CLEVELAND, OHIO – The Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) has received a major new sculptural relief by contemporary artist Frank Stella as a gift from Agnes Gund and Daniel Shapiro. A Cleveland native and president of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Gund, with her husband, is a long-time supporter of the CMA. The new Stella is on view in CMA’s contemporary galleries.
Katharine Lee Reid, CMA director, comments: “We are enormously grateful to Ms Gund and Mr Shapiro for recognizing what a vital effect this new Stella would have on our contemporary galleries. Our museum is privileged to have friends such as these and our visitors will reap the benefits, seeing this latest work from one of America’s leading artists as a striking counterpart to a 1985 piece by him, also given by Agnes Gund.”
Made of aluminum pipe and cast aluminum, the monumental 1,715-pound work by Stella (born 1936) is more than ten feet high and projects nearly eight feet from the wall on which it hangs. It is part of the artist’s “Near East Series” and has the extensive title “Catal Huyuk (level VI B) Shrine VI B.1.” Stella derived this title from the religious shrines uncovered at the excavation site of the Neolithic town of Catal Huyuk (inhabited around 6000 BC) in modern-day Turkey. The paintings on plaster in these shrines are considered to be the earliest on man-made surfaces.
The museum’s 1985 Stella is the exuberantly painted metal relief “Giufa e la Statua de Gesso,” given by Agnes Gund in 1991 in appreciation of Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art founder Marjorie Talalay and her husband Anselm Talalay. The current exhibition “Sol LeWitt: Incomplete Open Cubes” represents another example of the couple’s ongoing commitment and generosity to the CMA; a grant from the Agnes Gund Foundation Trust supported the show.
A garnet-inlaid medieval belt buckle, a large-scale bronze of a Jain deity, and a stone head related to the ancient Mexican ballgame are among extraordinary examples of their types the museum has purchased this fall, enriching its global collections. The ballgame head is part of the newly reopened ancient American gallery.
A belt buckle, probably used to fasten the tunic of an elite woman in Sixth Century Spain, exemplifies the portable, personal adornment that dominates the artistic legacy of the Goths, the various Ger-manic and Near Eastern tribes who migrated throughout the European West between the Third and Seventh Centuries. Made of a sheet of gold foil applied over bronze, it is more than five inches long and inlaid with garnets cut into various shapes, pieces of colored glass and mother-of-pearl. The tongue of the buckle terminates in a stylized animal head, its eyes inset with garnets.
CMA’s Asian collection has important works from all three of ancient India’s major religions – Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Each tradition includes enlightened beings whose examples inspire believers. In Jainism the most common deities are Jinas, meaning “liberators” or “victors.” CMA’s newly acquired bronze (Tenth-Elev-enth Century, Rajasthan, Medieval period) depicts one of the 24 Jinas, and is, in director Reid’s words, “one of the greatest Jain bronzes in the US.” Stanislaw J. Czuma, the George P. Bickford Curator of Indian and Southeast Asian Art, believes it is the most im-portant Jain bronze he has been offered in his entire career. (He has been on CMA’s curatorial staff since 1972.)
Portrayed with broad shoulders, tapering torso and long, highly stylized limbs, it complements handsomely the life-size stone sculpture of roughly the same period in CMA’s collection. “The facial expression,” adds Czuma, “conveys self-assurance, wisdom and compassion.”
From the Gulf Coast of ancient Mexico comes a “Ballgame Thin Stone Head (Hacha),” in which a tapered headdress, its base formed by a grotesque, snouted head, soars majestically above a serene human face. Reid says, “This head is a sublime piece that is a focal point of our new presentation of ancient Amer-ican art.”
Sue Bergh, associate curator of art of the ancient Americas, notes that “the carving of the head is exceptionally sensitive and fine – the mouth in particular is beautifully detailed, and the lips part as though in speech.”
Such thin stone heads probably were used in ceremonies of the ancient American ballgame – no simple sport but one in which ballplayers’ lives were sacrificed in return for nature’s life-giving bounty. The identities of these sculptural heads are obscure. They could represent heroic, idealized players, ballgame patrons or characters from the game’s lore.
Photography was also added to the collection. An unforgettable image from the Dust Bowl years in the wind-eroded Oklahoma panhandle is by photojournalist Arthur Rothstein (1915-1985), the first photographer for the Resettlement Administration (later the Farm Security Administration); “Dust Storm, Cimarron County” (1936, printed about 1936-39) is one of the two best-known, most widely circulated photographs to symbolize the devastation of the land and the economic struggles of the 1930s (the other being by Dorothea Lange).
In this scene a farmer and his two young sons are pressing their way into the wind as they try to reach shelter in buildings nearly buried by drifts. Says curator of photography Tom Hinson, “This dramatic, expressive photograph is both a transcendent work of art and a document that communicates a message that is as compelling as it was then.”
The Oceana sand dunes, about halfway between Car-mel and Los Angeles, Calif., inspired some of the most abstract and lyrical landscapes by modernist Edward Weston (1885-1958), best known until these images for his close-ups of vegetables and female nudes. The new acquired “Dunes, Oceano” (1936) is one of the finest, in Hinson’s view, “being the most deeply shadowed with slivers of brilliant light, a classic Weston rendering of precision, serenity and delicacy.”
Weston’s contemporary, Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976) wedded her interest in botanical imagery with her then-evolving, straightforward photographic approach to create such bold, abstract images as the newly acquired “Black and White Lilies III” (about 1928), emphasizing the Calla lilies’ sculptural shapes and tones from velvety black to milky white.
Other collections were enriched as well. A pedestaled “Covered Cup (Coupe Cassolette),” more than 17 inches high, from the Sevres Factory in 1844, is the only example out of four known to have been made of this design that is believed to have survived. It was modeled by Hyacinthe-Jean Regnier (1802-1870) and elaborately decorated by Francois-Hubert Barbin and was probably given as a gift by Queen Marie-Amelie.
A most unusual collaborative work entering the collection is a youthful portrait of the great Chinese painter Hua Yan (1682-1756), painted by Wei Shijie (active late Seventeenth and early Eighteenth Century) over a landscape backdrop recently determined to be by Hua Yan himself. CMA’s curator of Chinese art, Ju-his Chou, made this discovery from careful study of the inscriptions on and around the painting, called “Portrait of Hua Yan against Mountain Ranges and Waterfalls” and traditionally assumed to be entirely by Wei Shijie. Portraits of Chinese artists are rare, and this is not only the earliest known portrait of Hua Yan, but also the first portrait of a Chinese artist to join the CMA collection.
Highlights among recent acquisitions also include “Portrait of Sardar Singh (Son of Savant Singh)” from about 1760, representing the Kishangarh School, one of the most admired and accomplished schools of Rajasthani painting; the remarkably early (1910) pure abstract painting “Differential Complex,” by Manierre Dawson; Regionalist painter Paul Starret Sample’s 1934 “Barber Shop”; the large “Fiber Form” (1972) by the late nationally renowned Cleveland textile artist Evelyn Svec Ward, given by William E. Ward; also for the textile collection, “Circular Evidence,” by the well-known American artist Jan Sauer, given by major contemporary art collectors Camille and Alex Cook; and a second “Pendant with Potnia Theron (Mistress of the Animals)” (East Greek, Rhodian, Seventh Century BC), given by James E. and Elizabeth J. Ferrell, from the same necklace as a pendant already in the collection.