Welcome back to the Ancient Art Podcast. Hang on tight folks as we take another excursion a bit off topic in this episode to explore the art and life of one of the most influential 20th century Japanese woodblock print artists, Hiratsuka Un’ichi. An exhibition of Hiratsuka’s prints was recently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago through January 4th, 2010. And now that the exhibition is closed, so too are the Japanese art galleries as the Art Institute prepares for a grand reopening of the newly renovated Japanese art galleries in the Fall of 2010 called the Weston Wing. So be sure to head on down to the Art Institute in the Fall and check out the new Weston Wing of Japanese art.
The Art Institute has a particularly strong collection of prints by Hiratsuka Un’ichi, thanks largely to the generosity of the Van Zelst family, who were close personal friends of the artist and his family. All the prints on display in the exhibition were given to the Art Institute by the Van Zelst family and I recently had the extreme pleasure of walking through the show with the Van Zelsts, which was pretty inspirational for this episode of the podcast.
Hiratsuka Un’ichi was born November 17, 1895 and died on November 18, 1997 at the ripe old age of 102 and a day. (You know he was doing something right.) He grew up during Japan’s Meiji era, a time of tremendous globalization for Japan and a fascination with the Western world. In this new global climate, Japan found itself facing the decision of which aspects of traditional Japanese culture to save and how Japan’s culture would be redefined in the modern world. Through Hiratsuka’s early exposure to Western art and illustrations in his school books and through the rich Japanese cultural traditions surrounding him in his youth, Hiratsuka played a pivotal role in the modernization, preservation, and revitalization of the Japanese print artform.
You might be most familiar with colorful prints of kabuki actors, beautiful courtesans, and gentle landscapes from Japan’s classical era of woodblock prints of the Floating World, the Ukiyo-e, during the Edo Period of 1615-1868. There’s a great introductory video on Ukiyo-e prints and culture produced by the Brooklyn Museum for the 2008 exhibition Utagawa: Masters of the Japanese Print, 1770–1900. You can find it online at the long URL of brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/utagawa and you’ll find that link in the transcript of this episode at ancientartpodcast.org.
Going beyond the art of the Floating World, Hiratsuka was one of the early pioneers of the Creative Print movement, “sosaku hanga,” established in the early 20th century. He and a few other like-minded artists adopted the term “creative” or “sosaku” for their new print style to draw two clear distinctions from the tradition of Japanese woodblock printing. One, these artists had sole creative responsibility for their works from beginning to end, breaking down the traditional triangle of designer, carver, printer, in which three wholly separate individuals or workshops were traditionally involved in the mass-scale commercial printmaking process. And the second distinction to prints of the traditional sort, in their argument, Creative prints exhibit the creative self-expression of the artist. You could say that’s not entirely unlike their contemporary early 20th century European modernist artists and the earlier Impressionists, who were both significant influences for the Japanese Creative Print artists.
But if Creative Print artists were rebels against the established tradition of Japanese woodblock printing, then Hiratsuka Un’ichi was a rebel among rebels. Many of Hiratsuka’s fellow Creative Print artists strongly reflect the influences of Western Modern artists. Works by Yamaguchi Gen and Onchi Koshiro could easily be hung side by side with Paul Klee and Piet Mondrian. Hiratsuka, however, was deeply motivated by Japan’s ancient spiritual traditions. As a young boy, Hiratsuka was surrounded by talented woodworkers on account of his father’s lumber business and his grandfather’s architectural career. He showed an early interest for black ink on white paper with a childhood fascination for carved wooden ink stamps. In his home town of Matsue, he grew up near the famous Shinto shrine of Izumo, in whose faith a reverence for the natural world is expressed through undecorated, unpainted wooden sculpture and architecture. Hiratsuka must have picked up on that purity of natural wood and built a career expressing his spiritualism through undecorated, uncolored, black ink woodblock printing. He also considered his art to be somewhat sacred by way of its roots in the earliest form of black ink printing of Buddhist sutras, spiritual texts, and sacred imagery. In early Buddhist printmaking, the keyblock was the authoritative, sacred template designed and carved by the master monk of the monastery. Then the master’s pupils would print and color the works by hand. So by distilling his art form purely to the keyblock, Hiratsuka paid a similar respect to his own black ink printing. Early in his career, Hiratsuka experimented with color printing, but he eventually decided that color weakens the emotional power of black ink on paper. Throughout much of his life, he was also an avid collector of early black ink Buddhist prints and, notably, antique temple roof tiles, both of which strongly inspired his art. [roof tile prints]
He also experimented with various carving techniques and instruments, including the tradition Japanese straight bladed woodworking knives and also Western curved U and V-shaped chisels. Side by side, some of his prints remarkably demonstrate the different results that the different tools can produce. Many of his prints also exhibit his trademark jagged or wavy lines produced from a unique rocking technique that he developed in strong contrast to the smooth, straight, hairline details of classical Floating World prints of the Edo period. Also unconventional in Hiratsuka’s style was that he executed much of the design process during the actual carving of the block, reworking the design and changing his mind along the way. Conversely, in the traditional triangle of designer, carver, printer, once you reached the carving stage of a woodblock, the design of the final print was completely determined. Hiratsuka is well recognized for having frequently worked in very large scale, carving all the way up to the very edge of the block of wood, but later also printed in a small postcard size so his work would be a bit more affordable and marketable. Whether working in large or small scale, though, Hiratsuka’s carving technique seems to reflect the tradition of ancient Buddhist stone rubbings, another early influence of ancient spiritualism for Hiratsuka, which we also see reflected in the style of one of his most prominent pupils, Munakata Shiko.
In 1962, Hiratsuka moved to the United States to be with his daughter’s family, but this change of venue didn’t slow him down. He continued to carve new blocks and make prints based on old sketches that he’d done sometimes even years earlier. He also explored the American landscape around him for inspirationional subjects. It’s interesting seeing so many of these Western subjects rendered in Hiratsuka’s multifaceted cosmopolitan style. For all of his achievements, Hiratsuka received multiple exceptional accolades. In 1970 the Japanese emperor awarded him the Order of Cultural Merit, which had never previously been awarded to print artist. And in 1977 Hiratsuka became the first artist ever to be awarded with the Order of the Sacred Treasure. Hiratsuka Un’ichi remains a modern master, who explored ancient tradition and contemporary innovation, motivated by deep spiritualism and globalization. He broke the rules of the rigidly predefined role of woodblock carver and inspired a new generation of artists.
If you want to learn more about the life and work of Hiratsuka Un’ichi, there’s a great catalog to an earlier special exhibition called “Hiratsuka: Modern Master” from 2001. Don’t forget to head on over to ancientartpodcast.org where you’ll find the photo gallery for this episode of the Ancient Art Podcast and many more. You can also visit an online virtual gallery of the exhibition that I put together using the Art Institute’s online collection database at http://tinyurl.com/hiratsuka2009.
I hope you didn’t mind the tangent of this episode breaking away from strictly ancient art. I’m excited to report that I’ll be going to Egypt early in 2010 as a study leader for an Art Institute travel program, so we can look forward to many interesting ancient adventures after I get back.
I appreciate your feedback and suggestions for future episodes. You can reach me at email@example.com or with the feedback form on the website. You’ll find me on Twitter at lucaslivingston. And you can leave your comments on YouTube, iTunes, or on the website itself. Thanks for tuning in and we’ll see you next time on the Ancient Art Podcast.
©2010 Lucas Livingston, ancientartpodcast.org
Hello friendly listeners and welcome back to the Ancient Art Podcast. I’m your host Lucas Livingston. This is not your usual episode of the Ancient Art Podcast. The subject of this episode is the Japanese art of the folding screen. Some of the feedback expressed a keen interested in Japanese art, so I thought I’d indulge you.
The recent exhibition Beyond Golden Clouds: Japanese Screens from the Art Institute of Chicago and the Saint Louis Art Museum is now in it’s final days at the Art Institute, from June 26-September 27, 2009. it brings together the strengths of two phenomenal collections of art. The 32 works of art in the exhibition trace the explorations and innovations in the art form from as early as the 16th century to contemporary screens of the past decade, stretching the definition of the Japanese folding screen format.
The screens in the exhibition showcase the wide variety of forms prevalent throughout the tradition, from tall screens of approximately 280 centimeters to diminutive screens like this 96 centimeter masterpiece from 1605-1610 by Hasegawa Togaku from the Saint Louis Art Museum. One finds screens even shorter than this called pillow screens used to shelter one’s head from the draft when sleeping on rather low traditional Japanese beds, and even smaller still simply to place around your fire when trying to heat a pot of tea. That gets at the heart of the function of the folding screen; that is as a wind breaker. The Japanese word for the folding screen byobu is spelled from two characters meaning “to stop” or “block” and “wind.”
Japanese screens are traditionally produced in pairs with a right and left. Generally any sort of narrative or other sense of continuity present in the subjects flow from right to left. Folding screens are also traditionally regarded as the highest form of art within Japanese culture and the greatest masterpieces of artists’ careers, like this well known pair from the Art Institute by Tosa Mitsuoki, Flowering Cherry and Autumn Maples with Poem Slips completed sometime between 1654 and 1681. It’s hard to walk through the Art Institute gift shop without tripping over some likeness of these famous screens.
Here we see two beautiful trees from opposite seasons, spring and autumn — this explosion of brilliant beauty for only a brief period of time before a powerful gust of wind or rain shower come and scatter the flowers or leaves on the ground. The blossoming of cherry trees is feverishly celebrated in Japan very much still today as the momentary beauty that heralds the new lunar year. Imagery of the natural world is a favored subject of Japanese screens, exploring the four seasons often as a metaphor for the impermanent, fleeting nature of the physical world around us and our own lives. Very Zen Buddhist concepts that make their way into the art and popular culture.
Strips of paper tied to branches of the trees are decorated with famous poems from highly regarded anthologies of the 10th through 12th centuries. The poems celebrate seasonal themes, connecting nicely with the subject matter of the screens, and give praise to the emperor, leading us to believe that this pair of screens were likely produced by imperial commission. Notice how the slips of paper are wafting in the wind, some even turned around or partly obscured. These poems were so famous to the well educated aristocrat that only a few words from any given piece were necessary for identification. And I really like the clever little visual pun that Tosa Mitsuoki made here where lovely cherry blossoms obscures part of a poem. The word that the cherry blossoms cover up is in fact “cherry blossoms.” It reads: “Since my heart is not content,/To return home after viewing/The cherry blossoms,/Around the site of their blooming/I’ll borrow a place to stay” (1).
Jumping to the end of the exhibition, we come to the magnificent installation of Okura Jiro’s series Mountain Lake Screen Tachi. Produced over a period of about 6 months during the artist’s residence at the Mountain Lake, Virginia workshop in 1990, this contemporary work of art dramatically redefines the art form of the folding screen. The artist produced a set of 16 four-paneled screens. There’s a great little video in the exhibition documenting their creation. Five of the screens are exhibited in the show; three from Saint Louis and two from the Art Institute given as a gift by the artist, himself. The other 11 are in various museums and private collections.
Among the many non-traditional features to these screens are the use of metal hinges, which swing both ways, allowing for maximum flexibility in installation. Also abandoned is the traditional painting on paper framed within a wooden framework. Here the narrow panels are made of timber, specifically black walnut selected from the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia, chosen for its likeness to the Japanese gray-bark elm often used for sacred objects in Japan. On account of Okura’s deep spiritualism, a Shinto priest presided over a ceremony blessing the trees prior to their logging. After cutting the logs into several planks of varying length, the artist and his students went to work drilling holes and chopping out bits with chisels. It’s important to emphasize that this was a group process. The pluralizing suffix tachi in the title of the work refers to this collective collaboration. The artist likened the collaborative effort of repetitive drilling and striking to the meditative recitation of holy Buddhist sutras.
Portions of the screens were finally covered with red cinnabar and black paint before a layer of gold leaf was applied almost haphazardly. Okura took no pains to smooth out the gold leaf or apply it with any great precision. In fact, the gold leaf is largely only partly adhering to the surface with portions dangling and wafting with the slightest draft. If you look closely, you might even see a flake here and there dusting the ground beneath the screens. A conservation nightmare for sure, but conservation wasn’t his motivation. Inspired by ancient Japanese statuary at Buddhist temples, whose painted surfaces have long since disintegrated exposing the natural beauty of the wooden grain beneath, Okura Jiro recognizes and embraces the impermanence of his artwork, knowing that it too will decay and return to a natural state, much as the flowering cherry and Autumn maple celebrate the ephemeral nature to the physical world. (2)
Lastly, it’s interesting to realize how the folding screen, once regarded in Japanese culture as the highest form of artistic achievement in painting, has now been adopted by other artists or dare I even say “craftsmen,” like carpenters, sculptors, and ceramicists. Another example of the changing face of the Japanese screen.
I hope you enjoyed this brief escape from the ancient world. If so, please consider leaving your comments online at ancientartpodcast.org, YouTube, or iTunes. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow me on Twitter at lucaslivingston. Thanks for listening and see you next time on the Ancient Art Podcast.
©2009 Lucas Livingston, ancientartpodcast.org
1. Beyond Golden Coulds: Japanese Screens from the Art Institute of Chicago and the Saint Louis Art Museum. Exhibition catalog edited by Janice Katz. Yale University Press, 2009, page 37.
2. ibid. page 200.
1. Pheasant and Pine. Kano Koi. 1626. Saint Louis Art Museum, funds given by Mary and Oliver Langenberg, Mr. and Mrs. Richard A. Liddy, and Susan and David Mesker (105:2002). “Beyond Golden Clouds: Japanese Screens from the Art Institute of Chicago and the Saint Louis Art Museum,” cat. 5, photo by Lucas Livingston.
2. The Tale of Taishokan. Unknown artist. 1640/80. The Art Institute of Chicago, restricted gift of Charles C. Haffner III and Muriel Kallis Newman; Alyce and Edwin DeCosta and Walter E. Heller Foundation Endowment; through prior gift of Charles C. Haffner III (1996.436.1-2). “Beyond Golden Clouds: Japanese Screens from the Art Institute of Chicago and the Saint Louis Art Museum,” cat. 11, photo by Lucas Livingston.
3. The Gathering at the Orchid Pavilion. Noguchi Shohin. 1900. The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Roger L. Weston (1996.680.1-2). “Beyond Golden Clouds: Japanese Screens from the Art Institute of Chicago and the Saint Louis Art Museum,” cat. 23, photo by Lucas Livingston.
5. Bamboo with Chinese Yew and Deer with Maples. Painting attributed to Hasegawa Togaku. Calligraphy by Tetsuzan Sodon. 1605/10. Saint Louis Art Museum, the Langenberg Endowment Fund (61:2004.1, .2). “Beyond Golden Clouds: Japanese Screens from the Art Institute of Chicago and the Saint Louis Art Museum,” cat. 3, photo by Lucas Livingston.
6. Red Rash. Sasayama Tadayasu. 1990. Glazed stoneware. Saint Louis Art Museum, Friends Fund (127:1992a-f). “Beyond Golden Clouds: Japanese Screens from the Art Institute of Chicago and the Saint Louis Art Museum,” cat. 31, photo by Lucas Livingston.
8. Flowering Cherry and Autumn Maples with Poem Slips. Tosa Mitsuoki. 1654/81. The Art Institute of Chicago, Kate S. Buckingham Endowment (1977.156-57 and 1977.158-59). “Beyond Golden Clouds: Japanese Screens from the Art Institute of Chicago and the Saint Louis Art Museum,” cat. 12, photo by Lucas Livingston.
1. From the Mountain Lake Screen Tachi Series. Okura Jiro. 1990. Cashew oil paint and gold leaf on black walnut. The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of the artist (2005.173.1-2). Saint Louis Art Museum, William K. Bixby Trust for Asian Art, funds given by Mr. and Mrs. Gyo Obata, and funds given by Mrs. James Lee Johnson, Jr., through the Art Enrichment Fund (50:2005.1) and gift of Okura Jiro (50:2005.2, .3). “Beyond Golden Clouds: Japanese Screens from the Art Institute of Chicago and the Saint Louis Art Museum,” cat. 32, photo by Lucas Livingston.
7. “‘Miscegenated Family Album’ at Alexander Gray Associates (New York), September 10–November 11, 2008.” ARTINFO, 1 Nov 2008. Accessed 7/6/2009. http://www.artinfo.com/news/story/29166/lorraine-ogrady/
On October 31, 1980 at Just Above Midtown Gallery in New York City, artist Lorraine O’Grady, dressed in a long red robe, debuted her new work of performance art. On a dark stage with a slideshow backdrop and dramatic recorded narration, O’Grady enacted hypnotic, ritualized motions, like the priestess of an ancient mystery cult, incanting magicks over vessels of sacred sand and offerings blessings of protection to the projected images of the Ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti and her late sister Devonia Evangeline O’Grady Allen. In the piece entitled Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline, Lorraine O’Grady confronted her relationship with her sister through the lens of Nefertiti and Nefertiti’s own apparent sister, Mutnedjmet — a relationship which O’Grady felt would have been equally troubled. O’Grady’s sister Devonia tragically died just a few short weeks after the two of them had finally begun speaking after many years of a strained relationship.
Inspired two years later after a trip to Egypt, O’Grady began researching Queen Nefertiti and her famed family of the Amarna Period. While in Egypt, O’Grady encountered a new found feeling of belonging — as the artist says in her own words, “surrounded for the first time by people who looked like me” (Art Journal 56:4, Winter 1997, p. 64). Of African, Caribbean, and Irish descent, O’Grady never felt a similar sense of kinship in her homes of Boston and Harlem. In a New York Times article from September 26, 2008, “she remembers her youthful efforts to balance what she has called her family’s ‘tropical middle-and-upper class British colonial values’ with the Yankee, Irish-American and African-American cultures around her.” Building on a resemblance that she long thought her sister had with Nefertiti, she was struck by what she saw as narrative and visual resemblances throughout both families. While pairing members of her own family with those of Nefertiti, O’Grady weaves together various narratives connecting personal stories with historical events (Alexander Gray Associates press release, 10 Sep 2008).
In 1994, from the performance piece Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline originally composed of 65 photographic comparisons, O’Grady took about a fifth of the diptychs and framed them in an installation piece entitled Miscegenated Family Album, which has been exhibited in various galleries, including the Art Institute of Chicago in 2008. O’Grady’s work often focuses on black female identity and subjectivity, as well as cultural and ethnic hybridization. Miscegenation, in the title of the piece, is the procreation between members of different races, which was still illegal in much of the US as late as 1967, when it was finally overturned by the Supreme Court.
The ethnic identities of Nefertiti and Akhenaten have been debated in the spheres of Egyptology and African studies, with no immediate end in sight. Not quite as much as Cleopatra, but still. In Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline and Miscegenated Family Album, O’Grady directly confronts the racism of a white-dominated, Western-European interpretation to the field of Egyptology. While the notion of a black African cultural and ethnic influence on Ancient Egypt is frequently discussed today, we should bear in mind that in 1980, when O’Grady first performed Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline, this was still seven years before the publication of Martin Bernal’s highly acclaimed and criticized work Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization.
Now, I’m not saying that the sub-Saharan African influence on Egyptian civilization is definitively confirmed. It’s still a hotly debated issue with many shades of gray. Ancient Egypt was a huge nation surviving thousands of years. And during that time there was frequent contact with surrounding countries, including periods of foreign occupation. By the time of Nefertiti and Akhenaten in the mid to late 14th century BC, parts of Egypt were pretty ethnically diverse, which likely got even more ethnically diverse as the centuries led up to the Ptolemaic period of Cleopatra. I’m excited to see that the University of Manchester museum will be hosting a conference on “Egypt in its African Context” on October 3rd and 4th, 2009. You can read about the conference online. The URL’s kinda long: www.museum.manchester.ac.uk/collection/ancientegypt/conference. [As of at least 12/22/2010, this link is no longer active. Visit http://egyptmanchester.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/egypt-in-its-african-context-programme1.pdf for a PDF of the conference agenda. Visit http://egyptmanchester.wordpress.com/2010/08/07/sally-ann-ashton-talking-at-the-manchester-museum-at-the-conference-egypt-in-its-african-context-3-4-october-2009/ for videos.] So, check out the transcript at ancientartpodcast.org for the link or see my recent tweet on Twitter at “lucaslivingston.”
One point that we need to bear in mind when considering the ethnicity of Ancient Egyptians is the baggage we bring with us to the discussion. We all have a lot of baggage, but what I’m specifically talking about is the whole preoccupation with ethnicity. I don’t know about kids these days, but not too long ago when I was a wee lad, every American schoolboy or girl could tell your their heritage, breaking it down by the percentage. Blame it on the African diaspora, Western imperialism, or Ellis Island, but I would argue that this obsession with the argument over whether the Ancient Egyptians were black, white, Greek, Berber, or other is something of a modern development. The Egyptians were an ethnically diverse lot and they would have said to us “So what!?” What mattered to the Egyptians was that you were Egyptian. You don’t hear of Ancient Egyptian race riots.
The beauty of O’Grady’s Miscegenated Family Album is that it looks more than skin-deep. O’Grady draws a few parallels between her sister Devonia and Nefertiti. They both marry, have daughters, and perform ceremonials functions — one as a priestess, the other as a bride. Devonia passed away at the age of 37 before the two sisters could fully reconcile their differences. Nefertiti suddenly vanished from the written record after the 12th year of Akhenaten’s reign, around the year 1341. Back in the 1980′s when O’Grady was researching for her performance piece Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline, the prevalent theories for Nefertiti’s disappearance involved her death or fall from grace, perhaps due to Akhenaten elevating another consort to Great Royal Wife. Akhenaten did, in fact, elevate someone else to be the Great Royal Wife at that time — his eldest daughter Meretaten.
Nefertiti may have died, or some argue that she was elevated to co-regent, like a king-in-training. Another theory is that Akhenaten’s fourth daughter, Neferneferuaten Jr., became co-regent. She’s junior, because another one of Nefertiti’s names was also Neferneferuaten, and since the co-regent was named Neferneferuaten … well, hence the confusion as to exactly who was co-regent. After the death of Akhenaten around 1336 BC, we then have king Smenkhkara, ruling just a short while before our boy King Tut came onto the scene.
Another parallel that O’Grady draws is between herself and Neferitit’s apparent younger sister Mutnedjmet. Just as the younger O’Grady was left behind after her sister’s sudden and tragic passing, Mutnedjmet would also have been abandoned after Nefertiti’s sudden disappearance, according to the theories at the time. Just to bring everything else up to current theory, contrary to popular speculation, there’s no evidence that Nefertiti’s sister is the same Mutnedjmet, who was queen to the later king Horemheb. Also the more widely accepted translation today of Nefertiti’s sister’s name is Mutbenret, which is spelled exactly the same in hieroglyphs. But those are both minor technicalities that have little to no impact on O’Grady’s overall work. The importance of Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline and Miscegenated Family Album is that the immediate physical resemblance in the framing of O’Grady’s family members with figures of ancient history is indicative of deeper sentiment and associations. The past becomes an idealized and humanized film through which our own lives are filtered and compared.
So much comparison between these ancient and modern figures compels me to draw one comparison from my own imagination …
Keep on moon walking, Michael, in the great beyond.
You’ll find a whole lotta great links about Lorraine O’Grady and her work at ancientartpodcast.org. Click on Additional Resources and scroll down to the post prominently titled “Lorraine O’Grady.” If you’re interested in seeing Miscegenated Family Album in person, Lorraine O’Grady has posted on her own blog that it should be installed in the Art Institute of Chicago’s new Modern Wing some time in the near future, and I have an unconfirmed corroborating report from unnamed sources. But if you want to find out for yourself, over at ancientartpodcast.org among the additional resources on O’Grady, you’ll find a link to the Art Institute’s online collection record for Miscegenated Family Album, which tells you whether or not the work is on display.
You can follow me on Twitter at lucaslivingston. If you have any questions you’d like me to discuss in future episodes, be sure to email me at email@example.com. You can also give feedback on the website and fill out a fun little survey. You can comment on each episode on the website or on YouTube. And if you like the podcast, why not share the love with some iTunes comments? It helps get the podcast noticed. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time on the Ancient Art Podcast.
©2009 Lucas Livingston, ancientartpodcast.org
1. Lorraine O’Grady, Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline: “Stirring sand, closeup.” 1980.
2. … “Told to swing an incense censer, she stirs sand instead.”
3. … “Instead of a ‘beef heart’ described on the soundtape, she lifts a heart of sand.”
4. … “I open your mouth for you.”
5. … “You are protected, and you shall not die.”
6. … “The voice on the tape says: ‘Mount and straddle tubs of sand, which are now touching…face audience.’”
7. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Sisters I (L: Nefertiti, R: Devonia), 1980/94.
8. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Sisters II (L: Nefertiti’s daughter Merytaten, R: Devonia’s daughter Candace), 1980/94.
9. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Sisters III (L: Nefertiti’s daughter Meketaten, R: Devonia’s daughter Kimberley), 1980/94.
10. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Sisters IV (L: Devonia’s sister Lorraine, R: Nefertiti’s sister Mutnedjmet), 1980/94.
11. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Ceremonial Occasions I (L: Devonia as Matron of Honor, R: Nefertiti performing a lustration), 1980/94.
12. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Ceremonial Occasions II (L: Devonia attending a wedding, R: Nefertiti performing an Aten ritual), 1980/94.
13. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: A Mother’s Kiss (T: Candace and Devonia, B: Nefertiti and daughter), 1980/94.
14. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Motherhood (L: Nefertiti, R: Devonia reading to Candace and Edward, Jr.), 1980/94.
15. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Young Princesses (L: Nefertiti’s daughter Ankhesenpaaten, R: Devonia’s daughter Candace), 1980/94.
16. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Worldly Princesses (L: Nefertiti’s daughter Merytaten, R: Devonia’s daughter Kimberley), 1980/94.
17. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Crowned Heads (L: Nefertiti’s husband Akhenaten, R: Devonia’s husband Edward), 1980/94.
18. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Young Queens (L: Nefertiti, aged 24, R: Devonia, aged 24), 1980/94.
19. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Progress of Queens (L: Nefertiti, aged 35, R: Devonia, aged 36), 1980/94.
20. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Cross-Generational (L: Nefertiti, the last image, R: Devonia’s daughter Kimberley), 1980/94.
21. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Hero Worship (L: Devonia and 14 and Lorraine at 3, R: Devonia at 24 and Lorraine at 13), 1980/94.
22. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Sibling Rivalry (L: Nefertiti, R: Nefertiti’s sister Mutnedjmet), 1980/94.
23. Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album: Sisters I (L: Nefertiti, R: Devonia), 1980/94, one of set of sixteen silver dye bleach print diptychs, framed; edition five of eight, 67.3 x 95.3 cm (26 1/2 x 37 1/2 in.) each, Art Institute of Chicago: Through prior bequest of Marguerita S. Ritman, 2008.81.1-16.
1. Stela of the Royal Family, probably from Amarna, Dynasty 18, reign of Akhenaten, 1351-1336 BC, Limestone, Egyptian Museum, Berlin, 14145.
2. Chair of Tutankhamun and Queen Ankhesenamun.
3. Golden Mask of Tutankhamun, Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
4. Head of Queen Tiy, Egyptian Museum, Berlin.
5. Colossal Head of Akhenaten, Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
6. Right-hand sided tomb statue of Tutankhamun, Egyptian Museum, Cairo.
7. Statue of an unknown Amarna-era princess. New Kingdom, Amarna period, 18th dynasty, ca. 1345 BC Egyptian Museum (21223), Berlin, photo by Keith Schengili-Roberts, 15 Dec 2006.
8. Statue of King Horemheb with the god Amun, Egyptian Museum of Turin, photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbera, 14 Sep 2008.
9. Small head of a princess, probably Amarna period, Louvre Museum (E14715).
10. Statue head of a woman, limestone, New Kingdom, Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago (31713), photo by Lucas Livingston.
Hello again and welcome back to the SCARABsolutions Ancient Art Podcast. Please bear with me for a minute as I make a brief technical note. If Episode 11: The Parthenon Frieze, Part 2 was the last episode that automatically downloaded to your computer if you’re subscribing to the podcast, then that’s probably because I recently updated my podcast publishing software. Apple kindly decided to rename my podcast’s RSS feed, the link that you use to subscribe, and there’s not much I could do about it. But I did tell iTunes to redirect to the new feed, so for many listeners this may not be a problem any more. If you’re still having trouble with the subscription, though, just try unsubscribing and visit scarabsolutions.com, where you can resubscribe with the correct new link. And if all else fails, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll see what help I can offer. If none of this is making any sense, then it may not apply, so don’t worry and just keep listening as always.
So, with that, in the past three episodes we studied the Parthenon Frieze on the Athenian Acropolis in comparison to the Apadana reliefs at the Persian capital Persepolis. While we probably exhausted our interest in that topic for a while, I do want to take just another few minutes to look at the Parthenon Frieze in comparison to another great work of art far removed from Ancient Greece, “The Chicago Panels” by contemporary American artist Ellsworth Kelly. But before we jump in, I need to correct a little mistake I made in Episode 12. When I was talking about the replica of the Parthenon Frieze on the north side of the Art Institute, I mentioned that it’s a replica of sections from the east frieze of the Parthenon. Slip of the tongue, there. I meant to say that these figures come from the west frieze of the Parthenon, the formal beginning to the frieze. The east frieze of the Parthenon, in contrast, shows the conclusion, with the Olympian gods and presentation of the new peplos (that is, if you buy that interpretation).
Described as a master of color and form, Ellsworth Kelly is well known for his quintessential style of large, carefully controlled areas of color exuding a sense of purity in their simplicity. The Art Institute has a rich collection of works by Kelly, including paintings, collages, drawings, prints, and sculpture from throughout his prolific career. “The Chicago Panels” from 1989 to 1999 consist of six painted, monochromatic, curved aluminum panels hung on the walls around the upper level above the sculpture court of the American Art galleries at the Art Institute. Emphasizing pure color and shape, Ellsworth Kelly’s works associate with the architectural setting around them. In the American Art sculpture court, the Chicago Panels interact not only with the walls, on which the panels hang, but also the magnificent floor-to-ceiling Classical Greek style Doric columns along the balcony railing.
The Chicago Panels were commissioned specifically for this interior space. There’s no clear indication why they’re called the Chicago Panels, but the shape and color of Kelly’s artwork are often inspired by familiar objects and phenomena. When you stare at the panels long enough, you might just start to see the familiar shapes of Chicago’s skyline. At least, that’s some people’s take on it. Or maybe the many colors reflect a panel of Chicago’s ethnic diversity. By nature of its formless quality, Kelly’s artwork is very personal, engaging with the viewer and inviting you to participate in interpretation, and that’s what this episode is all about — a personal experience. We recently explored the similarities between the Parthenon Frieze and the Apadana in terms of the way one might have experienced the two works and their sites. Now I’d like to draw a comparison of personal experience between the Parthenon Frieze and the Chicago Panels. When I walk upstairs and around the gallery looking at the panels, glimpsing their partial forms sliced by the intermittent columns, I feel I come close to the same experience a late 5th century BC Athenian may have had when processing alongside the Parthenon glancing up at the frieze. I mentioned last time that the Parthenon Frieze is a sort of Athenian self-portrait mirroring the contemporary act of sacred procession at its feet. Sure, there’s no sacred procession going on in the Art Institute galleries, not regularly, at least, but if you see yourself or your city in the Chicago Panels, you might encounter a similar sense of personal patriotism.
Also, as you walk through the gallery, the Classically-inspired Doric columns break up your experience, providing only obstructed glances of the panels as you look out across the open-air space of the sculpture court below. This almost strobe-like effect of brief, fractured glimpses provides a sense of animation to the panels. Interestingly, there’s no one point in the gallery where you can stand and see all six panels in their entirety. Give it a shot. I’ve tried. There’s always at least just a little sliver of a panel hiding behind one of the columns. Just the same way on the Parthenon, the Doric colonnade breaks up your experience of the frieze, offering you only glimpses of the entire scene. As you process alongside the frieze looking up at the interrupted cavalcade of horses and parade of tribute, the fractured glimpses produce a similar sense of animation, spurring the galloping horses to life. And imagine how much more lively and life-like the frieze must have appeared in its original, vibrant, realistic coloration. Yes, as with most Ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, the Parthenon Frieze and the rest of the Parthenon were highly painted.
Ellsworth Kelly may in no way have been inspired by the Parthenon Frieze when creating the Chicago Panels, and I’m not making any claim to that effect. This is just an opportunity for me to explore my own personal resonance with two moving works of art — conscious and subconscious experiences paralleled by ancient and contemporary human achievement.
I hope you didn’t mind our short departure from ancient art. Maybe you even enjoyed it. If you’d like to do more digging, I’ve added a few references on Ellsworth Kelly to the bibliography in the Additional Resources section of SCARABsolutions.com. Thanks for listening and see you next time on the SCARABsolutions Ancient Art Podcast.
©2008 Lucas Livingston, ancientartpodcast.org