Your Favorite Things: Emma Kessler and a Māori Weaving Peg

maori-weaving-peg
Unknown Maori artist, New Zealand. Weaving Peg. Wood and haliotis shell. Raymond and Laura Wielgus Collection, Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University, 2010.21

Your Favorite Things is a regular feature on our blog where students, staff, and patrons of the museum talk about their favorite objects in the museum’s collection. Today Emma Kessler, curatorial assistant for the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas discusses her favorite object, a Māori Weaving Pin.

Since I was a kid I’ve always loved museums. I love learning about other cultures through the objects they’ve created.

I first visited the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University on a campus visit while trying to decide where I wanted to attend graduate school. It is safe to say I was impressed with the collection and I was blown away by the objects in the Raymond and Laura Wielgus Gallery of the Art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.

To be upfront, my graduate focus is on the art of Polynesia, and I happily admit that my opinions are completely biased, but as far as I am concerned the Polynesian collection is the best in the museum.

My favorite object is a beautiful and unfinished Māori Weaving Peg from Aotearoa (New Zealand). I go back to this object over and over again. I never walk past it without stopping at least for a moment, and if I have a visitor with me I always point it out. Among the Māori, weaving was historically a sacred act carried out by women, and there was great care, attention, and power put into the necessary tools.

emma-portrait
Emma Kessler

I love the history and unique qualities of this object. While it is certainly not the only example of a carved weaving peg, it is one of the most elaborate. The crispness of the carving is the result of metal tools that had only been introduced relatively recently when the weaving peg was created in the 18th century. Its use of interlocking figures, a characteristic of Māori carving, means there is always something new to see and more to look at. I never get bored when spending time with this object.

However, my favorite thing about this weaving peg is the fact that it is unfinished. In a purely visual way, this allows one to see and get a better understanding of how the peg was made. The figures at the bottom have been roughly outlined but are nowhere near the completed intricacy of the figures above them. Through a cultural lens this unfinished quality becomes even more interesting. Every part of the carving process included chants and prayers, imbuing the object with mana, or sacred power, and creating an intense connection between the object and the carver. When the peg’s carver was unable to finish it (perhaps because of illness or death) another carver would not be able to complete it, as the continuity of the ritual had been broken.

Because of objects and histories like this one, the Raymond and Laura Wielgus Gallery has become my favorite space on the IU campus. For me, it is a place to think, reflect, learn, and enjoy.

If you would like to tell us about your favorite object in the museum’s collection contact us at iuam@indiana.edu

Eskenazi Museum of Art Website

 

Lou Block: An Unexpected Slice of Life

200-x-18-1
Image: Lou Block (American, 1895-1969). Conversation No. 1, ca. 1960. Gelatin silver print. Henry Holmes Smith Archive, Eskenazi Museum of Art 200.X.18.1

Today we bring you a look into the work of American photographer Lou Block by Nan Brewer, the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s Lucienne M. Glaubinger Curator of Works on Paper. Block’s work, along with that of other influential photography professors, including Minor White, Allen Downs, Aaron Siskind, and Indiana University’s first photography professor, Henry Holmes Smith, will be on view in a new installation, Modern Pioneers: Professors of Photography, from November 8, 2016, through May 7, 2017, in the museum’s first floor gallery of the Art of the Western World. 

Lou Block is primarily known as a muralist, illustrator, and arts administrator, and served as a supervisor for the WPA Federal Art Project in New York City. During his tenure with the FAP he raised issues of racism and segregation within the government-sponsored organization, particularly the rejection of designs by black artists for the Harlem Hospital. Block was also involved politically with the Artists Congress and Artists’ Union, which organized an artists’ strike in 1934. Having worked with the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera on his controversial Rockefeller Center murals, Block understood the power of art to move people and recognized the importance of truthfulness.

Inspired by his friend Ben Shahn, Block took up the camera as well as the brush and pen. He approached photography with the same honesty and creative passion as he did his other work. During his years in New York City he photographed numerous mural projects (many now lost), the Artists’ Union strike, and studies for a mural proposed at Riker’s Island. In 1951 Block moved to Kentucky, where he taught painting and creative photography at the University of Louisville. His later photographs include shots taken in Louisville, Mexico, New York City, and New Jersey.

Block’s photographs continued in the documentary tradition of the Farm Security Administration, while embracing the grittier, urban style of the New York Photo League. This image with its closely cropped focus on two foreground figures offers an intimate look into their private world. Never overly sentimentalizing or condescending to his subjects, Block used a 35mm camera to record as unobtrusively as possible a fleeting moment in time. While the interaction between the women is the central focus of the picture, the blurred tapestry of street life seen in the background provides the social context. Like the street photography of Robert Frank—whose book The Americans was published in the US in 1959—Block’s image relies on gesture and unexpected juxtapositions to reveal the whole story.

Nanette Esseck Brewer

The Lucienne M. Glaubinger Curator of Works on Paper

Eskenazi Museum of Art Website

How An Exhibition Comes Together

focalpoint3
Emma Kessler, curatorial assistant for the Art of Africa, the South Pacific, and the Americas at the Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University

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 Culture on 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.

Continue reading “How An Exhibition Comes Together”

New in the Galleries: Modern Sculptors in Indiana

indysculpt1

In celebration of the Indiana State Bicentennial, the Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University is featuring a special installation titled Modern Sculptors in Indianawith works by renowned sculptors who were born, worked, or studied in the state. The works on display represent the diversity and pluralism of modern sculpture and range from representative figures to geometric forms. An official Bicentennial Legacy Project, this installation commemorates the rich artistic heritage of Indiana and showcases some of the state’s most influential sculptures. It is on view through March 12, 2017 in the museum’s first-floor gallery of the Art of the Western World. Originally from Concarneau, France, Robert Laurent is perhaps one of the best known artists to contribute work for the Bloomington campus. His figurative sculpture The Birth of Venus (also known as the Showalter Fountain) is located in the Fine Arts Plaza next to the Eskenazi Museum of Art. Laurent worked primarily in Bloomington for the last two decades of his career and taught at Indiana University from 1942 to 1960. Some of his other works can be seen throughout campus, namely at the IU Auditorium and on the façade of Ballantine Hall. This installation features Torso, Laurent’s walnut sculpture of a female form from 1924. Representative of his lifelong interest in smooth and elegant surfaces, Torso provides visitors an intimate view of one of Laurent’s earlier small-scale works, which preceded the public and monumental sculptures of his late career.

Bloomington locals may also be familiar with Alexander Calder’s large, abstract sculpturePeau Rouge Indiana, outside Indiana University’s Musical Arts Center. Born in Lawnton, Pennsylvania, Calder gained international attention for his suspended mobile sculptures. In contrast, Peau Rouge Indiana is a “stabile,” or monumental and stationary steel sculpture.Despite its inability to move, the overlapping and intersecting abstract planes, as well as its striking red color, dynamically activate the space it occupies. A maquette, or preliminary model,of Peau Rouge Indiana is on view in the Indiana Sculptors installation, providing an opportunity to explore Calder’s early working process. The other artists in the installation have also expanded the parameters of modern sculpture, both in Indiana and on an international scale. David Smith, the abstract expressionist who influenced many of the other artists in this installation, worked in South Bend in the early 1920s and was a visiting artist at Indiana University from 1955 to 1956; David Hayes received degrees from both University of Notre Dame and Indiana University, where he worked with Smith; George Rickey,a South Bend native, created intricate kinetic sculptures; and Isamu Noguchi, known for his surrealist-inspired, biomorphic sculptures, moved to Indiana from Japan at the age of thirteen.

We hope you take this opportunity to visit us at the Eskenazi Museum of Art and see the work of some of Indiana’s most significant twentieth-century sculptors. If you have any questions, please contact us at iuam@indiana.edu.

Post by Andrew Wang, IU Eskenazi Museum of Art Graduate Assistant for European and American Art.

Eskenazi Museum of Art Website
New in the Galleries
Restoring Peau Rouge Indiana

Your Favorite Things: Rebecca Hinton and Bernardo Strozzi’s St. Dorothy

strozziImage (click to enlarge): Bernardo Strozzi (Italian, 1581-1644). St. Dorothy, 1615-20. Oil on canvas. Eskenazi Museum of Art 80.12

Welcome to Your Favorite Things, our ongoing series where students, community members, and staff of the museum discuss their favorite works from the museum’s collection. Today, Rebecca Hinton, a security guard here at the museum, discusses, St. Dorothy, a large oil painting by Bernardo Strozzi that can be found in the Gealt Gallery in Gallery of the Art of the Western World on the first floor of the museum. 

Full disclaimer: I do not have a favorite artwork in our museum, any more than I have a favorite film, food, or color. How do people do that? After all, to play favorites is to bring a built-in lens to anything that you are trying to appreciate: it limits the potential for joy, and limits what you actually see. However, I’ll try to play along, just this once. As an art museum security guard, I actually have extensive time to live with and savor our collection, in a way that even other members of our staff are not really able to do. And one of the pieces that I find exquisite, that is moving, that has presence and emotional impact, is Bernardo Strozzi’s St. Dorothy.

Rebecca1Image: Rebecca Hinton with St. Dorothy

A monumental figure is gracefully seated in the darkness, patiently awaiting your approach. Your eye falls to her sandaled foot, which gingerly nudges itself out of the blackness. Above this foot is a swirl of darkness and beautiful fabrics: blue, yellow, pink, and filmy white seem to fly about her figure like startled birds, only to vanish into the void beyond. Her right arm appears to be resting on an unseen chair – the most beautiful hand curves downward, long fingers gently holding a tendril of that restless fabric, moving about her figure. In her other arm she cradles a child-angel, who holds a rose against his breast. The faces of both figures are pale and flushed. Unnaturally flushed? Is St. Dorothy unwell, or is she already not quite of this world? Either way the blush in the cheeks of both figures is evocative of the petals of the rose in the child’s hands. The child’s gaze is focused somewhere beyond, but St. Dorothy’s gaze is steady, her face turned fully toward the viewer. She has the aspect of a good listener, and of someone who knows the world and its sorrows. Her expression and the child’s are both full of pathos, but St. Dorothy’s is particularly complex. Her face is made exquisite by the traces of sadness and pain in her expression, but she is also steady, composed, and resolute. She is both monumentally there (she fills the entire canvas), but fleeting. She has decided to briefly, gingerly, emerge out of that darkness, for the sake of the viewer. She is here. She is listening.

Like the best Madonnas, St. Dorothy gazes down at the viewer with a knowing look, full of compassion. I have always found it interesting how often male saints are depicted as looking up, aspiring toward heaven, whereas Mary and the female saints are more likely to be looking down at the spectator. It seems to me that these ladies are already with God, and their energies are focused on others. They are coming from another place, and they are here to help. Second disclaimer: I was a Religious Studies major back in college. In Catholicism, Mary acts as an intercessor, a bridge between mortals and heaven. Female saints like Dorothy often seem to be portrayed in the same way. According to the accounts of her life, Dorothy was persecuted, tortured, and killed for her faith. Before she was beheaded, she told the mob gathered about her that she looked forward to going to a place that knew no winter. A man in the crowd named Theophilus attempted to ridicule her by requesting a basket of roses and apples from heaven. Dorothy earnestly promised to fulfill that request. That winter an angel in the guise of a small boy brought the roses and the apples. Theophilus converted to Christianity, and in turn was also martyred.

The story is full of pain, but also the beauty of hope. The promise of fruit and flowers, the promise in the dead of winter that spring, full of life and fecundity, will return, is ancient, deep, and good (and found across religions). It is a simple miracle, but that makes it all the more poignant and powerful. The painting is symbolically rich. The mysterious darkness from which St. Dorothy emerges – is it God? The Unknown? Death?—I’ve always loved the play of light and dark: the dappled light under a tree, or in an Impressionist painting, the curious play of positive and negative space in a silhouette, or in the exquisitely carved crescent shapes of an Alamblak Peoples’ War and Hunting Spirit Figure, or in the intricate designs of a lime spatula handle (both of which can be found in our third floor gallery). Light and dark, the known and the unknown, at play or fighting for dominance, is powerful, provocative, stimulating. What isn’t being revealed? Are we ever really content to accept the view presented to us? Like St. Dorothy, Strozzi was no stranger to pain and suffering. He left the monastery to care for his ailing mother, and he had to take painting commissions in order to make ends meet. I am both intrigued and impressed by Strozzi: painter, monk, and caregiver, all in one life. He seemed to have a good sense of priorities, and a foot in both the sacred and secular realms. Anyone who could paint a face like St. Dorothy’s, or that beautiful hand, curling in toward the darkness…I hope you come and visit her, and our other treasures someday soon, and I hope you find them as stimulating and as nourishing as I do.

If you would like to talk about your favorite work at the Eskenazi Museum of Art, write to us at iuam@indiana.edu

Eskenazi Museum of Art Website

 

Spotlights: Burton Yost Berry: A Sketch

Burton Yost Berry
Burton Yost Berry

This summer the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University is exhibiting Spotlights: Five Views into the Museum’s Collection. The museum’s outstanding collection of ancient jewelry is celebrated by Juliet Istrabadi, acting Curator of the Ancient Art, for her section of the exhibition.

The following is an excerpt from A Golden Legacy: Ancient Jewelry from the Burton Y. Berry Collection, a catalogue written by  published by the IU Eskenazi Musuem of Art (then know as the Indiana University Art Museum) in 1995 to accompany an exhibition of the museum’s famed ancient jewelry collection. That exhibition traveled to the St. Louis Art Museum, the Museum of Art and Archeology at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and the Tampa Museum of Art, as well as being displayed here in Bloomington at our museum. We present this post today to honor Berry for both amassing his wonderful collection, and his generosity in donating it to our museum. He is truly a pivotal donor in the history of our museum. You can currently view a large selection of pieces from the Burton Y. Berry collection in our Spotlights exhibition, on view now through September 4, 2016. Additional works from the Burton Y. Berry Collection are regularly on view in the museum’s Gallery of the Art of Asia and the Ancient Western World, on the second floor.  Continue reading “Spotlights: Burton Yost Berry: A Sketch”

IU Eskenazi Museum of Art Now Home to the Largest Rainwork in the World!

Rainwork in rainstorm
Mandala Rainwork at the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art. Photo by Abe Morris

What is a Rainwork?
Rainworks are rain-activated street art that are completely invisible when dry, and only appear when they are wet. Rainworks are designed to make rainy days happier. They are created by using a super hydrophobic spray called Rainworks Invisible Spray. Rainworks typically last 2 to 4 months.

Who Created Rainworks?
Artists named Peregrine Church and Xack Fischer developed Rainworks in their hometown Seattle, WA (ie. rain capital U.S.A). After a video of Rainworks went viral on the Internet, Rainworks have appeared all over the world.

What Is The Largest Rainwork Ever Created?
The Indiana University Eskenazi Museum of Art in Bloomington, Indiana, commissioned Church and Fischer to install a Rainwork in the plaza in front of the art museum. The result is Mandala, the largest Rainwork ever created, at almost thirty-four feet in diameter. Mandala was installed in eleven hours by Church and Fischer, with additional assistance from Emelie Flower and Abe Morris. It was unveiled before a crowd of hundreds who launched almost 150 water balloons at the Rainwork to make it visible. Find more photos of the installation and unveiling of Mandala below. Church and Fischer are also teaching workshops on how to create Rainworks during their stay in Bloomington. The IU Eskenazi Museum of Art is actively working with organizations and individuals to create more Rainworks in Bloomington, to use this project to take art out into the community and make art a fun and surprising part of people’s daily lives. Many thanks for Peregrine, Xack for their brilliant ideas, and for bringing Rainworks to our community.

Watch a video of the Rainworks unveiling at the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art:

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fseattlerainworks%2Fvideos%2F516426055220410%2F&show_text=0&width=560

Find out more information about  Rainworks at Rain.works, including how to create your own.

Rainworks at the Eskenazi Museum of Art is made possible in part by the generous support of Linda Watson. Additional thanks to IU Eskenazi Museum of Art director David Brenneman, and the entire museum staff, the Monroe County Public Library, the IU Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts, and the City of Bloomington.

Questions? Contact Abe Morris at the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art at: abamorri@iu.edu

IU Eskenazi Museum of Art Website

Rainworks install8 8-17-16
Rainwork installation in progress, L to R: Peregrine Church, Emelie Flower. Photo by Abe Morris.
rainwork install- perry xack
Installation in progress, from L to R: Rainworks founders Peregrine Church and Xack Fischer. Photo by Kevin Montague.
RainworksUnveilWaterBalloons
Rainwork unveiling by water balloon. Photo by Kevin Montague.
Rainwork-mandalaXandP
Rainworks founders Peregrine Church and Xack Fischer with Mandala at the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art. Photo courtesy of Rainworks.