Published: January 2, 2001
CLEVELAND, OHIO. – Director Katharine Lee Reid has announced that 12 works of art have been acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) as approved by the Board of Trustees. Among them are two major Chinese Tang dynasty sculptures, a Pair of Tomb Guardians dating from the late Seventh to early Eighth Century. Part beast and partly human and fierce in expression, these ceramic sculptures were funerary furnishings in a royal tomb and protected the deceased from evil spirits. This is the museum’s first acquisition of a tomb guardian pair.
These sculptures and other newly acquired works, including photographs by Edward Weston (1886-1958) and Henri Cartier-Bresson (born 1908); lithographs by the German artist Oskar Schlemmer (1888-1943); a pair of Alemannic fibulae (garment clasps, sixth to seventh century); and a drawing by American artist Myron Stout (1908-1987) will be exhibited in the recent acquisitions space through mid February.
The pair of zhenmoushou, or tomb guardians, features bold splashes of color and an ample coverage of blue glaze, Known as sancai ware, this particular type of ceramic has, in addition to its blue color, a three-colored glaze of amber, green, and white. One guardian has an animal head, like a snarling wolf, while flaming spikes surround the body. The other lion-like figure possesses a human face, with huge, glaring eyes and jaws tightened in anger.
“Visually speaking, these sculptures are truly magnificent,” explains Ju-his Chou, CMA’s curator of Chinese art. “It is not uncommon to hear viewers gasping when they first see them. The acquisition of this pair will place the museum in an enviable position of having the finest sancai sculptures outside of China.”
During the late 1920s to mid 1930s, pioneering photographer Edward Weston made his most famous photographs, including close-up studies of shells, vegetables, and portions of human body. CMA has acquired a rare print made during this period of intense creativity – the “Study of David Alberto’s Left Hand” circa 1930. Dramatically lighted, the fingers of the noted musician and composer’s hand are shown, in a totem-like position, representing artistic creativity, its will and discipline, and the universality of the understanding of aesthetic values. Reid notes, “This photograph, the only known print from the negative, is one of the best works by one of the masters of photography, a unique image of the hand of a musician by this artist famous for his shells and peppers.”
Supplementing the museum’s collection of Henri Cartier-Bresson photographs is “Calle Cuauhtemoctzin, Mexico City,” 1934, an important early example of photojournalism. Discarding bourgeois conventions and proprieties, Cartier-Bresson embraced the gritty realm of abandoned buildings, poor neighborhoods, and brothels, photographing his subject matter with a sympathetic attitude free of sentimentality. This photograph of a prostitute captures the open sensuality of her face and body language as she unabashedly confronts the camera lens. The cracked, old paint on the doorway where the young woman waits starkly contrasts with the satin texture of her skin.
Oskar Schlemmer, a contemporary of early Twentieth Century avant-garde artists Kl Lissitzky, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, and Kurt Schwitters, created “Play with Heads (Spiel mit Kopfen)” in 1923. His most important prints, the series of six color lithographs, title page, and portfolio cover, are extremely rare (there are only three other known sets). Unlike his colleagues who were investigating abstraction, Schlemmer was intensely interested in the human form. Variations on a theme, “Play with Heads illustrates a diverse arrangement of three heads. The artist, using a technique where ink is splattered onto the lithographic stone, printed each image in a different single color. The images are composed of simple geometric elements. Schlemmer’s figures are dispassionate, schematic renderings portraying the prototype for a purified, timeless image of man rather than a specific individual. This is CMA’s first acquisition of a work by this important German modernist.
The well-preserved, matched pair of fibulae-objects that functioned somewhat like modern safety pins-are a rare find in today’s art market, and will augment the museum’s Migration Period holdings. The art of the Germanic tribes that moved through Western Europe from the Third to the Seventh Century (in the so called “barbarian invasions”) was almost exclusively one of personal adornment- a portable art that followed men and women to their graves. Since buttons were not used in antiquity, fibulae wee needed to keep a cloak or garment closed and in place. These fibulae are made of case silver, which were then chased and engraved with abstract forms, a meandering “dot and vine” pattern, and gilded. The design of this pair is typical of fibulae associated with women’s graves.
Myron Stout, a noted practitioner of Twentieth Century abstract art, produced his first important paintings and drawings in the early 1950s, including an untitled charcoal drawing. Executed on off-white paper, the work depicts a four-sided, uneven polygon in white against a black background. It enhances the museum’s presentation of the development of abstraction in the second half of the Twentieth Century, complementing works by Ellsoworth Kelly, Franz Kline, Barnett Newman, and Louise Bourgeois.
In addition to these purchases, CMA acquisitions include the gift of the unique ceramic bowl “Cocktails and Cigarettes,” 1931 from Elizabeth Mather McMillan, now on view in the major exhibition “Viktor Schreckengost” and 20th Century Design.” Designed by Schreckengost, the piece is the only one of its kind. Featuring a brilliant Egyptian blue glaze, it is similar to CMA’s “Jazz Bowl” 1930 also on view in the exhibition. Another newly acquired work, “Blue Revel” 1931, was given by the artist’s nephew, Vik Schreckengost. His largest and most ambitious oil painting, it explores African-American culture an music.
The Contemporary Art Society of the CMA celebrated its 40th anniversary earlier this month by giving the museum a painting by the Argentinean artist Guillermo Kuitca (born 1961). “Crown of Thorns (songs on the Death of Children) [Corna de espinas (Kindertorenlierder)],” from 1994, is one of a group of Kuitca’s works from 1994-95 on the theme of crowns of thorns.
Reid thanked the society for its latest gift: “Almost since its inception, the society has generously strengthened the museum’s holdings. This addition, by on of the most important Latin American artists working today, significantly enhances our presentation of the art of our time.” The Kuitca painting, now on view in the contemporary galleries, it the Eighteenth gift of art from the Society since 1962.
A child prodigy, Kuitca started painting seriously at the age of six, and seven years later has his first solo show in Buenos Aires, where he continues to work and live. He transformed his previous series based on city street maps into tangled curvilinear patterns that evoke the menace of barbed wire.
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