MicroCosmos / Details from the Carpenter Collection of Arctic Art
Together with his wife, Adelaide de Menil, the late Edmund Carpenter assembled one of the world’s finest and most extensive collections of Old Bering Sea Paleo-Eskimo material culture. MicroCosmos is the first exhibition of this extraordinary body, primarily showcasing artifacts from the Old Bering Sea cultures of coastal Alaska and Siberia, ca. 250 BCE–1000 CE. Curated by Sean Mooney, the exhibition celebrates the spirit of Carpenter’s curiosity and his pursuit of the underlying cultural significances in Paleo-Eskimo expressive culture by exploring the animistic universe expressed in these objects.
Predominantly carved from walrus ivory, the most common material resource in the region, many of the artifacts are manifest in miniature, some only one centimeter tall. Yet their intense diminution allows for powerfully transcendent representations through which the arctic world of intertwined personae comes alive. In the Paleo-Eskimo narrative, humans and animals transform into each other with fluid ease by both spiritual and practical necessity. The finely carved works of art are representations of shamans in flight and mythical beasts in multiple forms. Seals and water fowl possess human heads, pregnant women have walrus tusks. Curious as these manifestations may seem, they demonstrate a collective cultural awareness and integrated naturalism that is astonishing in its accomplishment and virtuosity.
Along with the presentation of Paleo-Eskimo objects, the exhibition includes two late nineteenth-century Yup’ik storytelling dance masks used for cyclical ceremonies. The Yup’ik people of coastal Alaska are genetic descendants of the Old Bering Sea cultures from which many of their masking and dance traditions are believed to have originated over several thousands of years. Many of the dances celebrate seasonal activities, such as hunting or the changing weather, and the masks express characteristic dualities of Yup’ik shamanic metaphors: summer and winter winds; predator and prey; steadfastness and trickery.
Yup’ik peoples often created dance masks in matched oppositional pairs to assist in the narration of the dance, but many of these pairs later became separated. Very few remain united, especially in museum collections. For the first time in nearly a hundred years, the two masks will be reunited in this exhibition at the Menil. One mask represents a wolf, the other a caribou. Perfectly balanced, made by the same carver for the same dance, they are predator and prey, hunter and hunted, inextricable aspects of the same forces upon which arctic life depends, and always has. MicroCosmos is curated by Sean Mooney, Curator of the Edmund Carpenter Collection.
This exhibition is generously supported by the City of Houston.
Left Image: Female Doll Figure, Okvik/Old Bering Sea I, ca. 250 BCE-100 CE. Walrus ivory, 7 x 2 1/8 x 1 1/4 in. (17.8 x 5.4 x 3.2 cm).
The Rock Foundation, New York. Photo: David Heald
Right Image: Female Doll Figure, Okvik/Old Bering Sea I, ca. 200 BCE. Walrus ivory, 4 1/16 x 1 1/8 x 11/16 inches (10.3 x 2.9 x 1.7 cm).
The Rock Foundation, New York. Photo: David Heald
Okvik Doll, c. 200 BCE
Okvik Doll, c. 200 BCE
Apparitions: Frottages and Rubbings from 1860 to Now
The technique known as rubbing or frottage falls somewhere between drawing, printmaking, and sculpture, combining elements of all these mediums. It involves making an impression of an object through the transfer of its forms onto a sheet of paper, which is usually achieved by rubbing the paper over the object or incised surface with a marking agent such as graphite or wax crayon. The term frottage derives from the French frotter (to rub) and is most commonly associated today with the Surrealist artist Max Ernst and the idiosyncratic images that he created from a variety of surfaces, including wood and leaves, for his famous print portfolio Histoire Naturelle (1926). Ernst claimed that he discovered the technique in 1925, while gazing at the floorboards of his hotel room, and he regarded it as his contribution to automatism. As a type of automatic drawing, or a partially indirect process applied to achieve unpremeditated imaginary compositions, frottage became one of the key practices of Surrealist drawing.
Whether used for documentation or as a form of artistic expression, rubbings can be regarded as shadows of an object, and to a certain extent they can be seen as capturing a moment in time. Their spectral appearance evokes a sense of ghostliness—indeed, the artist Henri Michaux referred to his rubbings as “apparitions”—and their subjects are often traces of the human body or eerie remnants of a lost place or time. The exhibition Apparitions: Frottages and Rubbings from 1860 to Now will examine the use of this particular medium from the late nineteenth century to the present day. The technique itself is the element that links works by artists from different periods of the modern era, and from different parts of the world, including historical figures such as the Czech Surrealist Jindřich Štýrský; masters of twentieth century avant-garde movements like Arte Povera with Alighiero Boetti and Giuseppe Penone; members of the Pop Art movement such as Roy Lichtenstein and Jim Dine; and contemporary artists such as Mona Hatoum, Gabriel Orozco, and Zarina. The exhibition will also feature lesser known figures, such as the Czech artist Adriena Simotova, who recently passed away at the age of 91.
In fact, Ernst’s frottage technique is rooted in an important tradition of rubbing for artistic, historical, and scientific purposes that can be traced as far back as the sixth century AD. The transfers on paper of designs and inscriptions in ancient Chinese tombs, for instance, are sometimes all that remain of sites that have since disappeared. In Britain, there has been an enthusiasm for brass rubbings and the reproduction of tomb designs and memorial plaques in medieval churches since the early nineteenth century. Today, these works are more than mere records as they represent specific aesthetic choices of the “rubbers” of past eras. Over the centuries, leaf and plant rubbings have provided accurate reproductions of the natural world. Here too, careful compositional judgment was applied to the presentation of these reproductive works that nestle between art and science. Rarely exhibited examples of monumental British brass tomb rubbings and plant rubbings made for scientific purposes have been selected for the installation.
Apparitions will be the first museum exhibition to present an in-depth and comprehensive survey of a versatile technique that is both deeply rooted in art history and intrinsically current. Works by approximately 60 artists will be featured in the exhibition, which will be divided into loosely chronological and thematic sections. The eclectic yet singularly focused selection will demonstrate the multifaceted ways in which artists have played with this technique, using it to expand the traditional boundaries of draftsmanship. Apparitions is co-organized by the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, and The Menil Collection, Houston, and is curated by Allegra Pesenti. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue.
This exhibition is generously supported by Clare Casademont and Michael Metz, Nina and Michael Zilkha, Frost Bank, UBS Wealth Management/UBS Private Wealth Management, Janet and Paul Hobby,
Marilyn Oshman, Michael and Diane Cannon, and the City of Houston.
Support for the exhibition catalogue was provided by Furthermore: a program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund.
Do Ho Suh. Rubbing/Loving Project: Metal Jacket, 2014. Colored pencil on mulberry paper. 85.5 x 69 in. (217.2 x 175.3 cm).
©Do Ho Suh. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.
August 29, 2015 – February 21, 2016
MicroCosmos / Details
from the Carpenter Collection of Arctic Art
September 11, 2015 - January 3, 2016
Frottages and Rubbings
from 1860 to Now