Amid all the flurry of activity around the completion of the renovation and expansion project, while the pace of exhibitions has stepped up as new display spaces have become available, as new event series such as MIX and Solstice have caught on and attracted ever-growing crowds, and through transitions in institutional leadership, the museum has continued steadily to pursue the core mission that has over the past 100 years built and constantly strengthened the foundation of one of the world’s greatest art museums: collecting extraordinary works of art in order to preserve them and share them with the public. Acquisitions from 2013 are no exception, featuring major additions to the collection across many curatorial areas. The mission of adding to a collection that is already stellar points the museum’s curators in the direction of seeking out singular objects that will not only fill gaps and hold up to the quality of the works around them, but will also bring something special. A case in point is the manuscript illumination on the facing page, part of the most important acquisition of the year: one of the world’s finest collections of court paintings from 16th- to 18th-century India, built over the course of a half-century by collectors Catherine and Ralph Benkaim. Another example is the photograph on page 16. Margaret Watkins’s The Kitchen Sink is not only a striking composition, but also a wry and pointed commentary on the roles women of the time (just after World War I) were expected to fill.
Similarly distinctive qualities mark the acquisitions across the museum’s collecting areas. In the following pages, curators offer brief discussions about some of the most significant works of art they discovered and ultimately brought into the museum’s collection. Originating in Asia, Western Europe, Africa, and the Americas, the works selected here were made between 1600 bc and last summer. We are pleased to introduce them.
An Illuminated Opening Page from the Emperor’s Album with a Portrait of Emperor Alamgir 1640–55, portrait after 1658. Bichitr (Indian, active Mughal court mid-1600s). Opaque watercolor and gold on paper; 35.6 x 23.2. Gift in honor of Madeline Neves Clapp; Gift of Mrs. Henry White Cannon by exchange; Bequest of Louise T. Cooper; Leonard C. Hanna Jr. Fund; From the Catherine and Ralph Benkhaim Collection 2013.331
In December 2013 the Cleveland Museum of Art purchased one of the world’s premier private collections of paintings made at the Islamic courts of the Mughal Empire and the Deccan in India. The collection, begun by the Beverly Hills entertainment lawyer Ralph Benkaim in 1961, was augmented and refined over the course of the next 51 years in partnership with Benkaim’s wife, the art historian Catherine Glynn. Together they amassed one of the world’s most important Indian painting collections, with each work selected to represent the genres, manuscripts, and albums that tell the complete story of court painting in India from the 16th to 18th centuries.
A different selection of paintings from the Benkaim collection will be on view every six months in the museum’s new permanent galleries of Indian and Southeast Asian art. One of the first paintings on display is a shamsa, which means “sunburst” in Persian. This exquisitely hand-painted shamsa, never before published, depicts divine light through complex intertwining floral and abstract arabesque motifs. Originally the opening page of an album assembled for the fifth Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, who ruled from 1627 to 1658, its pair, the final page of the album, is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In the center is a portrait of the sixth Mughal emperor Alamgir, who deposed and imprisoned his father in 1658 and replaced Shah Jahan’s portrait with one of his own. Alamgir went on to expand Mughal territory to its greatest extent, winning over the southern regions of the Deccan and ruling a stable and prosperous empire until his death in 1707. —Sonya Rhie Quintanilla, Curator of Indian and Southeast Asian Art
Savoyard Helmet about 1600–20. Italy or Germany. Blackened steel; h. 30.5 cm. Severance and Greta Millikin Trust 2013.50
The term “Savoyard helmet” is used today to evoke the elite cavalry units formed by Charles Emanuel I, Duke of Savoy (1580–1630). Charles Emanuel attempted to besiege the city of Geneva in 1602 by using such units wearing impressive armor and these Todenkopf (death’s head) helmets. The present helmet may once have been a trophy from this very battle. However, the style was later popularized throughout South Germany and Austria as well as northern Italy. The popularity of these helmets extended over roughly three decades, from about 1600 to 1630, the period when plate armor began to wane on the battlefield in the face of the increasing sophistication and lethality of firearms.
Such helmets were designed principally to withstand and protect the wearer from shot from the wheel-lock guns of the day, though their secondary function was to intimidate and terrify. Some Savoyard helmets feature grinning mouths and moustaches. The helmet originally would have been associated with a three-quarter cuirassier-type armor, similarly blackened in appearance. Because of the required material thickness, the weight of full plate armor limited its use in combat to the heavy cavalry. These cuirassiers would have been armed with a pair of wheel-lock guns and a sword. The helmet’s visual impact emanates from its black surface and visor in the shape of a stylized face with dark eyeholes, giving it a terrifying appearance.
Calyx (Chalice) 10th–11th century. Byzantium. Blood jasper (heliotrope) with gilt-copper mounts; h. 7.9 cm. John L. Severance Fund 2013.49
This small hardstone vessel takes the form of a bowl-shaped beaker that tapers slightly toward the base. It is crafted from jasper, a form of the opaque hardstone known as chalcedony. The stone appears in a variety of colors, but in this instance is a type known as “blood jasper,” which assumes a deep ruby red color. The stone features inclusions of gray, light green, and black that give a mottled appearance to the highly polished surface. Handsome gilt-copper mounts featuring a repeating lambrequin-type ornament enclose the vessel.
The museum’s calyx (or chalice) is an example of Middle Byzantine (843–1261) luxury products for which Byzantium was the envy of the European West during the Middle Ages. Hardstone vessels from this period are virtually unknown on today’s market. This calyx thus belongs to an exclusive and rare genre of object known through about 30 surviving examples, most of which are preserved in the Treasury of San Marco in Venice.
The Byzantines inherited their love of hardstones and their skill at carving them from the Romans. Since antiquity, hardstones were thought to possess special powers, both healing and apotropaic. The Byzantines embraced this same view of gems and hardstones and incorporated them into a new Christian context. Because of its deep red color, blood jasper was highly prized by the Byzantines, who saw it as a symbol of the blood of Christ. The original function of the vessel cannot be known with certainty. It may have assumed either a secular or a liturgical function; however, the use of blood jasper supports the view that the calyx functioned as a liturgical chalice. Chalices in Byzantine orthodoxy assumed multiple forms and sizes. Objects of this quality, material, and execution are typically associated with circles of the Byzantine court. Such objects were often gifted to churches. —Stephen Fliegel, Curator of Medieval Art
Towards Another Land 2012. Calligraphy by Hassan Massoudy (Iraqi, born 1944, lives in Paris). Text by Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi (Iranian, 1207–1273). Pigments on paper; 74.9 x 54.9 cm. L. E. Holden Fund 2013.65
This masterful calligraphic work by the Iraqi artist Hassan Massoudy is composed of three distinctive types of Arabic script arranged in a dynamic composition. Large fluid Arabic letters with strong sweeping curves washed in opalescent turquoise both complement and contrast with the horizontal line of text written in his elegant version of angular kufic script. Translated, it reads: “Towards another land—a country where only light reigns,” written by the renowned Iranian poet popularly known as Rumi. The third script, with a cloud-like appearance, floats in the mountainous form as a harmonious transition between the contrasting scripts.
Massoudy grew up in southern Iraq. Because images were prohibited, he practiced calligraphy as a youngster. In 1961 he traveled to Baghdad to apprentice with several calligraphers and dreamed of studying art, but political events and the ensuing dictatorship dashed his plans. Disheartened, Massoudy immigrated to Paris in 1969 and studied figurative painting at the École des Beaux-Arts. Calligraphy, however, became increasingly prominent in his art. Instead of following traditional classical styles of Arabic calligraphy written with deep brown ink, Massoudy developed his own distinctive style and introduced a masterful use of vibrant colors in his compositions. He has incorporated his calligraphy with dance, music, and poetry in performance art. —Louise W. Mackie, Curator of Islamic Art and Textiles
The Kitchen Sink 1919. Margaret Watkins (Canadian, 1884–1969). Palladium print; 21 x 16.5 cm. Norman O. Stone and Ella A. Stone Memorial Fund 2013.56
“A record of slovenly housekeeping and an exemplar of splendid technique” was how one juror described Margaret Watkins’s The Kitchen Sink. Now an icon of Canadian photography, Watkins’s most famous domestic scene was created in New York where she studied and then taught at the Clarence White School of Photography. By 1925 the image had been exhibited not just there but also in London, Paris, San Francisco, Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo, and Java.
The Kitchen Sink was created on the cusp of, and may have contributed to, the transition from pictorialism to modernism in American photography. This vintage palladium print exemplifies the pictorialist printing style, characterized by soft focus and a subtle, subdued tonal range. Its composition, however, is radically modernist: an off-center world of odd angles and subtle disruptions.
Totally revolutionary are Watkins’s admission of realism and proto-feminism into the aestheticized atmosphere of the photographic still life. Her artfully placed objects nonetheless depict a casual, everyday scene: the as-yet unwashed remnants of teatime or breakfast. Soapy water made slightly opaque by a bit of milk, a chipped cup—this scene suggests the use and consumption that have occurred, and the housework that remains to be done. We instinctively know it is Watkins’s sink, and that her hands will wash, dry, and put away the dishes. The dishes are more than just compositional elements; they also reflect the reality of everyday housework—women’s work. —Barbara Tannenbaum, Curator of Photography
Side Chairs c. 1775–90. Attributed to John Townsend (American, 1732–1809.) Mahogany; 39 x 24 x 18 cm each. Gift of Harvey Buchanan in memory of Penelope Draper Buchanan and Dorothy Tuckerman Draper 2013.97.1–2
Furniture attributed to John Townsend is perhaps the most highly prized and sought after in American colonial furniture. These two side chairs can be comfortably attributed to Townsend based on their stylistic associations to known Townsend works, such as cross-hatching in the crest rail, padded front feet, tapered stretchers, and other construction features peculiar to Townsend’s workshop. This attribution is further strengthened by the fact that they have descended in the same family since their original purchase by Oliver Wolcott Sr., owner of the CMA’s desk and bookcase also strongly attributed to Townsend. They are exceptionally beautiful forms and together with the desk and bookcase, they make a rare ensemble representing the finest craftsmanship from Newport, Rhode Island. —Stephen Harrison, Curator of Decorative Art and Design
Portrait of Violinist Jean Vidal (1789–1867)1808. Adrien Victor Auger (French, 1787–1854). Black and gray chalk, with touches of white chalk; image: 75.4 x 54.1 cm. John L. Severance Fund 2013.47
Virtually unknown today, Adrien Victor Auger was among a generation of artists trained in the atelier of Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825), who championed a neoclassical style of painting characterized by rigorous contours, sculpted forms, and polished surfaces. Rendered with exquisite control and meticulous shading, this drawing reflects the exacting training in draftsmanship that David insisted upon for his students. The portrait depicts the 19-year-old violinist Jean Vidal wearing a black frock coat and white stockings, leaning against a music stand and holding a violin with calculated ease. The decorative frieze of muses alludes to classical legacies of the past.
The drawing stands at the crossroads of the 18th and 19th centuries, combining neoclassical formality with premonitions of Romanticism that would mature in the 1810s and 1820s. This uncluttered, stylized composition is almost severe in its simplicity; its scale and perspective from below emphasize the musician’s commanding presence. Auger’s depiction of Vidal’s direct gaze, tousled hair, sensual features, and youthful bravado are in keeping with the Romantic ideal of the poetic genius.
The Triumph of Neptune about 1766. Charles Joseph Natoire (French, 1700–1777). Watercolor with black chalk on two sheets; mounted: 34 x 44 cm. Severance and Greta Millikin Trust 2013.48
Charles-Joseph Natoire was one of the most important practitioners of the Rococo and among the greatest draftsmen of the French school in the 18th century. In 1751, after 20 successful years in Paris producing decorative schemes for châteaux, tapestry designs, altarpieces, and portraits, Natoire was appointed as director of the Académie de France in Rome where he remained for the rest of his life. In Italy, Natoire turned increasingly to drawing, making copies after old masters (a lifelong practice for the artist) and landscapes en plein air.
Natoire’s drawings were highly prized during his lifetime, as now, for their exquisite range of effect and variety and delicacy of touch. This extraordinarily fresh watercolor shows the artist at the height of his powers as a draftsman and colorist and exemplifies the fluid sensuality of his late style. The composition was based on a fresco by the French painter Guillaume Courtois, known as Il Borgognone (1628–1679), that decorates the vaulted ceiling in the Sala dell’Acqua in the Palazzo Doria-Pamphilj in Valmontone. Classical subjects inspired some of Natoire’s most exemplary work. Here, Neptune is depicted as a powerful bearded figure holding his special attribute, the trident, a three-pronged spear with which he shakes the earth, raises tempests, and calms the sea. He rides a horse-drawn chariot, accompanied by a dolphin, his son Triton at the left who uses a shell as a trumpet, and the gods Nereus and Oceanus. —Heather Lemonedes, Curator of Drawings
London Types 1898. William Nicholson (British, 1872–1949). Complete set of 13 woodcuts hand-colored with watercolor. Deluxe edition, published by William Heinemann, London and R. H. Russell, New York, 1898
Beef-eater Sheet: 50.2 x 49.6 cm. Gift of the Print Club of Cleveland 2013.87.4
Barmaid Sheet: 50.5 x 49.5 cm. Gift of the Print Club of Cleveland 2013.87.13
William Nicholson began to make woodcuts about 1890 but truly exploited this technique after meeting the publisher William Heinemann in 1896. The two of them collaborated on several sets of prints over the next few years: An Alphabet, An Almanac of Twelve Sports, London Types, and Twelve Portraits, which all met great acclaim. The woodcuts were hand-colored in watercolor by Nicholson and published in small, deluxe editions. Then the designs were transferred to lithograph plates and printed in color in huge, inexpensive editions. Although the museum’s collection contains many examples of the lithographs, these are the first of the hand-colored woodcuts to be acquired. This set of London Types, in such good, unfaded condition, even in the original portfolio with the booklet containing poems about each print by W. E. Henley, is a rare find. The charming scenes of characters typical of 1890s London were influenced by nontraditional aspects of ukiyo-e, Japanese color woodcuts, using a limited color scheme, simplified forms, and figures silhouetted against solid backgrounds that flatten space. —Jane Glaubinger, Curator of Prints
Perseus’ Last Duty 1949. Max Beckmann (German, 1884–1950). Oil on canvas; 89.4 x 142 cm. Gift of Mrs. Henry White Cannon by exchange 2013.7
A leading figure in the German Expressionist and New Objectivity movements, Max Beckmann is widely regarded as one of the most important artists of the 20th century. Yet he maintained a certain distance from organized groups, preferring to remain a fiercely independent voice, never veering into complete abstraction, always insisting on his own highly personal style and complex system of cryptic symbolism. By recently acquiring Beckmann’s Perseus’ Last Duty of 1949, a major allegorical composition, the Cleveland Museum of Art has added a powerful anchor to its German Expressionist collection and significantly enriched its presentation of 20th-century art. Beckmann painted Perseus’ Last Duty in New York the year before his death. The powerful forms and shocking, enigmatic subject are typical of his finest works, which are often impossible to interpret in any straightforward, conventional manner. While Beckmann’s precise intentions are difficult to decipher, the painting suggests a commentary on the human propensity toward violence and cruelty—forces that erupted with unprecedented furor in the modern age. —William Robinson, Curator of Modern European Art
My Heart is the Universe 2000s. Irene Chou (Zhou Luyun; Chinese, 1924–2011). Ink, color, and acrylic on silk; 63.5 x 95.9 cm. Mr. and Mrs. Richard W. Whitehill Art Purchase Endowment Fund 2013.33
The idea that the heart and mind is the supreme ultimate that contains the whole universe became the essence of Irene Chou’s late series, as demonstrated by this work inspired by two lines written by the Southern Song Chinese philosopher Lu Jiuyuan (1139–1192): “The universe is my mind, and my mind is the universe.” Broad brushstrokes charged with a powerful burst of energy communicate a feeling of exhilaration. Splattering ink creates a flurry of textural effects, like ice-drops striking on the painting’s surface. The suffused ink washes combine with the brilliant green to create a depth of infinite space—a symbolic depth from one’s heart and mind, according to the artist. In the midst of this infinite depth is a small modulated sphere, or what Chou regarded as “the inner self,” which is a hallmark of her art. Meticulous dotting to the sphere provides the vehicle for intense concentration. The sphere echoes with the red disc and red veins in an abstract composition—symbols for the artist’s communion with the cosmic system.
Chou belonged to a distinct generation of Chinese modernist artists who made significant contributions to the Hong Kong art scene. In 1992, after sustaining a stroke, Chou migrated from Hong Kong to Brisbane in Australia, where she continued her artistic activity until her death in 2011. —Anita Chung, Curator of Chinese Art
Woman’s Skirt 1875–1925. Central Africa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mbuun people. Raffia palm fiber; 73.7 x 102.9 cm. Alma Kroeger Fund 2013.5
Only a handful of examples of women’s skirts or hip-wrappers of this type have been recorded to date. Typically hidden from view, such skirts were only rarely worn. They likely served as heirlooms or were possibly part of a woman’s dowry. Assembled from multiple, separately woven panels of undyed raffia palm tree fibers, this skirt shows embroidery patterns made with black fibers on its seam and its lateral borders. Both the weaving and the embellishment were done by men. Diamond and serpentine forms, explored in positive and negative, are the most typical motifs in the Mbuun repertoire and have symbolic and cosmological meaning, typically identified as representations of reptilian clan ancestors. Such embellishments also appear on the rare examples of Mbuun wood carving, including staffs and cups. In times past, the same designs were also seen in women’s scarifications. This textile was brought back from Africa by the Belgian colonial Emile Lejeune (1883–1920), who was stationed in the then Belgian Congo between 1905 and 1920.
Feast Ladle possibly late 1800s or early 1900s. Guinea Coast, Côte d’Ivoire or Liberia, Dan people. Wood, cord; h. 57.3 cm. Severance and Greta Millikin Trust 2013.52
Human-shaped ladles carved from wood, rendered with a stylized female lower body and slightly bent legs, appear to be a creation unique to the Dan people, a population of farmers living in the border region between northeastern Liberia and adjacent Côte d’Ivoire. The sculptures are characterized by their detailed anatomical features, including strong, muscular calves and toes with marked nails. They are also often adorned with intricate imitations of body scarifications.
An emblem of status and rank, a Dan feast or dance ladle was the prized possession of a distinguished married woman who had been given the title wunkirle in recognition of her talents as a farmer and her exceptional generosity and hospitality. Of the different local names for the object type, wa ke mia refers to the ladle’s association with a so-called Feast of Merit or Cow Feast. One of a wunkirle’s most demanding responsibilities was to act as one of the hostesses of such a grand feast. Along with other women holding the same title, she was expected to prepare food for a large number of guests, including foreigners who had come from far away to attend.
On this occasion the ladle in her possession served as the embodiment of a spirit that assisted her in the undertaking. The various women holding the wunkirle title and their assistants paraded and danced during the feast, brandishing their ladles filled with rice grains and small coins in their hands while singing a refrain in a strident voice. The museum’s Dan ladle was field-collected by Pierre-Paul Grassé (1895–1985), an eminent French zoologist and expert on termites, during his very first scientific expedition in Africa in 1934. —Constantine Petridis, Curator of African Art
Carved Bowl 1600–300 bc. Mesoamerica, reportedly the Tepecoacuilco River Valley, Guerrero, Olmec style. Stone (travertine), traces of red pigment (iron oxide); 13.3 x 23.5 x 10.2 cm. John L. Severance Fund 2013.29
The Olmec style, Mesoamerica’s earliest complex art style, saw its most monumental and refined expression on the Gulf Coast of Mexico, where the Olmec built several important centers filled with architecture and stone sculptures renowned for their precocious realism. The style is also famous for many exquisite small-scale objects found both within and outside of the Gulf Coast heartland, including a very accomplished corpus of fine vessels that elites presumably used during political and religious ceremonies. These vessels range from beautifully realized containers in the shapes of animals to elegant examples like this carved bowl, the elliptical, pinched form of which may refer to a squash. A decorative band, highlighted with traces of red pigment (iron oxide), encircles the vessel; the meanings of the motifs incised within the band are not known but may be inspired by such natural forms as vegetation.
Most fine Olmec-style containers were fabricated from ceramic. Very few stone examples exist, and most of them come from Guerrero in southwestern Mexico, where ancient artists also developed an early expertise in lapidary technology. Guerrero is the reported provenience of this bowl, which is said to have been found in a burial along with several other Olmec-style objects (a figurine, a hematite mirror, and jade ornaments) in the early 1960s. The bowl is made of travertine, a translucent white stone that the later Aztec called tecali. —Susan E. Bergh, Curator of Pre-Columbian and Native American Art
The Furnace 1924. Carl Gaertner (American, 1898–1952). Oil on canvas; 88.9 x 104.8 cm. Gift of The Huntington National Bank 2013.66
At the height of the American Scene movement during the 1920s and ’30s, many artists sought to portray their local communities. Those who worked in Cleveland were no exception; indeed, Carl Gaertner, one of the area’s most acclaimed and widely exhibited painters, specialized in recording the city and its environs. Among his impassioned subjects were scenes of Cleveland’s manufacturing heyday, including the superb canvas The Furnace (1924). Rendered with a vigorous application of creamy oil paints, the composition features two clusters of dark, hulking steel-mill blast furnaces towering over the cityscape blanketed in fresh snow. Gaertner presented a dynamic view: a number of people scurry about, seemingly dwarfed by their surroundings, while vaporous streams of smoke and steam ascend into the wintry sky from various structures, indicating activity within. At the time of its creation, the painting was praised by William M. Milliken, a curator at the Cleveland Museum of Art, for “giving admirably the sense of drama and power of industrial achievement.” —Mark Cole, Curator of American Painting and Sculpture
Bacchus and Ariadne 1808–11. Henry Bone (British, 1755–1834) after Titian (Italian, 1488/89–1576). Enamel, in original gilt-wood and gesso carved frame; 40.5 x 46 cm. Severance and Greta Millikin Trust 2013.51
Bacchus and Ariadne is the masterwork of Henry Bone, the greatest enamelist of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Bone was responsible for bringing about a British renaissance in enamel painting. His ambitions for the medium inspired him to tackle Titian’s celebrated Bacchus and Ariadne, which had arrived in England from Rome in 1806; the project was a three-year undertaking. Bone’s investiture as Royal Academician coincided with his completion of this enamel of unprecedented size, which was sold for 2,200 guineas and exhibited to thousands of visitors at the artist’s house.
Bacchus and Ariadne articulates an important moment of extraordinary technical skill and artistic ambition, and captures the spirit of Georgian historical revivalism and the age’s fascination with impressing old masters with the stamp of English national heritage. There is a great fluidity in Bone’s style, and he was able to retain the brilliance and purity of colors in layered glass enamel while achieving fine, naturalistic details by using overglazes. The frame, which should be regarded as part of the entire work, is itself a tour-de-force of carving. —Cory Korkow, Associate Curator of European Art
Man’s Tunic/Robe possibly mid to late 19th century. Niger or Nigeria, Hausa or Nupe people. Cotton, silk; 120 x 226 cm. Alma Kroeger Fund 2013.6
This man’s robe is a classic type widely known throughout West Africa and commonly attributed to the Hausa or Nupe of Nigeria and adjacent Niger. It is, however, worn throughout a vast region by many different peoples, including the Yoruba. Cleveland’s collection includes a number of important Yoruba sculptures and beaded artworks.
Exhibiting excellent craftsmanship, this handwoven robe is in splendid condition. The robe is composed of fine cotton strips, woven in plain weave. Its back also has a spiral embroidery pattern in silk and cotton thread. The bottom inner hem is faced with silk. Such costly elite garments with virtuoso embroidered decorations indicated the elevated status and wealth of their wearer, and his Muslim faith. The embellishment with graphic motifs derived from Arabic script offered protective power to the wearer. Among the most important designs associated with both protection and chieftaincy are the “eight knives” pattern and a stylized eight-pointed star.
A related robe in the British Museum was brought back from Benin (then Dahomey) between 1863 and 1866. Another comparable early piece in the Berlin Museum of Ethnology was field-collected by the Africa traveler Heinrich Barth, who donated it to the Berlin museum in 1855. Cleveland’s robe also has a well-documented provenance. It belonged to the Hamburg painter Emil Maetzel (1877–1955), co-founder of the Hamburg Sezession, who probably acquired it from the famous art dealer Julius Konietzko around 1905. A photograph dated 1909 shows Maetzel wearing the tunic in Hamburg. This provenance adds tremendously to the textile’s inherent value. —Louise W. Mackie, Curator of Islamic Art and Textiles
Tool Bones 2013. Damián Ortega (Mexican, b. 1967). Plaster; dimensions variable. © Courtesy of the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels 2013.90
The series Tool Bones (2013) was created on the occasion of the museum’s glass-box installation Damián Ortega: The Blast and Other Embers. Actual tools serve as a framework for plaster forms; with careful inspection one can often discern which tools are contained in the individual sculptures. The organic abstract forms consciously approach the modern aesthetic of a Jean Arp or Henry Moore, although the texture of the surfaces is completely different and causes the objects to appear more like the bones of a rather large mammal. In reality, every sculpture is the result of the interlacing of tools: saws, axes, a hoe, shovels—which are then covered with a plaster coating.
In the Tool Bones sculptures, Ortega presents tools not as extensions of the human body (as in the Controller of the Universe hanging piece that was the focus of the 2013 exhibition), but as implements that had once existed independently as actual physical members or organs but now, as remnants or remains, recount the story of the absolute convergence of humankind and machine. —Reto Thüring, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art
Cleveland Art, March/April 2014