The exhibition is curated by Dr. Mary (Polly) Nooter Roberts, Consulting Curator for African Art, LACMA, and Professor of World Arts and Cultures at UCLA, in collaboration with co-curator, Dr. Anne-Marie Bouttiaux, Head of the Ethnography Division, RMCA. In December 2011, Dr. Roberts was appointed to launch a program and establish a dedicated gallery for the arts of Africa at LACMA.
"As a museum of all cultures and all eras, I am proud to see a permanent space for the display of African art at LACMA," says Michael Govan, LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director. Since coming to LACMA last year, Polly Roberts has done an extraordinary job in building a foundation for our African art program. This is a new phase in a bold and important initiative for our collection."
Dr. Polly Roberts comments, “It is an honor to assist LACMA in the creation of a permanent and prominent presence for the arts of Africa at the museum. I am delighted to open LACMA’s new African gallery with Luba arts, which have been the focus of my scholarly research and curatorial work for over twenty years. Not only do these works represent the virtuosity of Central African artists, but they offer insight into a rich and complex African culture. Shaping Power presents exciting opportunities to teach about African history, while bringing greater visibility to African arts in Southern California. The elegance and cultural significance of these classical works demonstrates LACMA’s commitment to a program of aesthetic and intellectual magnitude to celebrate Africa’s great artistic legacies.”
Shaping Power conveys the beauty and complexity of Luba art and culture and presents one of Africa’s remarkable sculptural and philosophical traditions. While many Luba works appear to have utilitarian purposes, they are symbolic objects, imbued with spiritual attributes and esoteric knowledge. As treasures of kings, chiefs, titleholders, and diviners, they also served as emissaries to create affiliations extending the realm. Wide emulation of Luba aesthetics and political rituals further enlarged their reach. These same objects were and continue to be memory devices, encoding the histories and precepts of Luba kingship.
Royal emblems were vital to the formation and expansion of the Luba Kingdom, a highly influential central African state that has flourished for the past several centuries in what is now Katanga Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Sculpted thrones, magnificent scepters, and commemorative figures all played significant roles in shaping the powers of a sophisticated African royal culture.
The exhibition is organized thematically and explores the roles of sculpture in the investiture rites of a ruler, emphasizing how the works serve to transform an ordinary man into a sacred king; why Luba emblems depict women, and how the guardian spirits of Luba kingship are attracted to female figures that embellish the insignia of male officeholders; how commemorative works from neighboring groups reflect the widely influential aesthetics and precepts of Luba royal practice; and how certain objects possess powers of healing and transformation.
As the most emblematic of Luba royal arts, two caryatid stools are the first objects in the exhibition. The works are supported by kneeling female figures and once served as the thrones of kings. The stools provide a glimpse into the complex gendering of authority in Luba culture, for kings are represented by the women who surround, uphold, and empower them. As a Luba proverb states, “Men are chiefs in the daytime, but women are chiefs at night.” Dr. Mutombo Nkulu-Nsenga, a professor of Religious Studies at Cal State University Northridge and a member of a Luba royal family, states in a video near the entrance of the exhibition, “The king’s role is to protect the people, to ensure human flourishing, and to serve the spirit. At the center of this is life, and women are the ones giving life. The foundation of kingship is the women.”
Next, visitors encounter a mask so acclaimed that it has become the logo of the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium. This work of art, which has never been lent to any institution before, may allude to the cultural hero who introduced political practices to Luba people—that is, the etiquette and precepts of royal bearing. The mask combines a supremely regal human face and the inward gaze of a divine being with a coiffure that suggests buffalo horns conveying stealth and strength.
Shaping Power also features a finely rendered bowstand that served as a powerful receptacle of royal authority, a virtuoso investiture bowl called kiteya and supported by two figures, and an ethereal water-pipe graced by a serene female figure. Several works on display are by identifiable master hands. These include a kneeling bowl-bearing female figure by the celebrated artist known as the Buli Master, whose honorific name Ngongo ya Chintu means “Father of Sculpted Things” and whose workshop was the first identified in Africa by art historians. Two jewel-like headrests by the so-called Master of the Cascade Headdress are also on view, and were used as wooden pillows by high-ranking persons to protect elaborate hairstyles for which the Luba were celebrated. A memory board, or lukasa, on loan from a private collection, is made from wood and covered with beads. The Luba describe memory as a string of beads documenting events, people, and places. This device is a library of Luba historical knowledge, encoding memories of the past to retell in the present. The colors and configurations of its beads prompt recitations of Luba royal precepts by court historians called “men of memory.”
To complement these historical Luba works, a contemporary installation entitled Congo: Shadow of the Shadow (2005) by Aimé Mpane has been borrowed from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art. A male figure formed from 4,652 matchsticks expresses the paradoxes of human fragility and strength as light plays against shadow, substance against ethereality. There results a gripping commentary on how power was re-shaped during and since the years of Belgian colonial rule in the Congo.
Shaping Power is presented in LACMA’s newly renovated African gallery in the museum’s Hammer Building. The dedicated space is next to the Egyptian gallery, fostering understanding of the relationships between sub-Saharan Africa and ancient Egypt as part of the shared continent of Africa.
African Art at LACMA
LACMA’s growing collection contains approximately 200 works, including masks, figures, textiles, furniture, and body adornments from across the continent. The African art gallery will feature rotating temporary displays for the first years of its existence representing the dynamic spectrum of African artistic production from historical to contemporary arts. Works of art from the permanent collection will be featured in forthcoming installations, as will African textiles from LACMA’s Department of Costume and Textiles. The museum also has the beginnings of a collection of important contemporary arts of Africa, including works by El Anatsui, William Kentridge, Julie Mehretu, Zwelethu Mthethwa, and Magdalene Odundo.
2. LONDON.- "Beyond El Dorado: Power and Gold in Ancient Colombia"17 October 2013 – 23 March 2014. For centuries Europeans were dazzled by the legend of a lost city of gold in South
In ancient Colombia gold was used to fashion some of the most visually dramatic and sophisticated works of art found anywhere in the Americas before European contact. This exhibition will feature over 300 exquisite objects drawn from the Museo del Oro in Bogotá, one of the best and most extensive collections of Pre-Hispanic gold in the world, as well as from the British Museum’s own unique collections. Through these exceptional objects the exhibition will explore the complex network of societies in ancient Colombia – a hidden world of distinct and vibrant cultures spanning 1600 BC to AD 1700 – with particular focus on the Muisca, Quimbaya, Calima, Tairona, Tolima and Zenú chiefdoms. This important but little understood subject will be explored in this unique exhibition following on from shows in Room 35 such as Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind, Grayson Perry: Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World and Kingdom of Ife: sculptures from West Africa in shining a light on world cultures through their craftsmanship.
Although gold was not valued as currency in pre-Hispanic Colombia, it had great symbolic meaning. It was one way the elite could publicly assert their rank and semi-divine status, both in life and in death. The remarkable objects displayed across the exhibition reveal glimpses of these cultures’ spiritual lives including engagement with animal spirits though the use of gold objects, music, dancing, sunlight and hallucinogenic substances that all lead to a physical and spiritual transformation enabling communication with the supernatural. Animal iconography is used to express this transformation in powerful pieces demonstrating a wide range of imaginative works of art, showcasing avian pectorals, necklaces with feline claws or representations of men transforming into
The exhibition will further explore the sophisticated gold working techniques, including the use of tumbaga, an alloy composed of gold and copper, used in the crafting the most spectacular masterworks of ancient Colombia. Extraordinary poporos (lime powder containers) showcase the technical skills achieved both in the casting and hammering techniques of metals by ancient Colombian artists. Other fascinating objects will include an exceptional painted Muisca textile and one of the few San Agustín stone sculptures held outside Colombia. Those, together with spectacular large scale gold masks and other materials were part of the objects that accompanied funerary rituals in ancient Colombia.
Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum said “Ancient Colombia has long represented a great fascination to the outside world and yet there is very little understood about these unique and varied cultures. As part of the Museum’s series of exhibitions that shine a light on little known and complex ancient societies this exhibition will give our visitors a glimpse into these fascinating cultures of pre-hispanic South America and a chance to explore the legend of El Dorado through these stunning objects.”
spectacular bats though the use of profuse body adornment.
America. The truth behind this myth is even more fascinating. El Dorado – literally “the golden one” – actually refers to the ritual that took place at Lake Guatavita, near modern Bogotá. The newly elected leader, covered in powdered gold, dived into the lake and emerged as the new chief of the Muisca people who lived in the central highlands of present-day Colombia's Eastern Range. This stunning exhibition, sponsored by Bank Julius Baer, will display some of the fascinating objects excavated from the lake in the early 20th century including ceramics and stone necklaces.
PARIS.- An art expert, dealer and collector, Charles Ratton (1897-1986) had a profound impact on the history of artistic taste and played a significant role in increasing awareness of "primitive" art in the world. The musée du quai Branly is presenting the first exhibition examining the career of this great historic figure in the art market, a major promoter of primitive art whose activity and passion played a significant role in the acceptance of "primitive" objects as works of art.
His sensitivity and scholarship, forged through his activity as a dealer in objects from the "Hautes époques" (Middle Ages and Renaissance period) led Charles Ratton to take an interest in African court arts – Dahomey, Ashanti, Grassfields – then in the ancient objects of Oceania and the Americas, and – unusually for the period – in objects of Eskimo art.
More than 200 works (representing ancient, Asiatic and primitive arts, but also avant-garde works)
"The unknown arts, that's to say those of Pre-Colombian America, Africa and Oceania, began to interest him enormously. He realised that these arts that we inaccurately term 'primitive' obey the same laws and are deserving of the same esteem as the classical arts and those of Asia, the latter being known and appreciated themselves for scarcely forty years. He decided to devote himself entirely to them." ---Charles Ratton about himself.
The universe of Charles Ratton – between curiosity and scholarship
A native of Mâcon, Charles Ratton studied at the École du Louvre in Paris before the First World War interrupted his studies for four years. He was initially interested in the Middle Ages, and then more broadly in what was then termed the "Hautes époques". Introduced to Africa by encounters with the "mode nègre" launched by the Cubists, in the 1920s he expanded his curiosity to the Americas and Oceania.
The first space in the exhibition, designed as a cabinet of curiosities, reconstructs Charles Ratton's office with the works and furniture which is still preserved in the Ladrière collection. This reconstruction also presents photographs of Charles Ratton, his family and friends, together with his notes and sketches, which provide evidence of his extremely precise method of working.
This introduction also provides the opportunity to re-examine the situation of the "negro" arts in 1920, the roles played by Guillaume Apollinaire, Paul Guillaume, the artists André Derain, Georges Braque etc. and the links that united Charles Ratton with the Surrealist movement of the 1920s.
An assemblage of works from a variety of periods – Antiquity, the Middle Ages – and provenances – the Far East, Africa, Oceania and the Americas – bear witness to his curiosity and scholarship.
The surrealist dealer and activity in the United States
Established at 76 Rue de Rennes, followed by 39 Rue Laffitte and, from the end of the 1920s until his death, at 14 Rue de Marignan, on 19 March 1927 Charles Ratton obtained authorisation to exercise the profession of antique dealer using his home as his gallery. He also acted as a valuer for the Hôtel Drouot auction house from 1931. He distinguished himself very rapidly through his continuous activity as a defender – even as a propagandist – for the arts then termed "primitive" of Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania.
He became established as the learned connoisseur of disregarded and poorly understood cultures by creating for himself the status of scholarly art dealer. In this way, he developed a network of purchasers and lenders in which wealthy amateurs rubbed shoulders with impoverished avant-garde artists and Surrealist poets. Charles Ratton very quickly understood that he must act on an international level, establishing himself in the United States and employing all modern means of communication such as the press, photography and film.
The exhibition is based on the numerous exhibitions and sales in which he participated. The dates of the exhibition are 25 June to 22 September 2013.
Through the evocation of art dealer and collector Charles Ratton, the exhibition pays tribute to the eye of an expert who left his mark on the history of the perception of “primitive” art by promoting objects that deviated from the ruling taste of the moment for “Negro” art: his activity as a dealer of “Haute Epoque” objects probably explains his distinctive approach to the arts of Africa and Oceania characterized by a particular sensitivity to court arts (Dahomey, Ashanti, Grassfields), antiques (for Oceania and the Americas) or atypical pieces (Eskimo art). His closeness to museum circles and his scientfic curiosity, evidenced in the abundant archives he left behind, helped enhance his expertise.
Through his work as an expert and the exhibitions he organised, he participated in the shift of status of works of art from Africa and Oceania: from “objects of anthropological study” to “works of art” in the 1930s, on to “masterpieces” in the 1960s, in France and in the United States. Exploring his relationship with surrealist artists (André Breton, Paul Eluard), Jean Dubuffet and with photography, whether “documentary” or artistic (Man Ray), also allows the visitor to better understand this movement towards art and history.
ST. PAUL, MINN.- The Science Museum of Minnesota hosts the world premiere of Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed, a brand-new, original exhibition that sheds light on this mysterious and majestic culture and its remarkable achievements.
The ancient Maya have captured our imaginations since news of the discovery of ruined cities in the jungles of Central America was published in 1839. Extensive research has uncovered a culture with a sophisticated worldview that, during its Classic period (250-900 AD), rivaled any civilization in Europe. During this period, the Maya built elaborate cities without the use of the wheel, communicated using a sophisticated written language, measured time accurately with detailed calendar systems, and had an advanced understanding of astronomy and agriculture.
At 15,000 square feet, Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed is the largest exhibition about the ancient Maya ever to be displayed in the United States. It uses a combination of never-before-seen artifacts, hands-on activities, and immersive environments – including re-creations of an underworld cave, the starry night sky, and a vibrantly-colored mural room – to explore the rise and eventual decline of this fascinating culture’s ancient cities.
Maya is designed to give visitors a glimpse at a cross-section of Maya life – from divine kings who ruled powerful cities to the artisans and laborers who formed the backbone of Maya society. Visitors can also get a close look at the scientific work being carried out at key Maya sites across Central America to understand exactly how we know what we know of the once-hidden ancient Maya culture.
Highlights of Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed include:
• more than 300 authentic artifacts, including spectacular examples of Maya artistry made by masters of their craft, along with objects from everyday life. Examples include an inkpot made out of a seashell from Cahal Pech, a Maya site in Belize, which still retains the dried pigment colors, hundreds of years after active use; a full assemblage from the tomb of Great Scrolled Skull in Belize that contains a jade mosaic mask, numerous vessels and figurines, and more.
•dozens of hands-on activities that dig into Maya life during the Classic period. Visitors have a chance to decipher glyphs, build corbeled arches, explore tombs, investigate the Maya understanding of math and astronomy, and more.
• several replica large-scale carved monuments, or stelae, that were erected in the great plazas of Maya cities. Their inscriptions have given scholars valuable insight into ancient Maya history – from royal succession to political conflicts and great battles.
• an exploration of Maya architecture – from its awe-inspiring temples to the simple homes of the common people. Visitors can see a huge re-created portion of a famous frieze, or richly ornamented exterior wall portion, from the El Castillo pyramid in Xunantunich, a Maya civic ceremonial center.
They’ll wonder at its size and detail, and then watch as we use modern technology to make the ancient frieze’s vivid colors emerge once again to their original vibrancy.
• a re-creation of the elaborate royal tomb of the Great Scrolled Skull in Santa Rita Corozal, a Maya site in Belize. Visitors can see the full tomb assemblage, which features jade, jewels, pottery and more, and explore the fascinating story that the artifacts tell us about the politics and economics of this Maya city.
• an examination of the concepts of ritual and human sacrifice that allowed the Maya to transcend the earthly world and speak with the gods of the underworld. Visitors can see the concepts of death and rebirth – concepts that were essential to the Maya – arise again and again throughout the exhibition. artdaily.org
Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed is at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul through January 5, 2014.