CLEVELAND (October 28, 2013) – The Cleveland Museum of Art presents Fragments of the Invisible: The René and Odette Delenne Collection of Congo Sculpture, an exhibition showcasing the recent acquisition of a group of Congo sculptures from Belgian collectors René and Odette Delenne that elevates the museum’s Central African Art collection to among the finest in North America. Most of the thirty-four works included in the collection have never been exhibited or published before. Fragments of the Invisible: The René and Odette Delenne Collection of Congo Sculpture will be on view in the Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Exhibition Gallery through February 9, 2014.
“The chance to accept a group of works like the Congo sculptures from the Delenne collection would be the envy of any curator, and it is a rare privilege to have the opportunity to present this transformative acquisition to both local and international audiences in a dedicated exhibition and accompanying publication,” says Constantine Petridis, exhibition organizer and the curator of African art at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Fragments of the Invisible: The René and Odette Delenne Collection of Congo Sculpture explores two interrelated themes—the fragment and the invisible—that address the multiple relationships between art objects and the supernatural invisible world of deities.
Visitors to the exhibition will have an opportunity to see the works in their original context through field photographs as well as film footage that demonstrates an integral part of a dynamic performance uniting objects, music and dance. An interactive iPad installation also enhances the visitors’ experience by navigating them into the invisible interior of one of the sculptures through 3D reconstructions of images obtained using computed tomography (CT) scan technology.
Highlights of Fragments of the Invisible: The René and Odette Delenne Collection of Congo Sculpture include:
This exquisite figure was used by an extended family rather than an individual. The raffia skirt around the waist and the blue and white beads are indicators of leadership. The metal appliqué covering the face and the metal blades that hedge the headgear refer to the blacksmith, a culture hero celebrated in a Songye myth narrating the formation of the state. The metal strips on the skeletal face are said to relate to lightning, signaling the magical figure’s role as a powerful anti-sorcerer, but the contrast between white iron and red copper symbolically alludes to the ambivalent powers of the figure.
Male Figure, late 1800s–early 1900s. Democratic Republic of the Congo, Songye people. Wood, glass beads, brass, copper, iron, human teeth, antelope horn, hide, animal hair, minerals, plant fibers; h. 64 cm. René and Odette Delenne Collection, Leonard C. Hanna Jr. Fund 2010.451.
This pair of figures has been attributed to the Ngbandi, although many of the style characteristics are shared with its neighbors, including the Ngbaka-Minagende. Carving of paired figures is quite well documented among the Ngbaka-Minagende, where such sculptures are said to represent the mythical ancestor Seto and his sister-wife, Nabo.
Figure Pair, late 1800s–early 1900s. Democratic Republic of the Congo, probably Ngbandi people. Wood, copper, glass beads, iron, fabric; h. 45 and 41 cm. René and Odette Delenne Collection, Leonard C. Hanna Jr. Fund 2010.459.1–2.
This object is one of only two seated male Beembe figures of such a size preserved in the West; the other is in the Ethnographic Museum of the University of Zurich, Switzerland. They could have represented revered ancestors and functioned in a cult in their honor.
Male Figure, late 1800s–early 1900s. Republic of the Congo, Beembe people. Wood, ceramic, copper alloy, iron alloy; h. 47.5 cm. René and Odette Delenne Collection, Leonard C. Hanna Jr. Fund 2010.428.
This type of helmet-shaped mask was common among various neighboring and related peoples in southwestern Congo. The vertical cylindrical handle extending beneath the chin was originally hidden by a thick fringe of raffia fibers that surrounded the head’s lower edge. The superstructure carved from the same piece of wood represents either a gazelle of the forest or an antelope of the savanna. Such masks, worn with an elaborate costume consisting of a netted shirt and a fiber skirt, appeared primarily in the context of the initiation of young males into adulthood. The white facial color referenced a mask’s indirect association with the ancestors and its identity as a collective image of the departed.
Helmet Mask, late 1800s–early 1900s. Democratic Republic of the Congo, Suku people. Wood, basketry reed, metal; h. 51 cm. René and Odette Delenne Collection, Leonard C. Hanna Jr. Fund 2010.450.
Fragments of the Invisible: The René and Odette Delenne Collection of Congo Sculpture is accompanied by a 120-page catalogue, edited by curator Constantine Petridis, and includes essays by nine contributing scholars: Cécile Fromont, Jan-Lodewijk Grootaers, Frank Herreman, Dunja Hersak, John M. Janzen, Mary Nooter Roberts, Colleen Snyder, Samantha Springer and Hein Vanhee. The catalogue is richly illustrated with 125 color and black-and-white images. Published by the Cleveland Museum of Art and 5 Continents Editions (Milan).
The exhibition programming includes a special event, three complementary lectures and a film series:
Friday, November 1, 5:00 to 9:00 p.m.
Go beneath the surface. Don a mask or come in costume, and uncover monsters, spirits and things that go bump in the night. Start your Halloween weekend off right and get your fright on with a double feature projection in the atrium, including a screening of the original 1925 version of The Phantom of the Opera, starring Lon Chaney as the disfigured musical genius of the hidden chambers and corridors beneath the Paris Opera House. Watch as a Live Art mural by the Rust Belt Monster Collective materializes, and discover what’s underneath with spooky tours of the collection and the new exhibition Fragments of the Invisible: The René and Odette Delenne Collection of Congo Sculpture.
Fragments of the Invisible
Wednesday, December 18, 7:00 p.m.
Join Constantine Petridis, Curator of African Art, as he discusses the fragmentary nature of a handful of Congolese artworks that the museum acquired from Belgian collectors René and Odette Delenne in 2010. Meet in the exhibition.
Five Centuries of Art and History in the Congo
Saturday, January 18, 2:00 p.m.
Drawing from the Cleveland Museum of Art’s outstanding collections and other treasures of expressive culture from west central Africa, Cécile Fromont, Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Chicago, will give a talk that explores five hundred years of the region’s history through art. A careful analysis of crucifixes, power figures and regalia outlines the rich political, religious and artistic trajectory of this exceptionally well-documented part of Africa. Key artworks, put into their broader visual and material context, reveal the central Africans’ own perspectives on key moments of the history of their region, such as the Kingdom of Kongo’s adoption of Catholicism circa 1500, the era of the slave trade, and the rise and apex of colonialism in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Free.
Seeing Through Our Eyes: A Conservation Investigation
Wednesday, January 29, 7:00 p.m.
Get a closer look at Fragments of the Invisible with objects conservators Samantha Springer and Colleen Snyder as they discuss identifying materials in African artworks, collaborating with other scholars and using a CT scan to explore the cavities inside one of the Songye figures. Find out what they’ve already discovered and where future analysis might lead. Meet in the exhibition.
About the René and Odette Delenne Collection
The René and Odette Delenne Collection was one of the oldest surviving Belgian private African art collections until a portion of it was acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art. Odette Delenne, who passed away at the age of 87 in 2012, was introduced to the arts of Africa and Oceania by her late husband, René Delenne (1901–1998), who was an illustrator and graphic designer trained at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Anderlecht, Belgium. Having an eclectic taste and wide-ranging expertise, René had assembled a fine collection of Delft porcelain well before Odette came into his life in 1947. The Delennes started collecting African art after visiting the Brussels world’s fair in 1958. Odette shared her love of collecting with René and opened an art dealership named Galerie Antilope in Brussels in 1962. It offered both African and Oceanic art that reflected the Delennes’ encompassing interests until it closed its doors after about ten years.
CONGO ON FILM
Three Congolese music films and a classic documentary complement our current exhibition Fragments of the Invisible: The René and Odette Delenne Collection of Congo Sculpture.
Tickets $9; CMA members, seniors 65 & over, students $7; or one CMA Film Series voucher. Vouchers, in books of ten, can be purchased at the Ticket Center for $70 (CMA members $60).
Friday, November 1, 7:00 p.m. and Wednesday, November 6, 7:00 p.m.
Directed by Marc-Henri Wajnberg. Shown at major film festivals last year (including Toronto and New York) but never subsequently released in the U.S., this acclaimed drama focuses on a group of Congolese street kids who form a hip hop group after they are accused of witchcraft and kicked out of their homes. Cleveland premiere.
Belgium, 2012, subtitles, color, Blu-ray, 85 min.
Life Is Rosy
Wednesday, November 13, 7:00 p.m.
Directed by Benoît Lamy and Mweze Ngangura. In this delightful comedy, world music star Papa Wemba plays an African villager who moves to Kinshasa to fulfill his dreams of becoming a musician. There he falls for a young woman who is also being pursued by his boss, a wealthy nightclub owner.
Belgium/France/Zaire, 1987, subtitles, color, Beta SP, 80 min.
Wednesday, November 20, 7:00 p.m.
Directed by Renaud Barret and Florent de la Tullaye. Shot over five years, this exuberant music film profiles Congo’s extraordinary street band Staff Benda Bilili (Look Beyond Appearances), which includes four paraplegics and a homeless boy they adopted. The group has risen from the mean streets of Kinshasa to the concert halls of Europe.
Democratic Republic of the Congo/France, 2010, subtitles, color, 35 mm, 105 min.
Voyage to Congo
Wednesday, December 4, 7:00 p.m.
Directed by Marc Allégret. This silent rarity was shot during André Gide’s influential 1926–27 expedition to French Equatorial Africa (including what is now the Republic of the Congo). The trip resulted in Gide’s anti-colonialist book of the same name. Live piano accompaniment by Sebastian Birch.
France, 1927, b&w, DVD, 101 min.