Disembodied: Portrait Miniatures and Their Contemporary Relatives Opens Nov. 10
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Disembodied: Portrait Miniatures and Their Contemporary Relatives Opens Nov. 10

Monday, November 4, 2013

Saeko Yamamoto

The Cleveland Museum of Art
syamamoto [at] clevelandart [dot] org
216-707-6898
Intimate works from 1576 to 2013 explore human relationships

CLEVELAND (Nov. 4, 2013) – The Cleveland Museum of Art presents Disembodied: Portrait Miniatures and Their Contemporary Relatives, an exhibition showcasing the museum’s entire collection of portrait miniatures for the first time in over half a century. The renowned collection of around 170 objects spans six centuries, bridges eight European countries as well as America, and is considered one of the finest in North America. Disembodied presents the collection from a fresh perspective, including works by five prominent contemporary artists who explore issues of death, likeness, memory, identity, privacy and body-centered scale, themes that also deeply engaged miniature painters for over 500 years. The exhibition also features more than a dozen new aquisitions, many on view for the first time. Disembodied: Portrait Miniatures and Their Contemporary Relatives will be exhibited November 10, 2013 to February 16, 2014 in the museum’s prints and drawings gallery.

“Portrait miniatures have an amazing capacity to bring each new viewer into an intimate relationship with the sitter,” said Cory Korkow, PhD, Cleveland Museum of Art assistant curator of European art and exhibition organizer. “They were meant to be worn and turned over in the hand while being gazed at, but even fixed on a wall they remind us of how we still keep little images of our loved ones close.”

Portrait miniatures are usually small works painted in watercolor on vellum or on slivers of ivory, or executed in enamel, and first emerged at the courts of France and England in the sixteenth century. The objects were exchanged by friends, lovers and family members as tokens of affection and often commissioned on occasions of departure, marriage or death. They became popular because of the ease with which they could be made, paid for and transported compared to larger easel portraits. The objects might function as relics incorporating human hair, can be set in elaborate boxes or simple frames, and were worn on the body or tucked away in a pocket.

The contemporary works included in the exhibition are by Janine Antoni, Luis González Palma, Tony Oursler, Dario Robleto and Hiroshi Sugimoto. These present-day works are placed in an unprecedented, intimate dialogue with the historic portrait miniatures, revealing new relationships and uncovering hidden secrets. “It’s an unorthodox installation,” said Korkow “meant to encourage people to look at these objects in a different way, with hundreds of years of artists and sitters capturing the memories, romances, heartbreaks and vanities that engage us all.”

Disembodied: Portrait Miniatures and Their Contemporary Relatives is accompanied by an unusual, 88-page, double gate-fold book written by Cory Korkow, with artist Dario Robleto. The exhibition catalog presents five Disembodied exhibition themes, anchored by works from contemporary artists Dario Robleto, Janine Antoni, Tony Oursler, Luis González Palma and Hiroshi Sugimoto. Each artist’s work is placed in dialogue with a group of related miniatures. Posing questions about the visual, emotional and intellectual relationships between these objects, the book considers the legacy of portrait miniatures and the timelessness of the motivations that inspired them. The reader is invited to simultaneously select and inspect more than 30 images while exploring the essays in this double book published by the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Also available is the newly published British Portrait Miniatures, a catalog written by Cory Korkow exploring the Cleveland Museum of Art’s British miniatures collection, renowned for its exceptional quality. The book takes a closer look at more than 70 treasures from its extraordinary collection, many published here for the first time. Captivating illustrations from new high-resolution details show these diminutive portraits as they have never been seen before. Representing years of research and systematic study, this volume collates new provenance, biography and stylistic analysis to uncover the distinctive character of these enigmatic portraits. Published by the Cleveland Museum of Art and D Giles Limited, London, the 288 page catalog contains 349 illustrations.

About the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Portrait Miniature Collection
Between 1916 and 1926, the museum received around two-dozen miniatures from the Wade collection, which formed the seed of the museum’s holdings. Edward B. Greene (1878–1957), Jeptha Homer Wade’s son-in-law, gave his distinguished European portrait miniatures collection to the museum in the 1940s, establishing it as one of the premier collections in the country. In addition, Greene sponsored the acquisition of several important miniatures during the early 1950s, most notably John Smart’s Self-portrait (1802) and Richard Cosway’s Portrait of Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orléans, later King of the French. Eight portraits were recently given in 2010 to the museum by bequest of Muriel Butkin (1915–2008) and the museum’s commitment to building this part of the collection has also been evidenced by recent acquisitions by Anna Maria Carew, Joseph Daniel, John Linnell, Isaac Oliver and Henry Bone.

The scope of this collection includes more than ten nationalities, spans the sixteenth to the twentieth century and bridges five curatorial departments. Although the collection contains works from each century and nation represented, it is particularly strong in British and French specimens. The miniatures are mounted in a wide variety of settings including boxes, lockets, standing frames, rings and bracelets. Sizes range from nearly ten inches in height to less than one inch. The collection also includes graphite preparatory studies on paper as well as cabinet miniatures featuring religious or historical scenes.

Related Programs

If You Remember, I’ll Remember: A Conversation With Dario Robleto
Friday, November 22, 2013, 7:00 p.m., Recital Hall.
Explore how art keeps memory alive with artist Dario Robleto and curator Cory Korkow as they discuss Robleto’s work in the context of Korkow’s exhibition Disembodied: Portrait Miniatures and Their Contemporary Relatives, and the timeless desire to capture the spirit of loved ones. Join in the conversation: pose your questions to Dario, discuss your reactions to the exhibition and share your own ideas about art and memory in this interactive and thought-provoking program. $15/$10 members. Register through the Ticket Office at (216) 412-7350 or at tickets.clevelandart.org. Students free with ID in person only.

MIX: Miniatures
Friday, December 6, 5:00 – 9:00 p.m.
MIX goes pocket sized. Look closely to discover new relationships between little faces, and explore connections between portrait miniatures and their contemporary relatives.

Mini-Drama: The Real-Life Heartbreaks and Romances of CMA’s Portrait Miniatures
Friday, February 14, 7:00 p.m., Prints and Drawings Galleries
From star-crossed lovers and devoted husbands and wives to confirmed bachelors and merry widows, curator Cory Korkow will reveal the true stories of the people whose intimate portraits appear in the exhibition Disembodied: Portrait Miniatures and Their Contemporary Relatives, which closes on February 16. Meet in the exhibition.

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About the Cleveland Museum of Art

The Cleveland Museum of Art is renowned for the quality and breadth of its collection, which includes almost 45,000 objects and spans 6,000 years of achievement in the arts. Currently undergoing an ambitious, multi-phase renovation and expansion project across its campus, the museum is a significant international forum for exhibitions, scholarship, performing arts and art education. One of the top comprehensive art museums in the nation and free of charge to all, the Cleveland Museum of Art is located in the dynamic University Circle neighborhood.

The Cleveland Museum of Art is supported by a broad range of individuals, foundations and businesses in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. The museum is generously funded by Cuyahoga County residents through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. Additional support comes from the Ohio Arts Council, which helps fund the museum with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans. For more information about the museum, its holdings, programs and events, call 888-CMA-0033 or visit www.ClevelandArt.org.