Cleveland Museum of Art announces recent acquisitions

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Cleveland Museum of Art announces recent acquisitions
The Temple of Edfu: The Door of the Pylon, 1850. John Frederick Lewis (British, 1805-1876). Watercolor (wash and point of brush work) and gouache and graphite); 13-15/16 x 17 in. The Cleveland Museum of Art.

CLEVELAND, OH.- Recent acquisitions by the Cleveland Museum of Art include an Ikenga figure, a prime example of Igbo art from Nigeria; The Temple of Edfu: The Door of the Pylon, a sketch of an Egyptian temple by English watercolorist John Frederick Lewis; and Hans Haacke with Sculpture (2005), an assemblage by Rachel Harrison, an artist who has become one of the best-known sculptors of her generation. In addition, Lois Conner, who has photographed regularly throughout China since 1984, donated Zelan Tang, Yuanming Yuan (Pavilion for Nurturing Orchids, Garden Of Extended Spring) (2004) in memory of Mark Schwartz, a longtime friend and generous supporter of both the artist and the museum’s photography collection and program, who died in 2014.

Male Figure (Ikenga)
Ikenga received prayers, sacrifices in return for ancestors’ support, guidance

The Igbo constitute the largest ethnic group in southeastern Nigeria and their arts are among the country’s most varied and complex. The figure is an iconic example of an Igbo sculptural genre called ikenga. It depicts a man seated on a one-legged stool, holding a cutlass in one hand and a human skull turned upside down in the other. The ikenga would have been part of a shrine, where it would have received prayers and sacrifices in return for the ancestors’ support and guidance.

The figure wears an elaborate headdress comprised of two curving, interconnected horn-like extensions, with three projecting cone shapes on either side of the face. The horns, perhaps those of a ram, underline the male gender of the image. The figure’s forehead and temples are graced with parallel incisions imitating local scarification patterns known as ichi. The ichi scars signal that the sculpture represents a high-ranking member of one of the many Igbo male associations. The white color around the eyes, derived from chalk, signifies purity and protection, and refers to the benevolence of the spirits.

The ikenga figure is an important addition to the museum’s Nigerian holdings. It also adds a sculptural genre with widespread cultural connections, as it was shared by various different peoples across a vast geographic region.

The Temple of Edfu: The Door of the Pylon
Watercolor reveals artist’s keen sense of observation

John Frederick Lewis was the first English artist to spend an extended period in Egypt. He settled in Cairo in 1841, where he lived for nine and a half years. His watercolors––both those made on the spot and those finished in the studio after his return to England––reveal not only his direct, first-hand observation of his subjects, but also a personal involvement and sensitivity unparalleled in the work of his contemporaries.

This watercolor drawings, The Temple of Edfu: The Door of the Pylon, was created on an expedition up the Nile that Lewis and his wife made in 1849–50, visiting the region’s most celebrated archaeological sites. In his study of the ancient ruins at Edfu, Lewis carefully rendered the door through the pylon, revealing a view to a screen of columns in the court of the temple beyond. He painstakingly recorded the temple’s famous, well-preserved hieroglyphic inscriptions. However, the drawing transcends an archaeological or strictly topographical description of the temple complex. Startling in its restrained power and minimal approach, the composition is remarkably modern. The tan-colored sheet provides the composition’s basic palette, evoking the sandstone blocks used to build the temple and the expanse of the desert itself.

The drawing is exceptionally well preserved, the tan color of the paper unchanged, and the blue watercolor fresh. This acquisition further augments the museum’s collection of British drawings, and so it belongs to a decade-long effort documented in the exhibition and publication, British Drawings from The Cleveland Museum of Art (2013).

Hans Haacke with Sculpture
Contemporary sculpture poses questions about both history and art

During the 1990s, Rachel Harrison emerged as a prominent voice in contemporary art, well known for her intellect and humor, use of historical references, and appropriation of everyday objects and pop culture to question and comment on the rules and traditions that surround visual art.

In Hans Haacke with Sculpture, a digital scan of an oil painting of President Ronald Reagan, framed and attached to a piece of plywood, hangs at eye level, becoming the work’s avatar, its human face The image of the President is a reproduction of an oil painting created in 1982 by Hans Haacke, one of the founders of conceptual art. Harrison’s sculpture is human-scaled (75 inches tall) and takes on an anthropomorphic quality when installed in a gallery. The photograph is framed and hangs on a piece of plain plywood; behind the plywood plank is a globular form, a hallmark of Harrison’s work, that is made of polystyrene and wood, coated with cement, and painted a vivid pink and gold. Playing with the tradition of sculpture resting on a pedestal, Harrison places the plywood and the globular form on a wooden dolly meant for moving furniture. Created for the 4th Berlin Biennale in 2004, shortly after President Reagan’s death, Harrison’s sculpture questions the legacy of politics and culture—and their intersection.

Hans Haacke with Sculpture is currently on view in the museum’s exhibition, Gloria: Robert Rauschenberg & Rachel Harrison, through October 25.

Zelan Tang, Yuanming Yuan (Pavilion for Nurturing Orchids,Garden of Extended Spring), 2004
Photographer memorializes friend and museum trustee Mark Schwartz with triptych of waterlilies

Lois Conner photographed this triptych of waterlilies, Zelan Tang, Yuanming Yuan (Pavilion for Nurturing Orchids, Garden of Extended Spring), 2004, at Yuanming Yuan, or The Garden of Perfect Brightness, a major monument of imperial China dating from the 18th century. Destroyed by British and French troops as retribution for the murder of British envoys sent to negotiate a truce in the Second Opium War, the garden now serves both as a reminder of China’s “century of humiliation” (around 1840-1949) and a symbol of the goal of national revitalization.

Conner uses a 7 x 17-inch “banquet” camera, which yields a narrow rectangular image. When placed horizontally, it becomes a panoramic viewpoint, a format most often associated in Western art with landscape photography and the group portrait. In Asian art, however, this format recalls the elongated hand scrolls of Chinese landscape painting. Conner’s compositions reflect her deep understanding of the complex aesthetic of that genre, one rarely applied to photography. This monumentally scaled photograph, which measures 2 feet tall and 15 feet wide, is a digital print made by scanning film negatives and printing them with pigment ink.

Lois Conner is a Guggenheim Fellow whose photography is included in major museums worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Sackler Gallery, the National Gallery of Australia, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Cleveland Museum of Art owns another twenty-four photographs by Connor, all but one from the 1980s and 1990s. Zelan Tang represents Conner’s most recent work. The work was donated by the artist in memory of Mark Schwartz, her friend and a museum trustee who died in 2014.

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