Stories from Storage
William Griswold Director
When the pandemic closed the museum and upended international travel in March 2020, temporarily delaying projects that had been in development for many years, we had to quickly reimagine our schedule of exhibitions, drawing as never before on our own resources—above all, our outstanding staff and collection. In adversity, however, there is opportunity. And we soon realized that, were our team to combine its considerable talents and take a fresh look at the works stored in our vaults, we had the means to create a spectacular show that would shed new light on many parts of the museum’s collection, while engaging the broadest possible audience.
Think of the exhibition as an anthology of short stories. In preparation for Stories from Storage, we asked that each of our curators develop a stand-alone presentation of just a few objects not then on view in our galleries. Some of the resulting mini-exhibitions may be “read” as essays in the history of art. Examples include Clarissa von Spee’s exploration of classical Chinese furniture and Kristen Windmuller-Luna’s beautiful presentation of fragile African textiles.
Others address “museological” questions. For instance, Sue Bergh chose to focus on works of art that fall outside the specific narrative we present in our Pre-Columbian galleries, which focus on the cultural contributions of Mexico, Central America, and western South America but exclude the objects in our collection that originated in the vast Amazonian region. I personally had no idea that we even had works of this type. Cory Korkow examines paintings and sculpture that are in storage not because they lack beauty or are of poor quality, but because they have not been conserved. My contribution, co-curated by Key Jo Lee, also falls into this category: she and I demonstrate that a single great work of art—Kara Walker’s monumental drawing The Republic of New Afrika at a Crossroads—may be interpreted (and enjoyed) through multiple lenses.
Still other stories are less like essays and more like poems, often quite personal and closely linked to an individual curator’s experience of the pandemic. Sooa McCormick’s spare installation of art from our Korean collection is meditative and serene, whereas Barbara Tannenbaum’s selection of photographs is a paean to the joys of travel, at a moment when travel cannot be undertaken.
What the exhibition is not is open storage. Rather than merely a haphazard assemblage of objects that our visitors may never have seen, it is a thoughtful and focused examination of important themes close to the hearts of the nearly two dozen curators who collaborated on its presentation. Moreover, since the exhibition sets out to convey not a single, linear narrative but multiple stories that complement one another while remaining distinct, it is meant to be experienced differently from most other shows. We invite you to dive in or opt out of any section, depending on your level of interest in a particular story. Most of all, we hope that you will see the exhibition as a personal gift from our curators to the wonderful and supportive community that we serve. And we encourage you to make your own connection with the works in the show, each of which we proudly hold in trust for the benefit of all the people forever.
STORIES FROM STORAGE
The Republic of New Afrika at a Crossroads 2016. Kara Walker (American, b. 1969). Raw pigment and watercolor medium, graphite, and (paper) collage on paper; overall: 287 x 532.1 x 8.3 cm. Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund, 2016.54. © Kara Walker
William M. Griswold Director
I chose to focus on a single, extraordinary work by Kara Walker: The Republic of New Afrika at a Crossroads. Walker created this monumental diptych in 2016, when she was artist-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome. It is tempting to relate the style of the drawings that Walker made during this period to her immersion in the art of that city. My academic specialty was Florentine drawings of the early Renaissance, and so when I look at this work, I am drawn to the way it was made and its expressive style. Here, the precise cut-paper tableaux, for which the artist became famous in the 1990s, are superseded by dramatic fury on a vast scale—evocative of the explosive energy of the Baroque.
The diptych consists of two huge sheets of paper framed separately but intended to be hung together. The drawing was created using a combination of graphite, chalk, and charcoal applied in sweeping strokes, either directly to the paper or with a wet brush, and then violently smudged, erased, and reapplied. The three ghostlike principal figures were silhouetted and then pasted to the sheet. Other cutout elements—at first seemingly abstract but, upon closer inspection, clearly body parts, gruesomely dismembered—were painted in watercolor before being adhered to the surface with an acrylic glue. Powerful, ambitious, and unsettling, Walker’s work is epic in the tragic narrative that it evokes, but at the same time so intensely personal that it defies exact interpretation. Acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art during the 2016 exhibition The Ecstasy of St. Kara, the work is light sensitive and may be displayed only for a few months every several years.
As is true of all great works of art,
The Republic of New Afrika at a Crossroads may be “read” or understood on several levels, which is why I decided not to interpret it alone. I asked Key Jo Lee, the CMA’s assistant director of academic affairs, to share the story with me. Her interpretation appears next.
This evocative monumental collage offers many possible readings. Its formal and compositional complexity is heightened by its title, The Republic of New Afrika at a Crossroads, referring to a movement to establish an independent Black republic in the southern United States.
Key Jo Lee Assistant Director of Academic Affairs
Trauma and Transformation
Upon my first viewing, a single word, current, captured my thinking—both in the sense of the churning graphite and watercolor swirls tossing fragmented black flesh, but also in its appeal and application to that which belongs to the present, to our moment. Drifting on the current evokes a gentle, lulling motion and uninterrupted flow; it’s an apt metaphor for historical narratives that move smoothly as though time was a horizontal axis stretching endlessly in two directions toward infinitude. In this version of history, stories progress and recede along clearly articulated timelines, and establishing causality is often bound by linear logics. However, currents may also be dangerous; their speed, and importantly their invisibility, can pull us asunder. The same can be said for the writing of history in the afterlife of slavery, where linearity can consume rather than reveal truths and what eventually rises to the surface is but a fragment of the whole.
Slavery’s institutional violence exercised on black bodies and culture, or its afterlives, carries a legacy of suppressing or erasing those narratives that might throw its perennial destructiveness into sharp relief. As I looked at Walker’s rendering, getting as close as I might to the surface, figures that at first seemed to be emerging from the ashen mire were instead cut and adhered to the surface. Interestingly, those cutouts, their sharp and precise edges invisible from afar, become a stabilizing element by meticulously articulating the brutality such that we cannot look away. Thus, The Republic of New Afrika at a Crossroads mimics writing history in and of the afterlife of American slavery, extracting fragments, like so much viscera, as they emerge from the current and pasting them together to create a complex, contingent whole.
Gerhard Lutz Robert P. Bergman Curator of Medieval Art
Art in the Time of the Black Death
When last January I decided to leave the Dommuseum Hildesheim in Germany for the Cleveland Museum of Art in the spring, everything looked like a transatlantic adventure, as such a change meant a deep break in my own life. However, it soon became clear my new project was to take a completely different course in the face of the pandemic. Travel is hardly possible, and work is largely done at home. So, since the beginning of May, I have been in my home office in Germany, trying to familiarize myself with Cleveland’s collection of medieval art from a distance.
When the task came to develop a theme for this exhibition, incorporating objects that I had never seen, the challenge became even greater. A search of Collection Online initially produced more than 4,000 hits.
The idea that rescued me came while thinking about our current situation during COVID-19: the Black Death, history’s most deadly pandemic, happened during the Middle Ages. Thus, I began looking for objects in the medieval collection from the 1300s.
Virgin Nursing the Christ Child (Maria lactans) c. 1380. France, Île de France. Painted limestone; 111 x 38.5 cm. Leonard C. Hanna Jr. Fund, 1984.157
How did the arts react to such a catastrophe? Only with a closer look does one realize that artists and patrons in the ensuing decades were striving for an increased aesthetic refinement. The great disruption of the pandemic did not inspire a surge of innovation or any profound stylistic shifts, but rather an adherence to what had existed until the outbreak of the plague in the 1340s. Outstanding works of art, such as the Maria lactans created in France around 1380, thus appear in a completely new light.
Miniature from a Mariegola: The Flagellation c. 1350–75. Workshop of Lorenzo Veneziano (Italian). Tempera and gold on parchment; 29.5 x 21 cm. Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund, 1950.374
Nadiah Rivera Fellah Associate Curator of Contemporary Art
Back in March, the images began to populate social media feeds and newspaper pages: An empty Times Square. A traffic-less Los Angeles. Ghost buses and trains that continued to run without passengers. Cities once bustling and vibrant were suddenly eerily devoid of their usual signs of life. In the wake of COVID-19, with strict shelter-in-place orders in most cities around the world, these shocking and surreal images were signs of the pandemic’s very real and dangerously swift spread. For me, the scenes were also a reminder of the empty-city-as-muse for artists throughout history.
As I began to explore the phenomenon of this recurring imagery in modern and contemporary work in the CMA’s holdings, I realized that exclusion among artists can occur for a number of reasons—based on socioeconomic status, race, culture, or queer identity. It can also happen when an artist takes an avant-garde approach to previously established modes of art making and representation. Whatever the case, each connects to the larger theme of exclusion or isolation, creating feelings of a strange world within everyday landscapes.
Chinese Hand Laundry 1984. Martin Wong (American, 1946–1999). Acrylic on canvas; 121.9 x 175.3 cm. Purchased with funds donated by Scott Mueller, 2014.3. Courtesy of the Estate of Martin Wong and P.P.O.W. Gallery, New York
American artist Martin Wong, the son of Chinese immigrants, was uniquely attuned to the marginalized status of immigrants in the United States. This perception was compounded by his gay identity and the resulting negative experiences he faced in the art world. In Chinese Hand Laundry, the half-closed, rusted metal gate dominates the composition, heightening the sense of isolation and exclusionary access. The painting is composed by an inventive joining together of three canvases depicting a now-destroyed storefront on East Fifth Street in New York City’s Chinatown. When in front of the work, viewers can look into the empty laundry store as if they were on the street. Although Wong’s painting epitomizes an experience we are all somewhat acquainted with—namely, the uneasy feeling of estrangement in a place previously familiar—it also serves as a reminder of the cyclical and recurring investigation of this phenomenon in modern and contemporary art.
Cory Korkow Associate Curator of European Paintings and Sculpture, 1500–1800
(Re)search and (Re)store
A marvelous group of figures . . . corroded by the years, covered in smoke from cooking lye, and damaged by damp . . . threatening to detach itself, fall to pieces and disappear irremediably.” This was the state of Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well during the early 1900s, as described by Father Faustino Ghilardi. He was living at San Vivaldo (founded 1350), the Franciscan site for which this sculpture of the della Robbia school was commissioned, when it was sold in 1912 by the friary to fund the repair of less heavily damaged works of art. The sculpture was purchased by Cleveland industrialist and philanthropist Samuel Mather and given to the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1922, from which moment it became a cornerstone of the Renaissance collection and remained on view, first in the Renaissance gallery and later in the garden court, until the museum’s renovation in 2005. Although it did undergo periodic conservation interventions, its condition continued to deteriorate, and it was clear that the work could not return to view without extensive treatment.
Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well c. 1500–1530. Workshop of Giovanni della Robbia (Italian, 1469–1529/30). Polychromed terracotta; 221 x 177.8 x 27.9 cm. Gift of Samuel Mather, 1922.210
The subject of the large relief sculpture, taken from the Gospel of John, shows Christ seated at a well, his hand raised to bless the Samaritan woman who lowers her pitcher into the water. At the right are apostles Peter and John, above whom the remaining ten apostles pass in diminishing perspective through the city’s crenellated gate. Although the surface is discolored, traces of the original paint remain, indicating rich greens, reds, and blues that would have further animated the deep drapery folds and rocky mountainside.
This arresting, complicated sculpture was created for the Chapel of the Samaritan Woman, one of approximately 25 chapels on the Sacro Monte (Sacred Mountain) of San Vivaldo, a Franciscan friary outside the village of Montaione, Italy, about 20 miles southwest of Florence. San Vivaldo’s sacred mountain consisted of 34 sites constructed during the early 1500s. Together they formed what was dubbed a “Jerusalem in Tuscany” pilgrim experience, enabling believers to trace events in the life of Christ without the expense and difficulty of traveling to the Holy Land. The placement of the chapels on the site echoed the topography of the city of Jerusalem, with designated peaks and ravines on the Tuscan hill proxy for biblical sites including the Mount of Olives and the Valley of Jehoshaphat.
The Gothic and Renaissance Gallery 1923. Courtesy of the CMA Archives
Restored Chapel of the Samaritan Woman San Vivaldo, with a reproduction of the sculpture now in Cleveland
In 1516 Pope Leo X decreed that indulgences (remission of the punishment of sin) would be granted for travelers who visited this sacred mountain. While other such mountains in Northern Italy attracted pilgrims from great distances, San Vivaldo was primarily visited by local devotees. Perhaps as a result, it has undergone relatively minor renovations and alterations over the years, retaining many original sculptures and the chapels’ intended layout. The Chapel of the Samaritan Woman, restored in 1999, now features a painted reproduction of the sculpture in Cleveland.
Much work remains to be done to understand the role this sculpture played in the artistic program of San Vivaldo, as well as its authorship. Many of the terracotta sculptures at San Vivaldo were created by members of the famous Florence-based della Robbia workshop. Specific attribution remains uncertain, although the figures seem closest in style and spirit to known works by Giovanni della Robbia. The artistic dynasty is particularly celebrated for its glazed terracotta sculpture, but like many of the large, elaborate compositions for San Vivaldo, Christ and the Samaritan Woman is created in painted terracotta. Whereas fired glazes are fairly durable, a painted surface is applied after the body is fired and therefore more delicately adhered to the terracotta and vulnerable to temperature and humidity fluctuations. The survival of large works in painted terracotta is rare, but this particular sculpture was subject to unusual environmental trauma. Because Christ and the Samaritan Woman was situated near vats used by the friars to wash clothing, it suffered added degradation from lye fumes.
Despite its flaking paint, losses, and disfiguring repairs, the work is one of extraordinary beauty, still showcasing elegant drapery, a complex composition, and sensitively modeled faces. To return safely to public view, Christ and the Samaritan Woman will require a sustained, multifaceted treatment. This poignant sculpture played a tangible role on the sacred mountain, bolstering in difficult times the faith of five centuries of pilgrims. Della Robbia’s fascinating relief was so foundational to Cleveland’s Renaissance art collection that it was perpetually on view for 83 years. By featuring its plight in (Re)search and (Re)store, hope is renewed that one day we can welcome this vital work back to the heart of the Renaissance galleries.
Sooa Im McCormick Curator of Korean Art
Playbook for Solitude
I owe much of my inspiration for this story to Art as Therapy (Phaidon Press, 2013), by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong. This book proposes looking at works of art as insightful advisers as we experience a time of tension and confusion.
Jar (백자호) 1700s. Korea, Joseon dynasty (1392–1910). Glazed porcelain; h. 35 cm. Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund, 1983.28
In Art as Therapy, an 18th-century Korean moon jar was presented as an example that expresses moral decency (p. 42): “Aside from being a useful receptacle, it is also a superlative homage to the virtue of modesty. It stresses this quality by allowing minor blemishes to remain on its surface, by being full of variations of color and having an imperfect glaze and an outline that does not follow an ideal oval trajectory. . . . The jar is modest because it seems not to mind about any of this. Its flaws merely concede its disinterest in the race for status. It has the wisdom not to ask to be thought too special. It is not humble, just content with what it is.” By juxtaposing historical and contemporary Korean works of art made in different periods and media, I hope not only to create a moment of solace, but also to inspire a dialogue about resilience, empathy, and social justice.
The minimalistic aesthetics of the CMA’s white vase nicknamed “moon jar” is more than a statement of philosophy. It is about artistic sustainability. The absence of cobalt blue underglaze reveals the socioeconomic crisis in late 17th-century Korea, when the government enforced strict sumptuary laws that banned luxuries, including cobalt blue, to reserve the state’s financial resources.
A Rock That Was Taught It Was a Bird 2010. Kim Beom 김범 (Korean, b. 1963). Stone, wood, wooden table, single-channel video on 12-inch flat monitor (1 hr, 27 min, 30 sec; edition 1/3); overall: 146.8 x 220.5 x 127.7 cm. Louis D. Kacalieff M.D. Fund, 2010.263. © Kim Beom
In fact, the connection that ties the selected works together is the human creative resilience that triumphed over challenging times. Kim Beom’s A Rock That Was Taught It Was a Bird is a political satire about military dictatorship in South Korea during the late 1970s and 1980s, when both news media and education were deployed as tools of manipulation.
I hope these works of art together serve as a playbook to encourage us to shine our better selves and to stay resilient during this time of forced solitude.
Kristen Windmuller-Luna Curator of African Art
Threads across Time: African Textiles, 500–1993
Textiles play an important role in many historical and contemporary African cultures. They form garments, accompany rituals, signify status, and decorate spaces, gaining social, political, and economic value through these differing uses. Small and portable, textiles—and sometimes their makers—traveled across cultural, geographic, and other boundaries; the result was the diffusion of fashions and materials. Yet for a variety of conceptual and technical reasons (including sensitivity to light), many museums have not collected or exhibited African textiles.
Decorative Band possibly 1700s or 1800s. Morocco, Azemmour, Moroccan embroiderer. Linen, silk, and dye; average: 79.4 x 28 cm. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Wade, 1916.1244
The “African arts” canon established during the early 20th-century colonial era focused on wooden sculptures and masks from West and Central Africa. However, sculptures and textiles coexist in African aesthetic and cultural systems. To highlight one element or one part of the continent tells a partial story. The CMA’s first exhibition of African textiles since 1973, Threads across Time is also its first to unite textiles from North and sub-Saharan Africa. Historically, museums separated these regions based on 19th-century scholarship. However, archaeological, ethnographic, historical, and artistic evidence proves links between the textiles of these regions, as well as other global textile cultures.
Untitled c. 1988–93. Gérard Santoni (Ivorian, 1943–2008). Cotton, bark cloth, and dye; 89.5 x 125.7 cm. Gift of Robert and Elizabeth Soppelsa, in memory of the artist, 2018.307. © Gérard Santoni
Reflecting on transcultural connections and the achievements of individual makers, this story highlights the diversity of creativity across African textile cultures. Grouped into three sections (garments, home furnishings, and contemporary art), this display drawn from works in the CMA’s African art and textiles collections and the Education Art Collection represents a small glimpse of textiles produced by African makers. Some works make their exhibition debut, including a contemporary weaving by Gérard Santoni. Others have been newly researched and identified after decades in storage, including three textiles produced by Jewish North African makers. Textiles will be a future collecting focus for the African Arts Department as we strive to tell a fuller, more inclusive story of the arts of Africa.
Clarissa von Spee James and Donna Reid Curator of Chinese Art
Have a Seat! From Floor Culture to Furniture of Ming and Qing Dynasty China
China is the only country in East Asia that moved entirely from an original floor culture, as still practiced in Japan and Korea, to tables and chairs, thus developing a unique tradition of craftsmanship in furniture. By about the 800s, chairs had been introduced from Central Asia to China. Chinese furniture makers did not use glue, nails, or screws, but employed a system of joinery and interlocking components adopted from traditional architecture made of wood.
Pair of Armchairs: Lohan Type 1600s. China, Ming dynasty (1368–1644). Rosewood; each: 86 x 63.5 x 47 cm. The Norweb Collection, 1955.40. Conservation lab images show details of construction.
Restrained Chinese hardwood furniture of the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties, with its characteristic simple square forms, elegance, and “modern” proportions, has fascinated Western collectors and designers, including those of the Bauhaus and Wiener Werkstätte movements, since the early 1900s. Traditional Chinese furniture expresses modern Western design principles such as “less is more” and “form follows function,” as seen in chairs, cupboards, and tables designed by Marcel Breuer, Henry van der Velde, Josef Hoffmann, and Mies van der Rohe.
Small Chest with Inner Drawers 1700s. China, Qing dynasty (1644–1911). Rosewood; 40.7 x 41.3 x 35.6 cm. Gift of Miss Mildred F. Walker, 1982.117Box for Storing Monk’s Robes 1400s. China, Ming dynasty (1368–1644). Lacquered wood with mother-of-pearl inlay; 43 x 56 x 54.7 cm. Andrew R. and Martha Holden Jennings Fund, 1975.10
Since Chinese furniture requires a large footprint for display, this story of Chinese culture is often not told in our limited gallery space. Stories from Storage offers a unique opportunity to present a selection of the CMA’s Chinese furniture, some of which has remained in storage since being acquired more than 60 years ago.
Mark Cole William P. and Amanda C. Madar Curator of American Painting and Sculpture
A Focused Look
The CMA curatorial staff began to brainstorm this exhibition during the “lockdown” phase of COVID-19, and in retrospect it has become apparent that my choice of story was acutely impacted by that time.
Like many others, I experienced feelings of anxiety, stress, and uncertainty—even the occasional wave of dread. To offset these responses, I found myself seeking out quiet solitary time for deep, reflective thought. Another positive outcome was the slowdown of my typically busy schedule, which awarded ample time for more deliberate and protract-ed activities, such as trying out new dinner recipes, tackling long-delayed home improvement projects, and making significant dents in my “to read” bookshelf. All the while, I remained mindful of those who battled or fell victim to the coronavirus, and of those less fortunate in their abilities to adjust to the circumstances emotionally, financially, and otherwise, especially those who had no shelter in which to “shelter in place.” Ultimately, the lockdown reconfigured several of my priorities in ways that have had lasting effects.
Haverstraw Bay 1868. Sanford R. Gifford (American, 1823–1880). Oil on canvas; 24.2 x 50.8 cm. Bequest of Dr. Paul J. Vignos Jr., 2011.43
Looking back, it is clear that my coping strategy in carving out prolonged times for quiet introspection influenced the concept for my story. A Focused Look displays a small gem of 19th-century American landscape painting by itself in a darkened area to help reduce distraction and maximize the potential for slow and extended contemplative viewing. Although it is a relatively recent bequest, this painting has yet to be shown at the museum because its intimate scale makes it difficult to hang among peer canvases in the permanent collection galleries. Furthermore, its subject exudes a mood of pronounced calm especially appropriate for this project.
Stephen Harrison Former Curator of Decorative Art and Design
All Creatures Great and Small
During the late 1920s and early 1930s, a charming group of miniature figures from Austria and Germany were collected by the CMA’s education staff. These figures joined a collection of art from around the world to be used in Cleveland-area schools and libraries as teaching aids. Kept in storage for many decades, these brightly colored works in enameled metal, ceramics, and stuffed wool were transferred to the permanent collection a few years ago. As rare, remarkable examples of modernist design for young people, they reflect the creativity of a diverse group of talented Viennese and German designers who worked before the establishment of Nazi rule, following the premise that within every child there is an artist, and in every artist is a child. From the ceramics of Kitty Rix, who is thought to have later perished in the Holocaust, to the enameled animals of Reinhold Duschka, who protected a young girl and her mother in his studio from the Nazis, these engaging miniatures serve as a reminder of the poignant narratives of history throughout difficult times.
Police Dog c. 1920–29. Austria, Vienna. Enamel on copper; h. 5.7 cm. Educational Purchase Fund, 1930.282
Stuffed Felt Animal c. 1920–30. Austria, Vienna. Felt, stuffing, silver thread; 29.2 x 24.8 x 7.6 cm. Educational Purchase Fund, 1931.9
Susan E. Bergh Curator of Pre-Columbian and Native North American Art
Things That Don’t Fit (Here)
This section of the exhibition presents four disparate groups of objects kept in storage because they don’t fit into the histories the museum’s collections have been shaped to tell in the galleries. My impulse when crafting the section—in April, after the pandemic crashed the exhibition schedule and we scrambled to fill holes—was to make the obvious but important observation that histories are written from points of view and, in museums, with finite resources. As such, they leave out many voices and perspectives, a fact harrowingly brought home this past summer when George Floyd was killed and protests swept the country. Diversity and equity in our institutions came into the spotlight, and new challenges to historical narratives arose.
Neck Pendant (Hei-tiki) 1800s. Polynesia, New Zealand, Ma¯ori people. Greenstone (pounamu) (nephrite?); 16.9 x 10.2 cm. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James B. Wadhams in memory of Miss Helen Humphreys, 1969.107
Man’s Tunic (Cushma) 1970s. Peru, Ucayali River region, Shipibo people. Cotton, pigment; 116.5 x 118.5 cm. John L. Severance Fund, 1992.351
Female Figurine c. 400–100 BC. Mexico, Guanajuato or Michoacán, Chupícuaro. Ceramic, pigment; 22.5 x 10.5 cm. John L. Severance Fund, 1996.291
Among the regions featured are the Pacific Islands, represented by four objects from the museum’s small collection of such works: a lintel (pare) and pendant (hei-tiki) from New Zealand’s Maori, a woman’s gorget (rei miro) from Rapa Nui or Easter Island, and a spirit figure (yipwon) from Papua New Guinea. Also included are nearly all holdings from eastern South America. Two were created by Shipibo women of Peru’s upper Amazon region—a tunic (cushma) and a beer keg (máhuetan)—while a glossy, rare feather headdress comes from Paraguay’s Ishír (Chamacoco).
There are also two groups of objects from Mexico. As a curator who leans into textiles, I have been frustrated not to have had a context in which to display the Saltillo sarapes that form the museum’s main holdings of Mexican art from the 1500s to the 1800s. Three of the best examples will finally be on display. They are joined by a group of appealing ancient Mexican figurines that were used to promote fertility and health in folk practices, which contrast with the elite traditions represented in the Pre-Columbian gallery (233).
Heather Lemonedes Brown Virginia N. and Randall J. Barbato Deputy Director and Chief Curator
Mise en Page
I began to develop a love of drawings in the mid-1990s when supervising the study room in the Department of Drawings and Prints at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At that time, I was also a graduate student working on a PhD at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, and access to the Met’s celebrated collection of works on paper inspired me to focus on prints and drawings in my studies and dissertation. This past summer, when we invited each curator to develop a story based on works in storage, I knew that I would devote my narrative to an aspect of the CMA’s outstanding collection of works on paper.
Two Female Heads 1600–1650. Abraham Bloemaert (Dutch, 1564–1651). Red chalk heightened with white chalk; framing lines in brown ink; 7.8 x 12.2 cm. Anne Elizabeth Wilson Memorial Fund, 1994.15
Studies of a Seated Female, Child’s Head, and Three Studies of a Baby c. 1507–8. Raphael (Italian, 1483–1520). Metalpoint; 12 x 15.3 cm. Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund, 1978.37
Mise en page, the French term for “placement on a page,” refers to an artist’s sketch combining numerous elements carefully arranged on a sheet of paper. In such drawings, which have always beguiled me, the artist turns an informal, preparatory study into a beautifully presented, deliberately designed drawing, utterly complete unto itself. The saying that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts is perfectly suited to describe a mise en page drawing. In such works, the balance and tension between disparate elements are flawlessly harmonized into an elegant whole.
In 1528 Albrecht Dürer, the artistic master of the German Renaissance, wrote in praise of drawing, “An artist of understanding and experience can show more of his great power and art in small things roughly and rudely done, than many another in his great work.” What a drawing lacks in glamour, it makes up for in sensitivity and the proximity to the artist that it provides. Whereas a painting—made in fulfillment of a commission or intended for sale—might be likened to a symphony, an artist’s study—which the artist likely never intended for sale or even for public viewing—is akin to a lullaby: personal, intimate, and authentic.
The mise en page provides a glimpse into an artist’s creative process, their intellect, and the spirit of their imagination. Through 16 drawings, my story traces the development of mise en page from its earliest expressions in the Renaissance through its refinement in 18th-century France, and concludes with two sheets by 19th-century artists who self-consciously paid homage to this tradition.
Sinéad Vilbar Curator of Japanese Art
Protecting the Word (教えを守る)
We recently completed conservation and research of Shakyamuni with the Sixteen Benevolent Deities, and this exhibition presents an opportunity to display the painting likely for the first time in a generation. Mary Louisa Upson (née Southworth) (1859–1944) gifted the painting in 1941 to celebrate the museum’s 25th anniversary.1
Repository for the Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra (大般若経厨子) late 1100s. Japan, Heian period (794–1185). Lacquered wood with ink, color, gold, cut gold, and metalwork; h. 160 cm. John L. Severance Fund, 1969.130.1
The painting arrived mounted on a panel and framed. However, it had brocade border silks, indicating that it was once mounted as a hanging scroll. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was popular to convert hanging scroll paintings to framed ones. This not only made them suitable for display in Western architectural settings, but also was a more effective method of preserving the paintings than keeping them rolled up in a box when not on view.
As late as 2014, Shakyamuni with the Sixteen Benevolent Deities was cataloged as an “Amida Triad,” a shorthand way of referring to the Buddha Amida flanked by two bodhisattvas (enlightened beings who work for the enlightenment of all) called Kannon and Seishi in Japan. As part of the CMA’s institutional goals to provide Open Access images of the entire collection and to create digital didactics, we researched and reidentified the painting. Based on its iconography, we discovered that it was an image of a different Buddha, Shakyamuni, flanked by two bodhisattvas called Monju and Fugen, and surrounded by 16 deities who protect an important religious text called the Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra.
BEFORE (LEFT) and AFTER CONSERVATION
Shakyamuni with the Sixteen Benevolent Deities (釈迦三尊十六善神像) mid to late 1300s. Japan, Nanbokucho period (1336–1392). Hanging scroll; ink, color, gold, and cut gold on silk; painting: 106.5 x 56.6 cm. Gift of Mrs. Henry S. Upson, 25th Anniversary Gift, 1941.279
In Japan, Buddhists of many different schools display a painting with this iconography for services at which monks read the Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra. Sometimes the paintings are mounted as panels, but most of the time they are hanging scrolls. It is convenient to store these occasional-use paintings rolled up in a box to save space and to protect them from insects.
Recataloging the painting and now understanding its use spurred us to take action to make it ready for exhibition. The original painting was a skillful, detailed work of the mid- to late 1300s, but it had been through centuries of temple use, as well as at least one previous remounting campaign with some negative consequences. In fact, its wanting state of preservation was likely a major contributing factor to its being overlooked in previous curatorial research.
Transpacific Team Keisuke Sugiyama, from the Tohoku University of Art and Design in Yamagata, and Sara Ribbans, CMA associate conservator of Asian paintings
One of the main problems was cosmetic. Previous mounters had applied some visually distracting in-painting on Shakyamuni’s robe. It may have been the same color as the original when they first added it, but over time it began to stand out as different. Another major problem was that the mounters lined the entire painting with silk. A Buddhist painting specialist created the work using a technique that involves painting on both the front and the back of the silk. The technique allows the painter to create luminosity, intensity, and other effects, but it also means that it is dangerous to remove backings for fear of taking off pigments along with the lining. On top of that, the mounters cooked a recipe for instability into their mounting: silk does not adhere well to silk, so the lining was coming away, causing further losses where the original silk of the painting was missing. Finally, the mounting silks were frayed and filthy, so they needed to be replaced as part of the remounting process.
Since our goal is to show our visitors the painting as close to the way it would have originally been experienced by the community for whom it was created, we decided to restore it to its original hanging scroll format. In the process, we addressed the attendant problems.
1. Upson’s mother was active in the women’s suffrage movement, and her father was a prominent grocer with a retail store near Cleveland’s Public Square. Their home on Prospect Avenue, known as Southworth House and built in 1879, when Upson would have already been a young woman, is now headquarters to Laborers Local 860, a chapter of the Laborers’ International Union of North America. Upson’s husband was an Akron-born neurologist who published widely and was interested in the connection between dental and mental health. Regrettably, he died in Rome in 1913, the year the museum was founded. Upon its grand opening in 1916, Upson gave a handful of Japanese prints and two Japanese paintings to the institution, as well as a few more Japanese prints in 1942. Unfortunately, at this point we do not know the provenance of Shakyamuni with the Sixteen Benevolent Deities before Upson acquired it.
Barbara Tannenbaum Curator of Photography
If the moon seems to shine unusually brightly on Carlo Naya’s Venice, it is because that heavenly body was really the sun. Photographic emulsions around 1870 were not sensitive enough to record detail in the dark, so Naya shot his celebrated nocturnes during the day, then transformed them into night scenes in the darkroom. His romanticized view is an example of how photographs can be as unreliable as memories. But sometimes that is a good thing.
Venice: Saint Mark’s Looking toward San Giorgio Maggiore, in Moonlight c. 1870. Carlo Naya (Italian, 1816–1882). Albumen print; 42.3 x 53.7 cm. Dudley P. Allen Fund, 2009.350
The 15 images in Paper Airplanes are truthful—to a point. They idealize rather than document, offering us the fantasy and romance of travel without its travails. Since photography’s discovery in 1839, it has been an essential part of travel. Initially, voyagers’ only option was to buy photographic souvenirs from professionals like Naya. With the advent of the Kodak camera in 1888, suddenly you could document your own personal experience. Nonetheless, there remained a role for professionals: they knew how to sum up the atmosphere and spirit of a place by shooting at the ideal time, choosing dramatic vantage points, and artfully composing the view. Distance from the subject and retouching allowed them to hide poverty, flaws, and dirt. The resulting images capitalize on photography’s ability to freeze time, suggesting balance, dreamy calm, and classical beauty.
The works in my story span three centuries of the medium’s history and traverse several continents, from Egypt in 1857 to Canyon de Chelly in 1904 and New York harbor in 1998. They demonstrate the rapid geographic spread of the medium and the depth and breadth of the museum’s photography collection. Most compellingly, they invite us on a journey, not of the body but of the mind and the imagination.
Emily Liebert Curator of Contemporary Art
A Painting Is a Sculpture
How we are oriented and disoriented in the world is not just spatial; it’s increasingly influenced by the role and power of the image. I think in the age of the image, a painting is a sculpture. A sculpture is a marker in time.
When I learned the aim of Stories from Storage—to familiarize our audiences with work from the collection that they might not have encountered in our permanent galleries—I immediately wanted to make Sarah Sze’s Plywood Sunset Leaning (Fragment Series) the anchor of my presentation. This work, a generous gift from Agnes Gund, powerfully represents the interests that define Sze’s important and influential sculptural practice. I have been eager to display this work, but its scale relative to that of our galleries has posed a challenge.
Plywood Sunset Leaning (Fragment Series) 2015. Sarah Sze (American, b. 1969). Acrylic paint, wood, archival prints, ladder, mirror, paper cups, stone, lamp, tools, pen, tape, paintbrush, newspaper; 350.5 x 292.1 x 190.5 cm. Gift of Agnes Gund, 2015.145. © Sarah Sze
Bateau-Tableau 1973. Marcel Broodthaers (Belgian, 1924–1976). Projector, slides. Purchased with funds donated by Scott Mueller, 2016.300. © Marcel Broodthaers
After thinking through various groupings revolving around Plywood Sunset Leaning, I settled on a concise pairing. My story, A Painting Is a Sculpture (which borrows its title from Sze’s quote), stages a dialogue between Sze and Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers, whom she has never met, but whose work has influenced her own. During their respective eras, both artists redefined the possibilities of sculpture and installation by integrating into these media features of painting, photography, film, and language.
Sze and Broodthaers also share a material repertoire, relying on ordinary functional objects to challenge the boundary between art and the everyday that we, their viewers, inhabit. The breaks with tradition exemplified in their work shed light—retroactively—on the historical lineages so richly represented elsewhere in the CMA’s collections.
The two works on view, Sze’s Plywood Sunset Leaning of 2015 and Broodthaers’s Bateau-Tableau of 1973, explore and honor the physical nature of a work of art. In our digital age, we often experience art first (or entirely) as a flat picture on a screen. This phenomenon has been heightened during the pandemic when real-life encounters with art are rare and precious. Broodthaers and Sze insist on—and savor—the artwork’s life as an object.
Sonya Rhie Mace George P. Bickford Curator of Indian and Southeast
Asian Art: Green Tara and the Art of Protection
On January 26, 2020, my mother, Marylin Martin Rhie, professor emerita of art and East Asian studies at Smith College, passed away in Springfield, Massachusetts. My father, my son, my husband, and I were all at her side, while I recited the Green Tara mantra: om tare tuttare ture svaha. For followers of Tibetan Buddhism, these powerful syllables remove fear, especially at the time of death. Steeped as she was for decades in the art and thought of Buddhism, she understood their meaning.
My mother was a pioneering historian of Tibetan art, and she was my first teacher. An artist herself, she was gifted with extraordinary visual acuity and could see and explain which aspects of a work of art yield its beauty and purpose. Nearly three decades ago, she turned her inimitable powers of description to the CMA’s Green Tara in Wisdom and Compassion: The Sacred Art of Tibet (Abrams, 1991):
"The iconic beauty of this style is nowhere more masterfully portrayed than in the Cleveland Green Tara. She sits within a templelike jeweled shrine reminiscent of Indian architectural modes and with finely detailed décor as seen in the 12th- and 13th-century Orissan and Hoysalan temples. The interior glows a brilliant crimson red, startlingly offsetting the olive green coloring of her firm, graciously bending body. Green Tara, the compassionate female Bodhisattva, is a little mysterious, which is implied here by the forest setting and nighttime sky, charmingly sprinkled with flowers. The style has a gemlike color, precise and even line, and fascinating detail.
The jewels and textiles have a precision and clarity that make the image seem real.
Despite the strongly two-dimensional aspect of the painting, it appears utterly realistic and immediately apprehendable, approachable, and present. It seems as though we could touch the image with no barrier between us, even as we realize her iconic, perfect nature." (p. 51)
Green Tara c. 1260s. Central Tibet. Thangka: gum tempera and gold on sized cotton; 52.4 x 43.2 cm. Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund by exchange, 1970.156
My selection of Green Tara for this installation is a tribute to my mother, her life, and her scholarship. Although now in another realm, she left us with words that guide us ever deeper into wonder and understanding.
Seth Pevnick Curator of Greek and Roman Art
Replication and Reinterpretation, Old and New
Things are not always what they seem. First appearances deceive many: few minds understand what skill has hidden in an inmost corner.
—Phaedrus, Book IV, Fable II
This advice, to look closely before judging, comes from Phaedrus, a Roman poet known for his Latin translations of the Greek fables of Aesop, a largely legendary figure. Centuries later, now translated again, the observation still resonates, not least for encouraging reconsideration of objects long housed in storage. It also encapsulates a complex phenomenon of replication and reinterpretation often observed in artworks from ancient Greece, Rome, and surrounding Mediterranean cultures.
For modern viewers, such artworks—made over many centuries—may appear relatively similar, sharing styles that are both recognizable and difficult to define. But much of this perceived visual repetition can be better understood as reinterpretation, adapting old forms and images for new uses. Some ancient objects, such as coins, mold-made glass vessels, or terracotta figurines, demanded highly accurate replication for precise value and broad appeal. Today, reinterpretation and replication continue, through scholarly reconsideration of ancient objects as well as modern interventions.
Red-Figure Kylix (Drinking Cup): Dionysos and Satyr (I); Satyrs and Maenads (A, B) c. 480 BC. Attributed to Douris (Greek, Attic, active c. 500–470 BC), or Painter of London E 55. Ceramic; diam. 29.6 cm. Hinman B. Hurlbut Collection, 1915.718. During treatment in 1953 and current condition
I’ve selected many objects from storage to tell these tales, but one in particular—a remarkable red-figure kylix (drinking cup)—speaks volumes. Decorated with finely painted but iconographically ordinary images of the wine god Dionysos and the satyrs and maenads who surround him, the cup has been reconstructed from 72 fragments. Pairs of holes straddling cracks attest to ancient wire or clamp repairs, while numerous incomplete holes may signify more recent interventions. Early modern overpainting, meant to hide cracks as well as nudity once thought distasteful, also masked some of the original artistry. Cleaning and reconstruction in 1952–53 revealed details allowing attribution to Douris, a respected vase-painter, thus reviving the cup’s reputation. More recently, a different attribution has been suggested, and a new conservation campaign replaced ancient but nonpertaining parts with modern reconstructions more like those lost.
Britany Salsbury Associate Curator of Prints and Drawings
Last March, just after I began to quarantine and before warm weather arrived, I passed most of my days seeing the world through the windows of either my living room, dining room-turned-office, or bedroom. Throughout, I couldn’t help but be reminded of one of my favorite articles from graduate school: art historian Lorenz Eitner’s “The Open Window and the Storm-Tossed Boat.” Writing about early 19th-century European paintings, Eitner discussed how artists used imagery of the world seen through thresholds, like windows or doors, to symbolize the frustration and longing of man’s relationship to nature.
While exploring the museum’s collection, I was struck by the many depictions of windows throughout a range of times and places. In one of his later
self-portraits, for example, Rembrandt van Rijn showed himself next to a window but absorbed in the act of etching, suggesting just how isolating an artist’s work can be. Nearly three centuries later, Belgian artist René Magritte produced a series of paintings—of which the CMA owns an important example—that presents a window partially obscured by a canvas that seamlessly replicates the view behind it, inviting questions about reality itself.
Self-Portrait Drawing at a Window 1648. Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669). Etching, drypoint, and engraving; sheet: 17.3 x 14.5 cm. Gift of
Leonard C. Hanna Jr., 1934.350
The Human Condition 1945. René Magritte (Belgian, 1898–1967). Watercolor, crayon, graphite, ink, and gouache; 42.2 x 32.2 cm. Bequest of Lockwood Thompson, 1992.274. © 2021 C. Herscovici, London / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
These works are just two examples of the ways in which boundaries such as windows and doors can characterize not only our physical space but also how we perceive our place in the world. When asked to choose a location for my own portrait in connection with this theme, I remembered the dramatic arches and paned windows of Case Western Reserve University’s Mather Quad, which defined my earliest experience of studying art history. Those memories evoked the objects I’ve been considering for this exhibition, reminding me that my experiences of introspection and isolation are shared ones, as unusual as our current historical moment might seem.
William Robinson Senior Curator of Modern Art
Landscape is the work of the mind. Its scenery is built up as much from strata of memory as from layers of rock.
During the 1800s, artists began drawing upon the genre of landscape, a subject dating to antiquity, to forge radically new paths in art. The French Academy of Painting and Sculpture, established by the French government in 1648, considered landscape a genre of minor importance, ranked only fourth out of five categories. For centuries, landscapes served largely as backgrounds for historical, religious, or mythological subjects. That hierarchy collapsed when the Romantic movement ushered in a growing appreciation for nature and artists sought inspiration in direct contact with the natural environment. Over the coming decades, artists would seek escape from congested cities and industrial strife in both imaginary and closely observed, natural landscapes.
At least four different modes of landscape painting can be observed during the modern era: ideal, natural, imaginary, and abstract. In the ideal mode, nature is composed into highly controlled, formal arrangements, often conveying a nostalgic or an idyllic sentiment. The natural landscape emphasizes an unfiltered recording of outdoor light and atmosphere based on direct observation of contemporary subjects. Imaginary and abstract landscapes prioritize subjective emotion and principles of abstract pictorial construction over a realistic or naturalistic evocation of nature.
The Kitchen Garden at La Brunié 1941. Jacques Villon (French, 1875–1963). Oil on canvas; 65 x 92 cm. Leonard C. Hanna Jr. Fund, 1964.95
Prater Landscape c. 1831. Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller (Austrian, 1793–1865). Oil on wood panel; 25 x 31 cm. Andrew R. and Martha Holden Jennings Fund, 1983.155
Various modes of landscape painting are explored in this section through the display of works by a broad range of artists, including Antoine-Claude Ponthus-Cinier, Camille Corot, Paul Guigou, James Ensor, Eugène Jansson, Henri Le Sidaner, Piet Mondrian, Camille Pissarro, Georges Rouault, and Giovanni Segantini. Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller’s Prater Landscape of 1831 reflects the artist’s philosophy of truth to nature and direct observation of the motif. Jacques Villon’s The Kitchen Garden at La Brunié of 1941, by contrast, transforms nature into an intersecting network of abstract, geometric forms following the theories of Section d’Or (Golden Section) Cubists, who based their compositions on principles of scientific color theory and mathematics.
Emily J. Peters Curator of Prints and Drawings
Lenore Tawney: Postcard Collages
I encountered Lenore Tawney’s 40 postcard collages in the CMA’s collection during my first months with the museum in 2017. As I opened the solander box in which they are stored together in our prints and drawings vault, I was immediately engrossed by their visual ingenuity and wit. Addressed to her friend, curator Katharine Kuh, these postcards were mailed from 1968 to 1981; they are just a handful of the many that Tawney sent to friends during these years. In contrast to the large-scale, public fiber installations she created and exhibited from the 1950s to the 1980s (one of which hangs in the lobby of Cleveland’s Frank J. Lausche State Office Building), these postcard collages were private missives. Rarely exhibited, and full of imaginative expressions of friendship and affection, the postcards were the first thing I thought of for my section of Stories from Storage.
The King of Beasts (recto and verso), 1977. Lenore Tawney (American, 1907–2007). Collage and pen and ink; 16 x 10 cm. Gift of Katharine Kuh, 1981.186. © Lenore G. Tawney Foundation
Tawney constructed the postcards with combinations of found imagery, small objects, manuscripts, painted elements, and text. Each postcard creates an individual universe, but together they unite around a constellation of related or dichotomous themes, such as spirituality, materiality, vulnerability, resilience, the ephemeral, the eternal, and the life cycle. The locale from which Tawney postmarked the cards also played a role in their creation, informing imagery or theme, while plotting the artist’s many journeys. The found materials she incorporated into the postcards are diverse, but repetitive in form, type, or texture: feathers, eggs, circles, crosses, birds, and reproductions of artworks. She chose her materials from the vast archive of objects she amassed and arranged in her New York City live-and-work space, a collection that fueled her creativity and ordered her world, collapsing the boundary between her life and her art.
Tawney once said, “I made the postcards out of the need to communicate but not knowing what to say.” By the same sentiment, the imagery of her postcards is often unexplained, and yet through them we catch glimpses of her humanity, her spiritual journey, and the connections she cherished and nurtured with friends.
MEET THE PHOTOGRAPHER: AMBER N. FORD
Self-Portrait Amber N. Ford (American, b. 1994). © Amber N. Ford 2019
In the fall of 2020, we invited Cleveland-based photographer Amber Ford to begin a portrait project focused on the people behind the stories featured in Stories from Storage. She photographed our storytellers at locations of their choosing—a favorite park, a Cleveland landmark, their home, or the museum galleries. These photographs are on the cover of this magazine and on pages 4 to 28.
Ford received her BFA in photography from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 2016. A recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award in 2017, she is best known for her work in portraiture, which she refers to as a “collaborative engagement between photographer and sitter,” and she is interested in topics such as race and identity. Her work has been shown around northeast Ohio, including at Kent State University, Transformer Station, SPACES Gallery, the Morgan Conservatory, the Cleveland Print Room, Zygote Press, and Waterloo Arts. Ford was selected as a 2019 Gordon Square Arts District Artist-in-Residence, so look for some of her work on the back of the Capitol Theatre Building at the corner of Detroit Avenue and West 65th Street.
To learn more about the artist, visit ambernford.com.
- 1916.1244, Decorative Band
- 1922.210, Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well
- 1930.282, Dog
- 1931.9, Lamb
- 1935.250, River-Front
- 1950.374, Miniature from a Mariegola: The Flagellation
- 1951.35, San Geronimo Taos
- 1955.40, Pair of Roundback Armchairs: Lohan Type
- 1964.95, The Kitchen Garden at La Brunié
- 1969.107, Neck Pendant (Hei-tiki)
- 1970.156, Green Tara
- 1975.10, Chest for Storing Garments
- 1978.37, Studies of a Seated Female, Child's Head, and Three Studies of a Baby
- 1981.186, The King of Beasts
- 1982.117, Small Chest with Inner Drawers
- 1983.155, Prater Landscape
- 1983.28, Jar
- 1984.157, Virgin Nursing the Christ Child
- 1987.201, Grand Canyon
- 1992.274, The Human Condition
- 1992.351, Man's Tunic (Cushma)
- 1994.15, Two Female Heads
- 1996.291, Female Figurine
- 2005.407, Autumnal Glory
- 2009.350, Venice: Saint Mark's Looking toward San Giorgio Maggiore, in Moonlight
- 2010.263, A Rock That Was Taught It Was a Bird
- 2011.43, Haverstraw Bay
- 2014.3, Chinese Hand Laundry
- 2016.54, The Republic of New Afrika at a Crossroads
- 2018.307, Untitled