Archive for March, 2018

Cultural Exchange in Asante History

Cultural exchange takes many forms, historically ranging from forced interaction in war, colonization, slavery, and looting, to the peaceful sharing of items, ideas, and practices. With this nuanced transformation of “cultural exchange” over time, I’d like to offer a sneak peek into the abundance of it in the DMA’s upcoming exhibition, The Power of Gold: Asante Royal Regalia from Ghana. The Asante still exist today with many traditions and international influences, so I hope you recognize a few in the show.

A subgroup of the Akan peoples, the Asante established their empire (1701-1957) in modern-day Ghana. Especially after the 14th century, trans-Saharan trade increased interaction between the Akan in West Africa and Arab and Berber merchants of the Middle East and North Africa, who brought not only salt in exchange for gold, but also the Arabic language and Islamic aesthetic, too. Compare this 12th century Iranian inkwell to this Asante casket kuduo:

Shared elements include the brass material, structural shape, and various etchings decorating the surfaces. Function differed according to needs and tastes: the inkwell for writing, and the kuduo for storing gold dust and nuggets. Calligraphy encircles the inkwell lid, yet also seems to be absorbed into the body of the kuduo, alongside medallions and floral motifs. The Asante found inspiration in Islamic art and calligraphic linearity, mixing a love of geometric patterns with newly adapted horizontal bands of sectioned patterns. These abstract qualities may then illustrate Asante reflections on their past and contemporary sights, in hopes of replicating imagery seen on merchants’ goods, since Islamic influence remained strong throughout the centuries.

Muslims were not the only ones to influence Asante cultural production; 19th century colonizers also imparted their imagery on West Africa. The Asante have a wide array of traditional proverbs and imagery that form the “verbal-visual nexus.” This link probably developed alongside Akan hierarchies, so that royal regalia and materials could help visibly demonstrate the grandeur of kingship. Visible signs range from items like books and foodstuffs, to animals such as porcupines, crocodiles, and leopards.

Proverbs describe aspects of life that can be understood as advice or lessons for the community. Here’s one: “When rain beats on a leopard it wets him, but it does not wash out his spots.” In terms of the leopard’s spots being washed away, this may reference the careful attention a king gives to his character, so as not to ruin his reputation in the kingdom. The British Empire brought with them to Ghana their royal coat of arms, which is thought to have popularized the lion in Asante art. Representations of the Asantehene (ruler, king) thus shifted from the leopard to the lion, as seen in this proverb: “A dead lion is greater than a living leopard.” So, even stemming from colonial presence, we see the Asante adopting desirable foreign elements and making them their own.

Sword ornament in the form of a lion, Asante peoples, Ghana, Africa, c. mid-20th century, cast gold and felt, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc. 2010.2.McD

A final example of exchange can be found in our very own backyard. In 1991, Nana Lartey Kwaku Esi II, the crowned head of the Asona (another subgroup of the Akan), enstooled four African Americans in Dallas, bringing Ghanaian royalty to the Metroplex. The enstooled are tasked with disseminating a love of the homeland and possess some of their own royal regalia, including gilded hats and footwear and kente cloths. In addition to sharing uplifting words, such as “we are all one human being under God,” Nana Lartey Kwaku Esi II sought to ensure that African culture, in a Ghanaian context, was shared with those in the U.S. that wish to reclaim their roots. These actions demonstrate the depth and spread of cultural influence in our country and prove that the Asante not only have a living culture, but also ideas worth spreading.

To learn more about the Asante, check out these resources:

  • Doran H. Ross, The Arts of Ghana (Regents of the University of California: Los Angeles, 1977), 9-10.
  • Robert Sutherland Rattray, Ashanti Proverbs: The Primitive Ethics of a Savage People (Clarendon Press: London, 1916), 63.
  • Doran Ross, Gold of the Akan from the Glassell Collection (Merrell Publishers, 2003), 67.
  • James D. Webster, Dallas Weekly, Ghana to Dallas: A Royal Exchange is Coming to America (Oct. 10-16, 1991), 13.
  • Raymond A. Silverman, Akan Transformations: Problems in Ghanaian Art History, edited by Doran H. Ross and Timothy F. Garrard (Regents of the University of California: Los Angeles, 1983).

Tayana Fincher is the McDermott Intern for African Art at the DMA.

I Wanna Dance With Somebody

This week the prep team installed a pastel by artist Edgar Degas (1834-1917) in the European Art galleries for a special viewing through April 15. Ballet Dancers on the Stage joins two other pieces by Degas currently on view—a bronze sculpture titled The Masseuse, and a small etching, Dancer on Stage, Taking a Bow. Works on paper like Ballet Dancers on the Stage require long periods of rest in between exhibitions to preserve their light-sensitive materials, so it is always exciting when they go on view.

Edgar Degas, Ballet Dancers on the Stage, 1883, Pastel on paper, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. And Mrs. Franklin B. Bartholow, 1986.277

Edgar Degas, The Masseuse, 1896-1911, Bronze, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc., 1965.26.McD

Edgar Degas, Dancer on Stage, Taking a Bow, 1891-1892, Aquatint and soft-ground etching on paper, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. And Mrs. Alfred L. Bromberg, 1956.83

Edgar Degas was a French artist working in the second half of the 19th century who has become well-known for his paintings and pastels of ballet dancers. It is important to note that while Degas focused on the subject of ballet for over twenty years, he was interested in depicting many aspects of modern life. The DMA’s collection includes seven works by Degas with subjects ranging from ballerinas and bathers to an opera singer and a masseuse.

Dated 1883, Ballet Dancers on the Stage is a later work that reflects his involvement with the Impressionist group and his interest in Japanese woodblock prints.

Here are a few things to look for when you see the pastel in person:

• Try to count how many complete or partial ballerinas are in this scene and which arms go with each figure. Notice how Degas used brown outlines to define the forms of dancers’ bodies and costumes in the foreground, but he abandoned these outlines in the background and the figures lose clarity. Everything from the pastel’s sketch-like finish, to its varied levels of focus, and its jam-packed composition communicate that this is a fleeting moment of action. Similar to the experience of attending a ballet, we only get the finer details of the dancer who is closest to us.

• It looks like we are viewing the dancers from above and to the right, and within close range. This scene is from the perspective of an abonné or season ticket holder, who would have been seated in a box to the side of the stage. Abonné are supporters of the ballet who Degas sometimes portrayed as men in top hats.

• Notice how Degas has created an asymmetrical composition by tightly grouping the dancers in the upper right section of the paper while leaving the lower left corner open. Beginning in the 1850s Japanese woodblock prints were imported into Europe and they served as inspiration for many artists including Degas. Traditionally, Japanese woodblock artists create asymmetrical, diagonal compositions in which the vantage point off to one side rather than straight on. This 1834 print by Ando Hiroshige, Shono: A Rain Shower, is an example of a 19th-Century Japanese woodblock like those Degas might have seen. Notice the similarities in how these two artists have constructed their scenes.

Edgar Degas, Ballet Dancers on the Stage, 1883, Pastel on paper, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. And Mrs. Franklin B. Bartholow, 1986.277
Ando Hiroshige, Shono: A Rain Storm, 1834, Woodblock print, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Marcus, 1984.202.46

• The light source appears to be coming from the bottom left, presumably from gas foot lamps lining the edge of the stage. Notice how the lower left corner is lighter and the areas of the ballerinas’ bodies directly facing that corner have strong highlights.

• Degas was a master at using pastels to layer color. Here he uses the color of the paper as the shading for his figures and layers colors like white, blue, pink and yellow to create depth. His repetition of the color yellow in particular carries your eye through the entire scene.

Don’t miss your chance to see this object in person. It will be on view through April 20 and is included in the Museum’s free general admission.

Jessie Frazier is Manager of Adult Programming at the DMA

More than Meets the Eye

In just over a week the DMA will host the acclaimed exhibition Laura Owens which is organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. The exhibition explores the career and whimsical world created by contemporary artist Laura Owens. Prior to the arrival of the exhibition, the DMA Member magazine Artifacts was able to talk with Amy Baumann, Owens’ Studio Manager, about the process of creating the unique and exceptionally beautiful exhibition catalogs:

This spring, visitors will encounter paintings on a monumental scale in the mid-career survey of American painter Laura Owens. Owens is also known for her work on a much more intimate scale, as a book artist. Her Los Angeles art space and studio even hosts Ooga Booga, an independent art bookseller. She shares this love of books through her gorgeously crafted catalogue, a deep dive into her life and career, containing memorabilia from her artistic formation and essays from experts in diverse cultural fields.

What is most surprising is that every catalogue contains a unique cover, screen printed by hand in the artist’s studio—a mammoth undertaking that involved a crew of five studio assistants working for over three months.

I talked with Amy Baumann, Owens’ Studio Manager, about the process of fabricating over 8,500 unique books, each one functioning as a work of art that visitors can take home with them.

Anna Katherine Brodbeck:
Can you speak about the genesis of this ambitious project?

Amy Baumann: Screen printing has been a big part of Laura’s work in the last five years. When she first approached us with the idea for the covers, we said, “Great! How do you want to do this?” This resulted in the book covers being created by the build-up of layers upon layers of images, much like her paintings.

AKB: What is the source material for the diverse imagery?

AB: Laura started by selecting patterns used in her paintings, such as a bitmap made from a scan of crumpled paper and vintage wallpaper overlays. She also chose some basic shapes that we printed as vectors, and more complex images that we printed using CMYK process. We made a chart listing the various elements to make sure we maxed out the possible combinations. They had to be random and not repeat. We came up with a system to put all the covers in production simultaneously, organizing them in piles at various stages of production. Laura wanted the print crew to choose the layers and how they were used in order to promote more randomness, but she would change the way the layers were used during the process, sometimes requesting a different scale or image, or shifting the color palette.

Anna Katherine Brodbeck is The Nancy and Tim Hanley Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art at the DMA.

Arturo’s Wrinkle in Time

Spring break at the DMA is not about WHERE you go—it’s WHEN you go! We’re creating a makeshift time travel machine, and you’re invited to take a ride. With four floors of art from across the globe and throughout time, it’s not too difficult to imagine a wrinkle in time that allows you to jump across continents and centuries. Arturo volunteered to take the maiden journey and show us just how easy it is!

From a quick stop in ancient Egypt…

To searching for animals in modern Nigeria…

To kicking up dust in Depression-era Texas…

To saying hello to Mr. President…

To hiking through the Andes for ancient royal treasure–the DMA is everyWHEN you wanna be!

Want to go on your own time travel adventure? Join us every day during the week of spring break, March 13-16 for free family fun. But remember to watch out for wormholes!

Leah Hanson is the Manager of Family and Early Learning Programs at the DMA

Pivotal Women Artists at the DMA

March is Women’s History Month—a designation that was nationally recognized in 1987 due to the hard work of five California-based women who started the National Women’s History Project (NWHP) initiative. Each year, there has been an annual theme, with this year’s being “Nevertheless She Persisted: Honoring Women Who Fight All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.” This month is an opportune time to think about the pivotal women artists and movements that have affected my practice as an art historian and museum educator.

Throughout Western art history, women artists have been under- and misrepresented in the art canon. These problematic biases against women of all racial and class backgrounds have been discussed by artists, art historians, and activists alike. Through collectives like the Combahee River Collective, organized by black and queer feminists, and the Guerrilla Girls, who produce on-going campaigns against male-dominated exhibitions (and many more!), women have fought and continue to fight for their existence to be known in spaces that downplay their contributions to the art world. Though there has been great work done by curators, art historians, and museum institutions to revise history and work toward a more equal representation of artists, there is still a copious amount of work to be done.

The DMA’s collection boasts a number of women artists, such as Julie Mehretu, Yayoi Kusama, Georgia O’Keeffe, Berthe Morisot, and others. Below are a few artists whose work is currently on view in the Museum who made innovative contributions to the art canon and the world at-large.

Bridget Riley, Rise 2, 1970, acrylic on canvas, Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. James H. Clark, 1976.52.FA,  © 1970 Bridget Riley

Bridget Riley is a foundational artist for Op-Art, a style that transformed geometric shapes into optical illusions in order to create a sense of movement. Riley’s name has become synonymous with Op-Art, as her original black-and-white works gained an incredible amount of followers and multiple art prizes in the early to mid-1960s. In the latter part of the decade, Riley explored using colors in her works of art, like Rise 2, to further add elements of instability and illusionistic movement.

Riley’s works of art inspired and infiltrated 1960s pop culture, most notably the fashion industry with the black-and-white houndstooth checkered print seen in the popular mod aesthetics of the time. Due to Riley’s captivating work and popularity, this fashion trend continues to hold weight, as Vogue highlighted Riley in a editorial titled “Why 60s Op-Art Painter Bridget Riley Is the Secret Muse of the Fall 2014 Runway.” Although her work influenced the style of the 1960s, Riley did not enjoy the commodification and commercialization of her art.

Renee Stout, Fetish #1, 1987, monkey hair, nails, beads, cowrie shells, and coins, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Roslyn and Brooks Fitch, Gary Houston, Pamela Ice, Sharon and Lazette Jackson, Maureen McKenna, Aaronetta and Joseph Pierce, Matilda and Hugh Robinson, and Rosalyn Story in honor of Virginia Wardlaw, 1989.128, © Renee Stout, Washington, D.C.

Renee Stout’s move to Washington, DC, in 1985 had a monumental affect on her artistic practice as she sought to understand her identity as a Black-American woman. Her time in DC exposed her to the arts of Western and Central Africa, particularly the Kongo peoples’ nkisi nkondi power figures, an example of which is on view in our African galleries. Through these healing power figures, Stout explores the ritualistic and spiritualistic sides of a possible ancestral tie to the African continent, as seen in Fetish #1. Within this object there are many additive and textural components, as there are with nkisi nkondi figures; however, Stout’s object lacks facial features, adding a mysterious quality that mirrors her feelings toward her personal ancestral past. Click here to learn more about Stout and this work of art in one of the DMA’s Gallery Talks.

Raquel Forner, Apocalypsis, 1955, oil on composition board, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Art Association Purchase, 1959.47

Although born in Buenos Aires, Raquel Forner spent a majority of her childhood in Spain due to her father’s Spanish heritage. During this time, Forner became interested in the arts and began training back in her birth city. While briefly teaching at the National Academy of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires, she exhibited across the city, with her first solo show in 1928. After traveling back and forth between Europe and South America in the 1930s, she started to borrow ideas from the Surrealism movement, such as distorted perspectives and figures; however, Forner was not interested in interpreting her dreams like Surrealist artists—she wanted to apply these distorted forms to real world situations such as the 1936 Spanish Civil War and the 1955 Argentine social uprisings. The latter event influenced her Apocalypse painting, where she created abstract land forms and overlapping movement of figures to highlight the confusion and negative aspects human conflict creates. This painting was exhibited in the landmark 1959 exhibition South American Art Today at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, the predecessor of the DMA. Fifteen works of art from the exhibition were later purchased by the DMA, and nine of those works can currently be seen in the Latin American Gallery, including Forner’s Apocalypse.

Yohanna Tesfai is the McDermott Graduate Intern for Gallery and Community Teaching at the DMA.

Flower Power

Edward Steichen: In Exaltation of Flowers is in bloom until May 13, so while we still have these colorful, one-of-a-kind murals on our walls, we hosted a workshop all about florals. The program began with a tour in the exhibition where the group learned more about Steichen’s social scene and the friends that he immortalized in this artwork. Participants saw how Steichen used flowers as symbols for the different people in the murals and how his passion for horticulture lent itself to extremely realistic depictions. After the tour, everyone chose their own flowers to create their personal still life. The group then learned watercolor techniques from local artist Carol Ivey, who paints minutely detailed still lifes. By the end of the workshop, everyone had bloomed into new watercolor painters and departed with their finished work and brushes to continue practicing.

If you missed the workshop but want to learn more about Edward Steichen, his murals, and his love of flowers, join us on Thursday, April 26, at 7:00 p.m. for an exhibition talk by Jessica Murphy, Manager of Digital Engagement, Brooklyn Museum.

 

Katie Cooke is Manager of Adult Programming at the DMA. 

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