The Fountain at 100

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Marcel Duchamp (French, active in the United States 1887-1968). Fountain, 1964 edition (original 1917). Painted ceramic. Partial gift of Mrs. William H. Conroy. Eskenazi Museum of Art 71.37.7

One of the jewels of the Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University’s collection is a complete set of the 1964 edition of Marcel Duchamp’s Readymades. Duchamp was a French artist who was associated with the Dada movement, which sought to redefine traditional artistic practices. During World War I, Duchamp moved to New York City, where he became a central figure in that city’s artistic community. Duchamp’s major contribution to Dada—and to modern art more generally—were the Readymades, mass-produced objects that he presented as works of art. Duchamp undermined the original functionality of the objects through slight alterations or by installing them in an unusual way. By emphasizing an intellectual approach to art over craftmanship or stylistic expressivity, Duchamp posed a serious challenge to long-accepted definitions of art. His radical thinking of artistic practice inspired the development of conceptual art and the use of nontraditional materials within the realm of fine art.

The year 2017 marks the centennial of Fountain, the most famous—and notorious—Readymade. One hundred years ago, in April 1917, the Society of Independent Artists in New York refused to display Fountain—a urinal turned on its back and signed “R. Mutt”—in its annual exhibition. Because Fountain and many other original Readymades were lost not long after their creation, Duchamp and the Milan gallerist Arturo Schwartz decided to produce a replica edition of these works in 1964. The reproduction of the Readymades acknowledged their significance to the development of modern art. The Eskenazi Museum of Art is one of only three museums worldwide that holds all thirteen Readymades reproduced in the 1964 edition. The installation Fountain at 100 celebrates the Readymades, with special emphasis on Fountain, on view in the museum’s first floor Gallery of Art of the Western World from January 24 through May 7, 2017. Works by artists inspired by Duchamp—Man Ray, Joseph Cornell, and Lucas Samaras—will also be on view. We hope you take this opportunity to visit and see Duchamp’s Readymades in person for yourself.

The Eskenazi Museum of Art will also be hosting a free Noon Talk on February 15, 2017 from 12:15-1:00 p.m. entitled “Out of the Box: The Legacy of the Readymade,” presented in conjunction with Fountain at 100. Andrew Wang, graduate assistant for European and American art, will discuss the influence of Marcel Duchamp’s Readymades on Jospeh Cornell, Louise Nevelson, and Lucas Samaras. This Noon Talk will take place in the Gallery of the Art of the Western World, first floor, and is free and open to the public. No prior reservation is necessary to attend.

Please visit the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s Website for gallery hours and more information on visiting the museum. Admission at the Eskenazi Museum of Art is always FREE. 

 

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Eskenazi Museum of Art Represented at Important Conference in Jerusalem

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Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Photo: Jenny McComas

By Jenny McComas, Curator of European and American Art, Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University

Engaging with the wider academic and professional communities is an important part of a curator’s job. Participating in conferences is one way to stay abreast of current trends in the field, meet new colleagues, and present one’s own research. Since I established the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s Nazi-Era Provenance Research Project in 2004, I have taken advantage of opportunities to participate in the broader field of provenance (the ownership history of works of art) whenever possible. In November, I participated in an international conference on Provenance and Collecting organized by the London-based International Research Forum on Collecting and Display in conjunction with the Israel Museum and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The conference was held at the Israel Museum, the largest and most comprehensive art and archaeology museum in Israel. The museum has extensive wings devoted to antiquities, fine art, and Jewish art and life, but is perhaps best known for housing the Dead Sea Scrolls. These scrolls, written in Hebrew and Aramaic on parchment and papyrus, were found in caves in Qumran on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea in 1947. Dating from the third century BCE to the first century CE, they are the earliest written biblical texts to have survived. The scrolls are displayed on a rotating basis in the Shrine of the Book on the Israel Museum’s campus. This unusual building, designed in 1965 by the American architects Armand P. Bartos and Friedrich Kiesler, is meant to evoke the lids of the clay jars in which the scrolls were discovered. It was thrilling to present my conference paper in the Shrine of the Book’s auditorium, just steps from the famous scrolls.

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Jenny McComas discusses two objects from the Eskenazi Museum of Art, Israel Museum, November 2016. Photo: Yair Hovav

With the aim of exploring the myriad ways that provenance and provenance research impact scholarship, ethics, and the law, the Provenance and Collecting Conference was attended by a range of art historians, archaeologists, museum professionals, archivists, and lawyers from Israel, North America, and Europe. In my presentation, I described how I recovered the long-lost provenance histories of two objects in the Eskenazi Museum’s collection: Merzbild 13A (1919) by German Dadaist Kurt Schwitters and Head of a Girl, Turning (1913-14) by German Expressionist sculptor Wilhelm Lehmbruck. My research had revealed that both objects played significant roles in the introduction of modern German art to American audiences in the 1920s and 1930s, a discovery that, in my opinion, increases their art historical value and significance. In my presentation, I argued that provenance research conducted on museum collections has critical implications for the art historical interpretation of objects. Learning more of the specifics of an object’s past helps us to understand more about historical patterns in collecting, the public display of art, and how artistic canons are formed. In addition to sharing my research with other scholars in the field, the conference provided a wonderful opportunity to introduce the Eskenazi Museum of Art and its collections to an international audience.

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Conference attendees learning about a display of Hanukkah lamps from Jewish communities worldwide in the Israel Museum’s galleries. Photo: Yair Hovav

The Israel Museum’s own collections played an important role throughout the conference, providing a break from the more traditional lectures and offering a constant reminder of the object-oriented nature of provenance research. The conference began with a guided tour of the museum’s three main wings, and included extended discussions of particular objects with remarkable—or troubled—provenances. In the Jewish Art and Life wing, for example, we learned about “ownerless” objects sent to the Israel Museum’s predecessor, the Bezalel National Museum, by the Jewish Restitution Successor Organization (JRSO) after World War II. Most often, these were ceremonial objects from synagogues destroyed or looted during the Holocaust. Today, the museum continues to research these objects’ provenances in the hopes of finding their rightful owners. The conference organizers also arranged a variety of workshops that focused on objects in the Israel Museum’s collections. Engaging with original works of art in an intensive session and hearing the insights of the curators was a unique opportunity for conference attendees.

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Edmund de Waal giving the conference keynote lecture, Israel Museum. Photo: Yair Hovav

The conference concluded with a moving keynote lecture by Edmund de Waal, acclaimed British ceramic artist and author of the bestselling 2011 memoir The Hare with the Amber Eyes. In his book—and in the lecture—de Waal recounted his research into the history of his Jewish ancestors, the Ephrussis of Paris and Vienna, and their collection of Japanese netsuke (miniature carvings), which he inherited as a young man. This was the only part of the family’s once vast art collection to escape Nazi looting during World War II. A powerful speaker and storyteller, de Waal had the audience laughing and crying in turn.

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Installation of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain at the Israel Museum. Photo: Jenny McComas

Engaging in fruitful dialogue with fellow scholars, curators, and provenance researchers, viewing the museum’s rich collections, and exploring Jerusalem itself—a city that certainly figures prominently in the history of art and culture—were reasons enough to make this a successful conference experience. Yet there was one more thing that made my visit to the Israel Museum special. Like the Eskenazi Museum of Art, the Israel Museum houses one of only three complete sets of the 1964 authorized replica edition of the Readymades by Marcel Duchamp. The original Readymades, among them the iconic Fountain (a porcelain urinal that Duchamp submitted to a New York art exhibition in 1917), were produced by Duchamp between 1913 and 1921 and epitomize the anti-establishment artistic movement known as Dada. Although most of the original Readymades were lost, the techniques and concepts pioneered by Duchamp—including the use of found objects, assemblage, and a general rethinking of Western artistic traditions—have proven extremely influential, providing a model for minimalism, conceptualism, and performance art. In 1964, the replica edition consisting of thirteen of Duchamp’s most important Readymades was designed and produced under the supervision of Duchamp and the Milan gallerist Arturo Schwarz; this project made Duchamp’s early twentieth-century innovations visible to a much wider audience. The Israel Museum’s set of Readymades, along with a major collection of Dada and Surrealist art, was donated in 1998 by Schwarz himself. I was curious to see how these objects would be installed and was particularly interested in the placement of Fountain high up on a wall separating two gallery spaces. As David Rockefeller Senior Curator Adina Kamien-Kazhdan explained to me, her presentation of the object references a photograph showing the original 1917 Fountain hanging above a doorway in Duchamp’s studio. I appreciated Adina’s creative installation choices, which I will certainly keep in mind as we prepare to reinstall our galleries as part of the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s upcoming renovation project.

Eskenazi Museum of Art Website

Your Favorite Things: Emma Kessler and a Māori Weaving Peg

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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