CLEVELAND, OHIO — The Cleveland Museum of Art presents “Disembodied: Portrait Miniatures and Their Contemporary Relatives,” an exhibition showcasing the museum’s entire collection of portrait miniatures for the first time in more than half a century. The collection of around 170 objects spans six centuries, bridges eight European countries as well as America, and is considered one of the finest in North America.
The exhibition, on view in the museum’s prints and drawings gallery to February 16, presents the collection from a fresh perspective, including works by five prominent contemporary artists who explore issues of death, likeness, memory, identity, privacy and body-centered scale, themes that also deeply engaged miniature painters for more than 500 years. Featured are more than a dozen new acquisitions, many on view for the first time.
Portrait miniatures are usually small works painted in watercolor on vellum or on slivers of ivory, or executed in enamel, and first emerged at the courts of France and England in the Sixteenth Century. The objects were exchanged by friends, lovers and family members as tokens of affection and often commissioned on occasions of departure, marriage or death. They became popular because of the ease with which they could be made, paid for and transported compared to larger easel portraits. The objects might function as relics incorporating human hair, can be set in elaborate boxes or simple frames and were worn on the body or tucked away in a pocket.
The contemporary works included in the exhibition are by Janine Antoni, Luis González Palma, Tony Oursler, Dario Robleto and Hiroshi Sugimoto. These present-day works are placed in an intimate dialogue with the historic portrait miniatures, revealing new relationships and uncovering hidden secrets.
The exhibition is accompanied by an unusual, 88-page, double gate-fold book written by Cory Korkow, with artist Dario Robleto. The catalog presents five “Disembodied” exhibition themes, anchored by works from contemporary artists Dario Robleto, Janine Antoni, Tony Oursler, Luis González Palma and Hiroshi Sugimoto.
Each artist’s work is placed in dialogue with a group of related miniatures. Posing questions about the visual, emotional and intellectual relationships between these objects, the book considers the legacy of portrait miniatures and the timelessness of the motivations that inspired them. The reader is invited to simultaneously select and inspect more than 30 images while exploring the essays in this double book published by the Cleveland Museum of Art.
The Cleveland Museum of Art is at 11150 East Boulevard. For further information, www.clevelandart.org or 888-262-0033.