new Focalpoint exhibition, we first consider whether the topic can be linked to another exhibition, an event occurring on campus, or a new collection that has come to the museum. Our current Focalpoint, Hats: Materials of Culture, corresponds with the course Art, Craft, and Technology in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is being offered by the Department of Art History this spring. Even after the topic was selected, there was still a lot to narrow down. For example, would the exhibition look at one type of material or one kind of technology? One of the ideas I considered was a focus on beadwork. I would have looked at a wide range of objects from across Africa and made by a variety of peoples, but out of a single material—beads.
In preparation for Focalpoint, I put together several proposals, one for each of my exhibition ideas. They included 20 to 30 objects that could be used in the exhibition along with a short paragraph of the ideas and topics that could be addressed. Interestingly, this step in the process often reveals whether or not an exhibition will work. As it turns out, the beadwork idea did not work. While the objects were extremely interesting, they did not work together as well as I had hoped. As it turned out, a different idea worked much better—to create an exhibition centered on a single object type, but featuring a wide range of materials and a number of different techniques. In this case, the object type was hats.
Image: Iran, Qajar Dynasty. Horse and Rider, 19th century. Tile; stonepaste (fritware) with polychrome glaze. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Henry R. Hope, Eskenazi Museum of Art 62.183
The Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection includes forty-seven ceramic objects from the Islamic world dating from the ninth to the nineteenth centuries. These encompass all major forms – bowls, jars, pitchers, platters, and tiles – as well as some less common types such as human and animal figurines. Particularly notable are sixteen pieces of “cobalt-and-luster” ware, a type of pottery associated with the site of Raqqa, Syria, in the early thirteenth century. Acquired by the museum during the 1960s and 1970s, to date this extremely important and attractive collection has not been studied in any depth, nor have the majority of the pieces from it ever been published. Margaret Graves, Assistant Professor in Indiana University’s Department of Art History, and Judith Stubbs, the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s Pamela Buell Curator of Asian Art, are now undertaking a project to research this collection, through a grant awarded by Indiana University’s New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities program.
Image: Syria, Raqqa. Albarello, early 13th century. Stonepaste (fritware) with cobalt decoration under a transparent glaze and luster overglaze painting. H. 10 x 5 1/2 in. (25.39 x 13.96 cm). Eskenazi Museum of Art 72.6.5
This project will include a technical investigation of all pieces in the collection using techniques such as UV and X-ray analysis, thermoluminescence testing, and conservation analysis. Additionally, Graves will be publishing scholarly articles about her research on this collection, and an online catalogue of the collection will be created. When completed this project will represent a significant addition to the field of Islamic art, and will mirror similar efforts recently undertaken by other museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Harvard Art Museums.
We will continue to share news from this exciting research happening at our museum as it is completed.
Image: Iran. Aquamanile [Water Vessel] in the Form of a Ram, ca. 1170-1200. Stonepaste with luster painting over an opaque white glaze. H. 5 3/4 x W. 2 in. (14.6 x 5.07 cm). Eskenazi Museum of Art 60.58
The IU Art Museum’s conservation department purchased an Osiris infrared camera in 2015 with funds awarded to the museum from the Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation. The infrared images made with the camera allow conservators to look through the surface paint layer of a painting at any underdrawing. This is used to understand the artist’s process and is a unique tool in authenticating works of art as well. WTIU’s program The Weekly Special interviewed Margaret Contompasis, the IU Art Museum’s Beverly and Gayl W. Doster Conservator of Paintings, and Conservation Assistant Ellen Lyon, about the new camera, and their current project analyzing twenty-nine paintings in the IU Art Museum’s permanent collection attributed to the nineteenth century American painter Thomas Chambers. Watch the video below. For more information you can also read a feature about the new camera at Inside IU.
Last month IU Art Museum painting conservation technician Ellen Lyon attended a week-long technical art history workshop at the University of Delaware, taught by Brian Baade and Kristin deGhetaldi. The workshop was sponsored by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation to highlight the working methods of Early Italian tempera painters. Each participant created a small-scale reconstruction of a 14th century Italian egg tempera painted panel by Giovanni Del Biondo from the Kress Collection at the Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico (The IUAM has its own Kress Collection of 14 works, a 1961 gift of the Kress Foundation, many of which are on permanent view in our first-floor gallery.)
The Biondo panel of the Hebrew Prophet was originally part of The Coronation of the Virgin high altarpiece in the Oratorio di San Lorenzo at San Giovanni Valdarno in Arezzo, in the Tuscany region of Italy. The outer pinnacle on the right wing (outlined in blue) is the Hebrew Prophet featured in this years’ workshop.
The reconstruction is made to reveal the many layers below the image that are needed to create this type of work. The artist and/or studio began with a sanded and sized wooden panel and each subsequent layer on the reconstruction shows one or more steps in the process:
2. Animal glue sizing
4. Gesso grosso
5. Gesso sottile
6. Scraped gesso
7. Underdrawing with charcoal and then reinforced with black ink/incised lines/red bole
8. Burnished gold and areas of underpainting
9. Finished painting and punchwork added to gilding
Ellen’s reconstruction (photo to the left) shows each of these layers as a vertical band, enabling viewers to see clearly the order in which these materials were applied.
In the fall, Ellen will be sharing her workshop experience, finished panel, and pigment set with Tavy Aherne’s class, Artists’ Materials and Techniques. There are future plans for a presentation to the IUAM docents and a Noon Talk that will be open to the public. Please watch our calendar for the date.
Debra Hess Norris, chair and professor of Art Conservation at the University of Delaware describes the program in this way: “Since 2009, the University of Delaware has been awarded a series of grants from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation to support the design and creation of digital and physical historically accurate reconstructions of selected paintings from the Kress Collection. Use of these didactics and associated lesson plans, as well as sample sets of historic pigments and their raw materials available upon request from the Kress Foundation, will inform and inspire scholars, students, and the general public about the making of art and the value of technical art history.”
We are happy to welcome David A. Brenneman as the new director of the Indiana University Art Museum beginning July 1. In commenting on his appointment, Brenneman said “I feel immensely proud and honored to be the next director of the Indiana University Art Museum, one of America’s top university art museums. I will succeed a distinguished and esteemed colleague in Heidi Gealt, and I am delighted to take the reins of such a noteworthy collection and excellent staff from her. I foresee a very bright future for this important cultural treasure house. Over the summer, I look forward to getting to know the staff and friends of the museum as well as the larger university community and to settling into Bloomington with my wife, Ruth, and two children, Ivy and Leo.”
David Brenneman received his PhD in art history from Brown University and also graduated from the Getty Museum Leadership Institute in 2004. He brings more than twenty years of experience at art museums and almost thirteen years as a senior administrator at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, where he was most recently the director of collections and exhibitions. Among his many accomplishments at the High, he led the curatorial team that planned and executed the 2003 renovation and reinstallation of the museum’s Richard Meier-designed building, as well as the 2005 installation of the permanent collection in Renzo Piano-designed galleries. In addition, he worked with Emory University art history faculty to secure a Mellon Foundation grant to fund object-centered research by Emory University graduate students, and he led the Louvre Atlanta project, a three-year series of exhibitions and programs from the Musée du Louvre in Paris.
Following a national search, David Brenneman becomes the fourth director to lead the museum since its founding in 1941. Henry Radford Hope, the museum’s first director, and his successor Thomas T. Solley established the museum’s encyclopedic collections. Brenneman succeeds Adelheid (“Heidi”) M. Gealt, whose accomplishments include leading the museum in the development of programming to engage the university and local communities.
Both collections and engagement are important to Brenneman: “Museums need to be a part of their communities and to reflect and lead the diversity and ideals of the communities they serve,” he said. “Bloomington attracts faculty and students from around the world. The IU Art Museum ‘s collection is special because it contains masterpieces from throughout human history and from all corners of the earth– and just about everybody’s background is relfected.
As we welcome a new director, David Brenneman, I am filled with pride and gratitude to all those who helped grow the IU Art Museum into the noteworthy institution it is today, one that can attract a leader of David Brenneman’s outstanding caliber. From President Michael McRobbie and first lady Laurie McRobbie, to Provost Lauren Robel, to Vice President Thomas Morrison, to Chief of Police Laury Flint– IU’s leadership has embraced the IU Art Museum, helping it to continue to thrive as my predecessors, Henry Radford Hope and Thomas T. Solley, envisioned.
To the IU Art Museum staff, heartfelt thanks for your professionalism, your dedication, your hard work, and your participation in the team efforts that led to so many excellent projects over the years. I wish I had space to name you all individually here, and I hope you all know how truly grateful I am to each and every one of you.
To the IU Art Museum National Advisory Board, so ably chaired by Robert LeBien and Anthony J. Moravec, bless you and thank you! You have helped transform our museum with your gifts of time, advice, advocacy, and philanthropy! To my friends at the IU Foundation, thank you for embracing a novice academic and patiently giving me the expertise to help sustain and advance the goals of the museum. I have had the opportunity to meet truly remarkable and generous people who, because they love IU, have reached out to the Art Museum and have become lifelong and treasured friends. As director (soon to be emerita) I speak for all our visitors who have benefited from your support of the IU Art Museum.
To all the students and faculty who have engaged with the IU Art Museum during the past twenty-five years, thank you for the fun of collaboration, of shared learning, of exchanging views and perspectives regarding a collection that is infinite in its possibilities for research and discovery! To the artists, present and past, who make something out of nothing–your creativity is at the heart of our museum.
To quote Dr. Herman B Wells, a steadfast friend of the IU Art Museum, whose vision launched our museum, I’ve been truly lucky.
The spring semester is coming to a close but before the IU Art Museum begins to embark on summer festivities, events, and programming, we are taking a look back at this year’s newsworthy topics written about by students like you in the Indiana Daily Student:
This year’s first Special Exhibition, Advancing American Art: Art Interrupted, recreated an exhibition from the World War II era. The original exhibition intended to exhibit to foreign nations the ideas of American art, freedom, and democracy, but was considered by many to be too controversial due to the employment of artists who were perceived as leftist and due to artistic styles. The United States Congress ultimately cancelled the exhibition and auctioned it off. The traveling exhibition featured 117 paintings from the original exhibition that were on view through December.
In October 2013, a temporary exhibit took root in the IU Art Museum’s Thomas T. Solley Atrium. Presented by the members of the Indianapolis Bonsai Club, this pop-up exhibition presented a unique artistic experience on sculpture demonstration in the IU Art Museum atrium for the Bonsai Tree Exhibition. Visitors to the museum were invited to learn the skill behind this Japanese art form as Scott Yelich, the president, demonstrated to visitors how to craft these whimsical creatures of Mother Earth.
More life entered the IU Art Museum in the Gallery of the Arts of Asia and the Ancient Western World as theater professor and shadow puppet performer, Jennifer Goodlander, enlivened the Indonesian shadow puppets as part ofStories with Shadowy Figures. Having studied in Indonesia last summer, Goodlander talked with museum visitors about the ancient performance art and about her opportunity to learn the tradition.
Among the new events and exhibitions taking place at the IU Art Museum this year, museum visitors were assured that the annual Art of Chocolate gala would not be forgotten. This year’s gala celebrated the Art of Chocolate’s 10th year running and its ongoing support for LIFEDesigns, a local nonprofit that serves children and adults with disabilities. Leslie Abshier, LIFEDesign’s community development officer said it best, “who doesn’t like chocolate?”
Launching the first of many second semester exhibitions, the Faculty Artists From the IU’s Hope School of Fine Artsopened in the Special Exhibitions and Steward Hexagon Galleries in January. Having “something for everyone,” as curator Jenny McComas described, this exhibition represented nearly all artistic mediums including sculpture, photography, and graphic design. This exhibition provided visitors and students the chance to see contemporary works by IU faculty in one space that have been exhibited in a variety of public and private exhibitions.
Exploring the IU Art Museum’s three permanent galleries, museum docent Monica Kindraka-Jensen began eye-ing in on works through her thematic tour, The Eyes Have It. Beginning in the third floor gallery, Raymond and Laura Wieglus Gallery of the Arts of Africa, the South Pacific, and the Americas, Jensen explored with visitors the role of eyes in art across diverse cultures. Various eye shapes and types were discussed such as “coffee bean eyes” and the “curse of the evil eye.”
March marked the celebration ofYouth Art Monthwith the opening reception welcoming approximately 600 student artists, their families, and community members in support of local youth artists from the Monroe County Community School Corporation. Commemorating the IU Art Museum’s 19th year hosting Youth Art Month in the Thomas T. Solley Atrium, children ages kindergarten to sixth grade were invited to display their water color, pastel, colored pencil, paper cutouts, and other works of art.
More colorful works filled the IU Art Museum’s Special Exhibitions Gallery with the opening of Matisse’s Jazz and Other Works from Indiana University Collections. Acclaimed as one of the most important modern artists of the 20th century, this exhibition highlights Matisse works from the last 30 years of his life during which he had to re-invent himself as an artist.
In the first floor atrium, students from the Giving Back to Africa Student Association showcased their month-long photographs of Beta Histoire, which opened in early April. These photos depicted children from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and their daily lives with the goal of the exhibition aimed at educating IU students about the political, social, and economic issues in the DRC.
Wrapping up the spring semester, more educational experiences took place at the IU Art Museum in conjunction with theEvan F. Lilly Memorial Lecture Competition. Four IU students selected pieces from the IU Art Museum’s permanent collection, researched, and composed a paper and lecture on their findings. Objects and ideas explored included male nudes, ancient Roman religion, hermaphrodites, and bilingual eye cups.