Acquisition Highlights 2016

Heather Lemonedes Chief Curator

 

Guests gather in the Kara Walker exhibition, which included the acquisition The Republic of New Afrika at a Crossroads.

 

Acquisitions from last year span the globe and more than 500 years of the history of art. For example, the museum acquired a rare Byzantine icon representing an important subject in Orthodox Christian art, The New Testament Trinity. Painted in Constantinople around 1450, just prior to the city’s fall to the Ottomans in 1453, it is the second icon to enter the museum’s collection and is on view in gallery 105. 

The bequest of a group of early treasures of Japanese and Korean art from the collection of George Gund III made a lasting impact on the museum’s collection of Asian art. The gift, including some 55 paintings and calligraphies, significantly expanded the museum’s holdings of Japanese ink paintings and calligraphies; it also brought several extremely rare Korean paintings to the collection. A selection of sublimely atmospheric Japanese ink paintings from Gund’s bequest will be featured in an exhibition in the Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Gallery this summer.

Two important textiles were added to the collection. A beautifully preserved ancient Andean tunic, made between 1400 and 1532 by the Ychsma people of Peru’s Pacific coastal region, was acquired for the Pre-Columbian collection. To celebrate the museum’s centennial and the career of Louise Mackie, curator of textiles and Islamic art who retired last year, the museum was given a suzani, a textile richly decorated with embroidered floral motifs that was made in Uzbekistan in the first half of the 19th century.

It was a banner year for works on paper. A unique etching by the idiosyncratic artist James Barry was acquired, and the Print Club of Cleveland gave a beautiful impression of Rembrandt’s The Pancake Woman in honor of Jane Glaubinger, who retired last year as curator of prints. Several drawings were acquired, including a preparatory study by 17th-century French printmaker Grégoire Huret, and a meticulously detailed landscape watercolor by American Pre-Raphaelite Robert J. Pattison. The photography collection grew significantly with purchases and gifts. Among the highlights is an album of 37 photographs depicting life in colonial India by Raja Deen Dayal; a gift of 79 Surrealist photographs by Roger Ballen; and powerful works by contemporary women photographers Zanele Muholi and Shirin Neshat.

 

Seed Pods by Sopheap Pich in gallery 242a

 

Quintessentially modernist works were acquired by William Robinson, curator of modern art, and Stephen Harrison, curator of decorative art and design. André Masson’s Landscape with Snake, 1927, exemplifies the artist’s revolutionary practice of automatic gestural painting in which he approached the canvas without a preconceived plan or limitations, thereby allowing his imagination free rein. Two decorative objects—a centerpiece support in the form of Bacchus and a coffer—by René Lalique celebrate the ingenuity and technical brilliance of one of the greatest innovators in glass.

The contemporary department acquired two important works by African American artists. Kara Walker’s monumental drawing with collage The Republic of New Afrika at a Crossroads, 2016, was featured in The Ecstasy of St. Kara: Kara Walker, New Work, the exhibition that showcased a series of large-scale works on paper inspired by the artist’s time as a resident at the American Academy in Rome in the spring of 2016. Wadsworth Jarrell’s vibrant and dynamic painting Heritage, 1973, dates from the period when he was an active member of AfriCOBRA, an artist’s collective he co-founded in Chicago intended to promote works of art that conveyed the pride, power, history, and energy of the African American community.

Sopheap Pich’s Seed Pods, 2015, is the first contemporary work of art by a Cambodian artist to enter the museum’s collection. Its lyrical forms beautifully complement the early Buddhist sculpture also on view in gallery 245. The African art gallery features two recently acquired sculptures: a rare copper alloy figure made in the Benue River Valley, Nigeria, and a polychrome wooden figure made by the Mbole people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

 


 

CONTEMPORARY ART
Beau Rutland Associate Curator of Contemporary Art

 

The Republic of New Afrika at a Crossroads 2016. Kara Walker (American, born 1969). Raw pigment and watercolor medium, graphite, and (paper) collage on paper; 287 x 532.1 cm. Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund, 2016.54. © Kara Walker

 

Since Kara Walker first exhibited her work in the early 1990s, she has become one of the most well-known and accomplished contemporary artists. In her work, she continually examines the inequality of black lives in the United States by evoking the country’s haunting past. Her voice is among the most powerful and tireless of those taking a stance against racially motivated injustice. Creating visual worlds in which fantasy, reality, and the past and present commingle, Walker questions the notion of history itself: who wrote it, whom was it written for, and who was written out of it?

The Republic of New Afrika at a Crossroads of 2016 is one of her largest and most mesmerizing works on paper, as well as one of her most abstract. The political group referenced in the title of this work, the Republic of New Afrika, is a black separatist group founded in 1968. One of their primary goals was to create an independent African American majority country situated in the southeastern United States, in the heart of a black majority population.

This work imagines the separatists at a moment of reckoning when they must decide whether or not to risk their lives for their vision of equality. Walker’s interest in this group stems from the notion of a society making and claiming spaces—anytime someone claims space, someone else is denied it. In Crossroads, Walker has powerfully tapped into the universal human desire for the freedom to live a life of one’s own choosing.

 

 

Heritage 1973. Wadsworth Jarrell (American, born 1929). Acrylic, metal foil, cotton canvas; 120.7 x 76.2 cm. Severance and Greta Millikin Purchase Fund, 2016.268

 

Wadsworth Jarrell is one of the founding members of the seminal African American arts collective AfriCOBRA, created in the late 1960s in Chicago as a way of contributing to the mounting resistance toward racial injustice. The group began as COBRA (Coalition of Black Revolutionary Artists), and a few years later evolved into AfriCOBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists). The name can be seen as a critique of how mainstream white culture viewed visual art that self-identified as black art. The group created a singular style that revolved around three key characteristics: imagery and motifs that referred to ancient African art, technical excellence, and social responsibility. Over the past four decades, AfriCOBRA has widely influenced how African American art is considered and received.

The above attributes are fully engaged in Heritage. Two musicians playing the clarinet and the saxophone emerge from the incredibly lively composition. With its neon palette, Heritage is optically engaging and imbued with a sense of celebration. A hallmark of Jarrell’s style from this period is the use of text as a method of building up his subjects and backgrounds. Multiple phrases emanate from the musicians’ heads: AFRICAN RHYTHM, OUR HERITAGE, BLACK FUNK, and PRESERVE OUR MUSIC. They all emphasize the fact that jazz music is an art form created by African Americans. These phrases are repeated, written in reverse, and appear in parts throughout the painting. The head of the clarinet player is made up of letter Bs, another hallmark of this series, directly telling the viewer that the subject of this painting is black and proudly so.

 


 

MODERN ART

William Robinson Curator of Modern European Art

 

Paysage au serpent (Landscape with Snake) 1927. André Masson (French, 1896–1987). Oil on canvas; 65 x 46 cm. Mr. and Mrs. William H. Marlatt Fund, 2016.55. Gallery 225

 

André Masson and Joan Miró, who shared adjoining studios from 1921 to 1926, are widely recognized as leading pioneers of automatic painting, a form of Surrealism. The Surrealists believed human thoughts and actions are controlled more by the unconscious than the conscious mind, and that true reality can only be grasped by unlocking the secrets of these hidden mental structures. Accordingly, they developed methods of exploring unconscious thought, such as dream analysis and automatic association. The museum’s recently acquired Landscape with Snake of 1927 is a superb example of Masson’s revolutionary method of working spontaneously and intuitively without a perceived subject, thereby allowing unconscious thought associations to emerge during the creative process. By abandoning traditional spatial depth and perspective, including the structured geometry of Cubism, Masson forged a radically new form of automatic gestural painting, a momentous development in the history of art. Scholars divide Surrealism into two distinct branches: the veristic or illusionistic dream imagery championed by Salvador Dalí and René Magritte, and the more abstract style of psychic automatic painting developed by Masson and Miró. The latter branch was arguably a more revolutionary and influential development than the former. The stream-of-consciousness paintings Masson produced from 1926 to 1927 rank among his finest works and were crucial to the development of Surrealism.

 


 

DECORATIVE ART AND DESIGN

Stephen Harrison Curator of Decorative Art and Design

 

 

“Bacchus” Figural Centerpiece Support 1923. René Lalique (French, 1860–1945). Cast and patinated glass; h. 25.5 cm. Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund, 2016.35

 

Created by René Lalique, one of the foremost French decorative artisans of the 20th century, this Bacchus centerpiece figure is a rare example of modeled sculpture in cast and patinated glass. Part of a group of similar figures made to adorn a table in the French presidential mansion, the Elysée Palace in Paris, this figural model was shown only once to the public in the Salon d’Automne of 1923. Later, Lalique produced other figural models destined for commercial sale, but the Bacchus example remained unique. Eight supports of this type were arranged around the center of the table, supporting a garland of flowers or ivy, suspended one to the other along a groove at the top of each. The figure depicts Bacchus, the Roman version of the Greek god Dionysus, the god of wine, fertility, and ritual madness. Appropriately rendered with trailing vines of grapes and grape leaves along both sides, the strong male figure is instantly recognizable as the representation most associated with ritual feasts of celebration and significance. The effect must have been like that of an Arcadian garden punctuated with elegant neoclassical sculptures celebrating food and wine.

This five-panel coffer is the most elaborate of all of René Lalique’s designs for glass-mounted boxes. These works could be used as jewelry or glove boxes but were also adapted as presentation boxes for more elaborate jeweled creations. For example, a coffer of this design famously enclosed the elaborate diamond brooch given to Edith (Mrs. Woodrow) Wilson by the government of France after the Treaty of Versailles. However, its use was secondary to the lavish display of Lalique’s prowess in glass design shown in the five panels adorning the sides and top of the box. Utilizing early Mughal Indian techniques, each cast-glass panel was backed with a mirrored surface to reflect light, then was patinated to create shadow and depth. When seen from any angle, the effect was luminous. This particular coffer was exhibited in the CMA exhibition Artistic Luxury: Fabergé, Tiffany, Lalique in 2008, and now adds to the museum’s collection of highly significant objects by this master of 20th-century design.

 

Monnaie du Pape Coffret (Coffer) c. 1914. René Lalique. Wood, bombé glass panels with gray patina, metal key; 12 x 31.5 x 19.5 cm. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Craig Castilla in memory of Norma and Adrian Castilla, 2016.43

 


 

MEDIEVAL ART

Stephen N. Fliegel Curator of Medieval Art

 

Icon of the New Testament Trinity c. 1450. Byzantium, Constantinople. Tempera and gold on wood panel (poplar); 35.5 x 62.5 cm. Severance and Greta Millikin Trust, 2016.32. Gallery 105

 

This icon represents an important subject in Orthodox Christian art, the Holy Trinity, the three consubstantial persons of the single godhead. The Trinity is represented here as a composition known as the “Old Testament Trinity,” which features Christ and the Ancient of Days (God the Father as Christ in old age) seated on a bench with a dove representing the Holy Spirit between them. Christ, at left, wears a gold chiton and a black himation on top, both covered in gold highlights. He blesses with his right hand, holds a Gospel book in his left, and bears a cruciform nimbus. His feet rest on a footstool. The Ancient of Days is identified by an inscription (only partially surviving now) seen on either side of his head in gold, outlined in red: Ο ΠΑΛΑΙΟC ΤΗΩ. He wears a white chiton, which bears a black stripe with gold highlights on his right shoulder, and a gray himation on top. Echoing Christ, he blesses with his right hand, holds an open scroll with writing (probably in imitation of Hebrew script), bears a cruciform nimbus, and rests his feet on a footstool.

Between them the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, hovers within an eight-pointed star signifying the eighth day, or future aeon. On either side of the Trinity are two hymnographers, liturgical poets and authors of hymns, identified by gold letters above their heads—on the right: ΙΩCHΦ Ο ΠΟΙΗΤΗC (Saint Joseph the Hymnographer, c. 812/818–c. 886); on the left: ΚΟCΜ Ο ΠΟΙΗΤΗC (Saint Kosmas the Hymnographer, c. 675–c. 752). Both suspend scrolls from Romanesque arches. Unfortunately, Kosmas’s scroll has worn away, while Joseph’s now contains only a few words, of which can be made out “together with . . . you my God” and “your dominion.”

The Icon of the New Testament Trinity, painted in a late Palaeologan style typical of Constantinople during its final centuries, is a worthy example of what scholars call the “Palaeologan Renaissance,” so named after the dynasty that ruled the Byzantine state from 1261 to 1453. It represents a moment when Byzantine painting reached a brilliant crescendo. The icon is not signed or dated, but careful analysis of the painting’s style places it in Constantinople around 1450, just prior to the city’s fall to the Ottomans in 1453. It was likely part of a series of icons that decorated a templon, the barrier that separated the nave from the sanctuary in an Orthodox church. Highly refined, the icon adds a significant example of late Byzantine painting to the collection.

 


 

PRE-COLUMBIAN AND NATIVE NORTH AMERICAN ART

Susan E. Bergh Curator of Pre-Columbian and Native North American Art

 

Tunic with Frontal Figures AD 1400–1532. Central Andes, central coast, Ychsma or Pachacamac style. Cotton: slit tapestry weave; 81 x 47 cm (one side). Severance and Greta Millikin Purchase Fund, 2016.267

 

 

Weavers of the ancient Andean Ychsma (eesh-mah) people made this striking tunic. They inhabited the central portion of Peru’s Pacific coastal region between AD 900 and 1532, when the Spanish invasion of South America began. The Ychsma are known for their affiliation with Pachacamac, an enormous religious center famous as the seat of the most important oracle in the late pre-Hispanic Andes. The Inka Empire conquered the Ychsma in the 1400s, their interest in the region having much to do with the oracle’s power and influence.

An article of male attire that would have been worn over a loincloth, the tunic is a fine representative of the Ychsma style, also known as the Pachacamac style. It may date to the period after the Inka swept out of their base in the Andean highlands and conquered the central coast, but the tunic’s characteristics are entirely coastal, including its all-cotton makeup and its size, shape, and length, which would have reached the waist. Also characteristic are the muted, appealing colors—all the natural shades of the cotton except for blue, which probably was achieved with indigo—and the graphic, geometricized imagery of frontally posed figures flanked by two-headed birds.

Most of the figures are of a single type that wears a headdress or hairstyle made of two triangular elements along with a garment that probably represents a tunic. One row on the lower left of one side, however, features four repeats of a second kind of figure, distinguished by its distinctive headgear and tunic style. Ychsma art is not well studied and the meaning of the figure variation is not known. Similarly, the figures’ identities remain mysterious, although it is reasonable to guess that they represent important ancestors or high-ranking members of Ychsma society.

The tunic is woven in tapestry, a specific technique that requires substantial investment of materials and labor. For these and other reasons, many ancient Andean cultures regarded tapestry as a form of wealth, and restricted its use to the most exalted members of their societies. The same was likely true among the Ychsma.

Textiles in the Andean gallery are changed annually in August in order to limit their exposure to light, which promotes fading. This new tunic, which is still soft and supple to the touch, will appear in the gallery in a future display, together with other textiles of the late pre-Hispanic period.


 

 

TEXTILES AND ISLAMIC ART

Louise Mackie Curator of Textiles and Islamic Art (retired)

 

Embroidered Suzani with Floral Sprays 1800–1850. Central Asia, South West Uzbekistan, Shakhrisyabz. Plain weave: cotton, six strips; embroidery: silk; filling stitch: kanda xajol, occasionally bosma; outlining stitch: ilmoq; 227.3 x 177.8 cm. Gift of John and Fausta Eskenazi in honor of Louise W. Mackie and in celebration of the museum’s centennial, 2016.89

 

Probably embroidered in Shakhrisyabz, located south of Samarkand in Uzbekistan, this early 19th-century textile is known as a suzani, after the Persian and Tajik word for needle, suzan. They were made by mothers and daughters who proudly displayed them during wedding festivities and special occasions. Suzani were used for numerous functions, including on the nuptial bed, as curtains for storage niches, and as wrappers for various dry goods.

Floral and foliate motifs generally dominate as seen here, enriched with several shades of red and enhanced by light reflections and the dazzling colors of the silk thread. Four large vibrant bouquets, each different yet harmonious, radiate from the center while two dense bouquets enliven the interstitial space. The motifs possibly conveyed cosmological, apotropaic, medicinal, or fertility associations especially for married life. Patterns were drawn in black ink on several loosely joined cotton cloths by a skilled family member or a professional. The cloths were then separated, embroidered individually, and re-attached, confirmed by mismatched motifs where the lengths are joined to create dynamism in the textile. This striking suzani will be exhibited in the Islamic gallery, adding to the museum’s small but fine collection of large textiles and carpets.

 


 

AFRICAN ART

Constantine Petridis Former Curator of African Art

 

Left: Male figure Unidentified people, Benue River Valley, Nigeria. Copper alloy; h. 44.7 cm. John L. Severance Fund, 2016.57

Right: Male figure Mbole people, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Wood, pigment, copper tacks; h. 42 cm. Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund, 2016.33

 

Acquired in the region of the Benue River Valley in eastern Nigeria before 1969, when the country was affected by a violent civil war, this standing male figure cast in copper alloy following the lost-wax process is as good as unique within the corpus of Nigerian so-called bronzes. Recent scientific examination has not corroborated an earlier thermoluminescence test that had dated the work to the late 16th or early 17th century. Even though the sculpture’s age and exact cultural or even geographic origin remain undetermined, its scale and refinement suggest comparison with the better-known casting traditions of the ancient kingdoms of Ife and Benin in southern Nigeria. The figure’s formal and stylistic affinities with figurative and nonfigurative copper alloy objects attributed to artists of the contemporary Tiv, Verre, Egbira, and other related cultures, however, seem to support a production site in eastern Nigeria. Because of the lack of any archaeological research and the limited anthropological investigations in the region, knowledge about the original function of the work remains speculative. The use of metal most probably indicates a reference to ideas of status and rank. Comparison with some vaguely related copper alloy sculptures documented during field research in the 1970s and ’80s in the nearby Cross River region along the Nigeria-Cameroon border may suggest that the figure was once part of a shrine dedicated to a tutelary deity.

Typically attributed to the Mbole culture of the eastern Congo forest regions, figures of a hanging man are part of a very small corpus. Despite their rarity, these sculptures with their unusual posture constitute one of the most iconic Central African art styles. Our figure, like its few relatives—which are mostly kept in museums in Belgium—is said to portray an individual who according to local judicial practices was sentenced by hanging for revealing the secrets of the Lilwa society, the all-male, hierarchically organized association to which the condemned man belonged. During the physically and emotionally taxing Lilwa initiations, the figures were shown to the adolescents being introduced into the association and functioned as didactic devices with moralistic connotations when the initiates were told not to reveal any of the Lilwa society’s secrets. The vertical stripe on the figure’s torso imitates the cord used to inflict the execution, while the black, crusty surface of the sculpture—which is rarely preserved as intact as here—mimics a funerary ritual that was recorded among the neighboring and related Lalia people in which a participant’s face and body were smeared with a mixture of ashes and oils. The sculptures would also have served to intervene at times of crises when, like a human corpse, they were attached to a stretcher and carried through the village with the aim to drive away misfortune and calamity.

 


 

JAPANESE ART

Sinéad Vilbar Curator of Japanese Art

 

Landscape 1500s. Kano Motonobu (Japanese, c. 1476–1559). Inscription by Gesshu Jukei (Japanese, died 1533). Muromachi period (1392–1573). Hanging scroll; ink on paper; painting: 22.2 x 37.7 cm. Gift from the Collection of George Gund III, 2015.518

 

This painting is small in scale, but sizable in sentiment. It depicts a lone person arriving by rowboat to a pavilion built over a river’s edge. Roofs of homes situated beyond the S-curve of the meandering river peek through trees and mist. In style, the painting is modeled after works associated with the Mi family, Song dynasty Chinese painters whose works are atmospheric, characterized by soft ink washes and dappled mountain ranges. The content of the inscription nestled in the mountaintops imbues the gentle image with a sense of intimacy; the verses describe an evening meeting of two friends at an inn along the river. One of the two has rowed himself in by boat while reciting a poem. Their rendezvous is distinguished by the presence of wine, a feature not shared by the house across the river, where one finds only people. The red seal in the shape of a tripod storage vessel in the lower right-hand corner of the painting identifies it as the work of Kano Motonobu, or of a painter authorized to use his seal. Motonobu, one of the most important figures in the history of Japanese art, was the official painter to the Ashikaga shogunate, the Kyoto-based military leadership of later medieval Japan. The family workshop he headed continued to grow and thrive until the latter part of the 19th century. The Buddhist monk Gesshu  Jukei of the Kyoto Zen temple Kenninji wrote the inscription. He served in the prestigious post of abbot of Kenninji for many years, and was among the eminent writers of the monastic community. The bright color of the Motonobu seal suggests the possibility that it was applied at a later date. The disposition of the seal notwithstanding, an anecdote in Gesshu’s collected poems indicates that Motonobu once painted an image of the bodhisattva Kannon with Eisai, the founder of Kenninji, based upon Gesshu’s dream. In the Kyoto National Museum, there is also a painting of a deity popular with pharmacists and doctors that bears Motonobu’s seal and Gesshu’s inscription.                   

 

Five-Pronged Vajra Bell (Gokorei) c. 1300–1333. Japan, Kamakura period (1185–1333). Gilt bronze; h. 16.7 cm, diam. 7.5 cm. Lillian M. Kern Memorial Fund, 2016.38

 

The latest rotation of the Japanese galleries brings a new selection of sculptures, hanging scroll and screen paintings, ceramics, prints, and decorative arts to the galleries. It includes two recent acquisitions, a Kamakura period (1185–1333) bronze vajra bell and a lacquer writing box from the Momoyama period (1573–1615). The bell is in gallery 235B, where it can be seen with the recently reinstalled sculpture of Aizen, a Buddhist deity capable of transforming carnal desire into a lust for enlightenment. Aizen holds a vajra bell in one of his three left arms. This important ritual implement is used to bring people to awareness. The writing box, decorated with a phoenix motif, is in gallery 235A, across from the museum’s magnificent Momoyama period screens painted with pairs of peafowl and phoenixes. The pair of screens is the only extant large-scale composition attributed to court painter Tosa Mitsuyoshi (1539–1613).       

 

Writing Box (Suzuri-bako) with Phoenix in Paulownia c. 1573–99. Japan, Momoyama period (1573–1615). Lacquer on wood with sprinkled gold and silver powder (maki-e) and gold and silver foil application; 4 x 20.5 x 23.5 cm. Leonard C. Hanna Jr. Fund, 2016.34. Gallery 235a

 


 

KOREAN ART

Sooa Im McCormick Assistant Curator of Asian Art

 

Dwelling by a Mountain Stream 1500s. Korea, Joseon dynasty (1392–1910). Hanging scroll; ink and slight color on silk; mounted: 114.7 x 59.7 cm. Gift from the Collection of George Gund III, 2015.517

 

As one of a small number of extant early Joseon landscape paintings, Dwelling by a Mountain Stream perfectly captures the era’s innovative art scene. Stippling texture dots, “crab claw” strokes rendering gnarled wintry trees, and modeling ink wash point to the monumental landscape style that flourished during the Northern Song dynasty (960–1127) in China. Yet, the composition is realized as distinctly Korean through the off-centered towering mountains and a strong emphasis on an interlocking of voids and solids. Shown wearing a typical Korean aristocrat’s outdoor hat (called a gat), the protagonist, a scholar-hermit, takes viewers on a journey through a fantastical landscape where his life unfolds in perfect tune with nature. See the January/February issue of Cleveland Art for an article tracing the scholar’s sublime adventure in Dwelling by a Mountain Stream.

In contrast, Landscape with Fisherman evokes a feeling of solitude through the imagery of a lone fisherman on the threshold of winter. In comparison toDwelling by a Mountain Stream, the composition of this 17th-century painting is much simpler and more intimate, with an emphasis on seasonal changes through free, abbreviated brushstrokes, a technique that developed in the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279) under the influence of Chan Buddhist aesthetics. These two hanging scrolls, which the CMA acquired as part of the George Gund III bequest, offer a rare glimpse into the development of the early Joseon landscape tradition.

 

Landscape with Fisherman 1600s. Korea, Joseon dynasty (1392–1910). Hanging scroll; ink and slight color on silk; mounted: 42 x 31.2 cm. Gift from the Collection of George Gund III, 2015.516

 


 

INDIAN AND SOUTHEAST ASIAN ART

Sonya Rhie Quintanilla Curator of Indian and Southeast Asian Art

 

Seed Pods 2015. Sopheap Pich (Cambodian, born 1971). Bamboo, rattan, steel wire; Seed Pod 1: 166 x 70 x 17 cm; Seed Pod 2: 260 x 130 x 30 cm. Norman O. Stone and Ella A. Stone Memorial Fund, 2016.37.1–2. Clockwise from upper left: a detail showing the construction, the artist in his studio in Phnom Penh, and the Seed Pods installed in gallery 242a.

 

Reverence for nature conveyed in the globally recognized contemporary visual language of the grid pervades the work of internationally acclaimed Cambodian artist Sopheap Pich. Born in western Cambodia in 1971, Pich is the oldest son of a working-class family that survived four years in a commune, where life was regulated according to strict agrarian principles imposed by the Khmer Rouge regime. After the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, his family was able to make the dangerous crossing to Thailand, where Pich witnessed death and knew constant fear. He lived for the next four years in refugee camps in a constant state of hunger and privation. These experiences of his youth find expression in the emptiness of organic forms he produces as sculptures.

In 1983 a woman representing a Christian charity arranged for the relocation of Pich and his family to Northampton, Massachusetts. There he struggled to adjust to American society in middle school and high school. He attended the University of Massachusetts, where he received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts with a concentration in painting. He went on to study painting at the Art Institute of Chicago, earning an MFA. It was not until his return to Cambodia in 2001 that he found fulfillment as an artist in the medium of sculpture.

Working for the last decade-and-a-half in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, Pich and his team of artisans create monumental sculptures from locally available materials. This example is based on the form of an indigenous variety of seed pod. The smaller pod turns toward the larger, which seems to offer protection and affection. They appear impossibly large and pregnant with potential, in spite of their emptiness. The gridwork consists of hand-shaved bamboo and rattan that have been boiled in diesel fuel to eliminate moisture and insects. The junctions between the strips are secured with steel wire made from recycled bombs and mines, remnants from the revolutions and civil wars in Cambodia throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Pich used a blowtorch to bend and shape the sculpture into undulating forms.

In February 2016, along with a group of Cleveland Museum of Art trustees and supporters, I toured museums and monuments of the Kingdom of Cambodia with CMA director William Griswold. One highlight of the trip was a visit to Pich’s studio, where the recently completed Seed Pods hung on the wall. Moved by the beauty of the work and the sincerity of the artist’s message and depth of practice, the group selected the sculptural pair to be proposed for the museum’s collection. Months later it was purchased from Pich’s New York gallery, Tyler Rollins Fine Art.

Seed Pods is the first work by a contemporary artist to enter Cleveland’s Indian and Southeast Asian holdings. With its connections to indigenous forms, materials, and ideals, this sculptural pair splendidly integrates into the galleries of early Buddhist art with its emphasis on nature divinities and organic forms.

 


 

PRINTS

James Wehn Mellon Curatorial Fellow  

 

Saint Sebastian c. 1776. James Barry (Irish, 1741–1806). Soft-ground etching; 27.6 x 18.5 cm. Norman O. Stone and Ella A. Stone Memorial Fund, 2016.297

 

Originally from Ireland, James Barry worked as a history painter in London during the late 18th century. Around 1776 he began making prints, experimenting with a variety of methods. Saint Sebastian represents Barry’s exploration of soft-ground etching, a technique developed in England during the 1770s as a way to emulate chalk drawings. The print portrays Saint Sebastian when he was shot by archers and left for dead. Following tradition, Barry depicted the Christian martyr nude except for a loincloth, and bound to a tree. The saint’s heroic muscularity reflects the influence of Italian Renaissance artists, namely Michelangelo, whose work Barry especially admired during a sojourn to Rome earlier in his career. Unconventionally, Barry has not shown Sebastian gazing heavenward, as a sign of the martyr’s faith, but instead masked his eyes in shadow, a detail that intensifies aspects of torture and physical suffering inherent in the narrative.

A testament to the experimental nature of this etching, the names WITTOW & LARGE, printed backwards near the center of the image, reveal that Barry etched his composition on the back of a copper plate where its manufacturers had stamped their proprietary mark. Printed tone, scratches, and other random marks all contribute a layer of texture and atmosphere to the otherwise iconic image. Whether Barry intended these errant elements or accepted them as happenstance, they are integral to this rare and idiosyncratic print.

Dutch painter and printmaker Rembrandt van Rijn is known for his canny ability to portray human expressions and to capture realities of everyday life, especially in his etchings. The Pancake Woman depicts an animated crowd gathered around an old woman cooking pancakes over a makeshift stove in the street. She focuses on her work, steadying the pan as she tends the cakes with a spatula. Drawing special attention to the central subject, Rembrandt added texture and shadow to the woman’s bonnet and clothes, and accentuated the contours of her face and hands. In contrast, he characterized the other figures with loosely sketched lines that enliven the scene and add a sense of spontaneous observation. A boy, hoping for a pancake, leans between the old woman and a man sitting alongside the stove who seems to be happily chattering away. To the left, a mother and baby cheerfully anticipate the next batch of hotcakes. On the far right, a boy rests his chin on his hand as he thoughtfully watches the griddle. Meanwhile in the foreground, a child struggles to keep his pancake away from a hungry dog.

The Print Club of Cleveland donated The Pancake Woman in honor of Jane Glaubinger upon her retirement in 2016 as the museum’s curator of prints.

 

The Pancake Woman 1635. Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669). Etching; 10.1 x 8 cm. Gift of the Print Club of Cleveland in honor of Jane Glaubinger, 2016.41

In his roles as artist and teacher, Arthur Wesley Dow was instrumental in reviving the color woodcut technique in America at the turn of the 20th century. After studying at the Académie Julian in Paris in the 1880s, he returned to Massachusetts, where he began informally studying Japanese color woodcuts, or ukiyo-e, a term that translates as “picture of the floating world.” Motivated by these prints, Dow adapted basic elements of Japanese design—line, color, and the harmonious balance of light and dark—to create his own modern American landscapes. The Long Road is a view of rural Argilla Road leading to Crane Beach near Ipswich, Massachusetts, the artist’s hometown and an important source of inspiration for his landscapes. Dow used blocks of color to compose the meandering gravel lane, fields, sky, and trees, layering the flat shapes with different tones to add depth and texture. When Dow printed The Long Road, he made each impression unique by varying his choice of colors and the way he applied the pigments to the woodblocks. Following this approach, he continually reimagined the vista’s mood, atmosphere, and time of day, from broad daylight to the nuanced effects of light and color that transform sky and land at sunset or sunrise.

 

The Long Road or Argilla Road c. 1898. Arthur Wesley Dow (American, 1857–1922). Color woodcut; 10.7 x 17.8 cm. Norman O. Stone and Ella A. Stone Memorial Fund, 2016.1

 


 

DRAWINGS

Heather Lemonedes Chief Curator

 

Allegory in Honor of Claude de Mesmes, Count d’Avaux (Allegorie en l’honneur de Claude de Mesmes, comte d’Avaux) c. 1648–49. Grégoire Huret (French, 1606–1670). Black chalk; 30.1 x 38 cm. Delia E. Holden Fund, 2016.36

 

One of the most prolific artist-engravers of 17th-century France, Grégoire Huret worked exclusively as a graphic artist—never as a painter—during his 40-year career. Although he engraved almost 500 plates, nearly all of his own design, very few of his drawings survive. This recently discovered sheet was a preparatory study for an engraving made to honor the French diplomat Claude de Mesmes, comte d’Avaux (1595–1650), who is most celebrated for his participation in the negotiations that led to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, ending the Thirty Years’ War.

The composition showcases the allegorical figures Concord and Eloquence floating on a cloud and holding an oval frame; in the final engraving, the frame contains a portrait of the comte d’Avaux. Beneath the cloud, Janus (the Roman god of beginnings and endings) ushers Bellona (the Roman goddess of war) through a doorway into the Temple of War. In one hand he grasps a key, which he will use to confine Bellona, thus symbolizing the end of the Thirty Years’ War. The allegory celebrates the count’s skills in drafting the Treaty of Westphalia, and can be dated to 1648–49 when Huret was at the height of his powers, and before the death of the comte d’Avaux in 1650.

Jewel-like detail and trompe l’oeil realism characterize this alpine view by American watercolorist Robert J. Pattison. The currents of a powerful aesthetic revolution that captured the imaginations and passions of artists in both England and the United States inspired this exquisite, sweeping landscape. Pattison belonged to a group of American artists who called themselves “The Association for the Advancement of Truth in Art.” They took their inspiration from John Ruskin (1819–1900), a prolific and gifted writer who became the most influential authority on art and architecture in England during the Victorian era. Ruskin’s followers in England, who called themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, followed the writer’s dictum to pursue the truth in nature above all else. Ruskin’s teachings inspired a generation of American artists active in the 1860s; they became known as the American Pre-Raphaelites. Philo-sophically, Ruskin and his American followers were well matched. Ruskin’s linking of art, nature, and morality found a receptive audience in America, where mid-century Transcendentalism encouraged reverence for nature and the conviction that good art revealed divine order.

Pattison’s adherence to Ruskin’s principles is evident in the intense plein-air observation and meticulous application of paint with which he described the evergreens, rocks, and pink blossoms in the foreground of Mountain View. Pattison exhibited several views of the White Mountains of New Hampshire throughout the 1860s. This watercolor may depict that same landscape.

 

Mountain View 1862. Robert J. Pattison (American, 1838–1903). Watercolor with graphite and touches of gouache and scraping on paper; 52.8 x 75.8 cm. Dudley P. Allen Fund, 2016.6

 


 

AMERICAN ART

Mark Cole Curator of American Painting and Sculpture

 

Circus and Storm 1945. Paul B. Travis (American, 1891–1975). Oil on Masonite; 101.6 x 121.9 cm. Gift of Richard and Renee Zellner, 2016.323

One of Cleveland’s key painters of the 20th century, Paul Travis graduated from the Cleveland School (later Institute) of Art, where he subsequently taught for nearly four decades. His reputation is solidified by a prolific body of quality work in a wide iconographic range. The Cleveland Museum of Art’s significant holdings of his work were recently augmented by the gift of a strikingly imaginative and dynamically rendered canvas, Circus and Storm, which depicts a group of captured African animals escaping an open-car train as they become frightened by approaching inclement weather. Travis’s longstanding captivation with African subjects, including its wildlife, dated back to his continent-wide travels in 1927–28. During this trip he also acquired art, and his donation in 1929 of several Mangbetu works to the CMA formed an important early cornerstone of the African collection.

 


 

 

PHOTOGRAPHY

Barbara Tannenbaum Curator of Photography

 

His Highness Maharaja of Rewa c. 1885–87. Raja Deen Dayal (Indian, 1844–1905). Albumen print; 26.7 x 20.3 cm. Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund, 2016.266

 

Last year the photography collection grew by 370 prints, many of them generous gifts from local, national, and international collectors and artists. Their geographical range—extending from the United States to Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia—is especially notable. A diversified collection better reflects our era’s increasingly global understanding of culture and history.

One highlight is an album of 37 exquisite photographs of life in colonial India by Raja Deen Dayal, India’s most important 19th-century photographer. Dayal’s artistry with the camera gained him access to both princely India and the British elite. The images, shot between 1885 and the summer of 1887, offer regal portraits of maharajas and colonial officials, informal scenes of British families at play, and views of elephant troop maneuvers. The album was probably commissioned as a personal souvenir by a British administrator in India in 1887 or early 1888. This superb example of Dayal’s rare early work complements the museum’s collection of 19th-century European and American photography and its extraordinary holdings of Indian painting and sculpture.

 

Somnyama II, Oslo 2015. Zanele Muholi (South African, born 1972). Gelatin silver print; 49.5 x 43.2 cm. Dudley P. Allen Fund, 2016.40

Other notable acquisitions are works by two contemporary South African photographers, Zanele Muholi and Roger Ballen. Muholi, one of today’s most incisive portraitists and visual activists, documents LGBTI lives in her native South Africa, where violence against gays is widespread. Two photographs were purchased, one from her recent self-portrait series, Somnyama Ngonyama (Hail the Dark Lioness). In these highly stylized images, Muholi experiments with various characters and archetypes, often referencing historical portraiture and fashion photography. The bold, self-possessed stare and high piles of tresses in Somnyama II, Oslo, of 2015, suggest the power of 17th-century French rulers and of kings of the jungle, but white and gold are replaced by dark tones. In postproduction, Muholi turns her skin a deep oily black. “By exaggerating the darkness of my skin tone,” she says, “I’m reclaiming my blackness.”

Ballen, born and raised in New York, has been working in South Africa since the early 1970s. A generous gift of 79 photographs from Hugh Lawson, a New York collector, surveys the artist’s long career. Surrealism and an affection for the discomfiting are present even in his earliest work. Over the ensuing decades, his images have grown increasingly complex, idiosyncratic, and “shadowed,” a term he prefers to “dark.” Ballen first acted as an observer and recorder, then started collaborating with his sitters. As he became more collaborative, he also incorporated more of himself into the photographs by creating wall drawings, sculptural elements, and eventually entire installations. These initially served as backdrops, but evolved into dominant features of his compositions, as in Onlookers. Ballen’s photographs transport us into a closed, arcane, and scary world—a theater of human absurdity.

 

Onlookers 2010 (printed 2015). Roger Ballen (American, born 1950). Archival pigment print; 75 x 70.4 cm. Gift of Hugh Lawson, 2016.396
   
The Middle East is a burgeoning, increasingly influential region for contemporary fine art photography. Works by two Iranian-born artists were acquired this year: an abstract sculptural photograph by Canadian Sanaz Mazinani and a staged scene by Shirin Neshat, the most influential photographer from that region. Born and raised in Iran, Neshat attended college in the United States and has made her home here, refusing to return to a fundamentalist theocracy. Her still photographs, films, and videos address the role of women in post-revolutionary Iran through a central character who refuses to conform to societal norms. A monumentally scaled photograph from the Fervor series, purchased with funds generously donated by William and Margaret Lipscomb in celebration of the museum’s centennial, shows just such a rebel: a brave woman who gazes openly at men, a seductive and taboo act in fundamentalist Islamic societies.

Taboos are also among the topics addressed in 28 newly acquired photographs by Louis Draper and Leonard Freed that examine black life in America during the civil rights era. Draper, an African American fine art photographer, was an insider, while Freed, a Caucasian photojournalist, was an outsider. These works are currently on view in the exhibition Black in America: Louis Draper and Leonard Freed

 

Fervor 2000. Shirin Neshat (American, born 1957). Gelatin silver print; 167.6 x 116.8 cm. Purchased with funds donated by William and Margaret Lipscomb in celebration of the museum’s centennial, 2016.59