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After excavation, ancient artifacts embark on an afterlife of interpretation both academic and cultural. From Ancient to Modern: Archaeology and Aesthetics, which is on view at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (ISAW), explores how the archaeology of Mesopotamia reflected fashions and academia of the 1920s and 30s, and influenced contemporary art.
From Ancient to Modern is the first ISAW exhibition to include 20th and 21st century art alongside the ancient objects. Consistently, the ISAW with its two small galleries on the Upper East Side has been hosting smart, tightly told, free exhibitions showcasing significant artifacts not often seen in New York. From Ancient to Modern is especially worthwhile in the Sumerian sculptures and reconstructed jewelry of Ur, much on loan from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The addition of works by artists like Henry Moore, Alberto Giacometti, and Willem de Kooning emphasizes the broader impact of this ancient art on modern visual expression.
The 1922 Tutankhamun discovery ignited a fervor for archaeological treasure hunting, and that year a joint team from the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania led by Leonard Woolley descended on the Sumerian city-state of Ur, now in present day Iraq. The most stunning of their findings was the tomb of Queen Puabi, and Woolley’s wife Katherine envisioned a reconstruction of her headdress and diadem from the piles of lapis lazuli and carnelian beads in a style not dissimilar from the flapper headbands. Then from 1930 to 1937, four expeditions from the Oriental Institute, led by Henri Frankfort, exhumed gypsum Sumerian statues with wide eyes and folded hands, which Frankfort framed from the beginning as art rather than artifacts. Displays of field notebooks, intake journals, and archive photographs illustrate how archaeologists, curators, and academics immediately responded to the mid-third millennium BCE relics.
As the exhibition points out, the 1920s were the beginning of archaeological discoveries being publicized in the popular press. A newspaper clipping from the Illustrated London News shows Sumerian fashions and coiffures photographed like a fashion spread, while another example from the Philadelphia Inquirer has a bit more sensationalism: “Grim Tragedy of Wicked Queen Shubad’s 100 Poisoned Slaves.” Along with the more sober archaeological ephemera, they demonstrate Mesopotamian artifacts becoming part of popular culture.
The exhibition is a little less focused when it comes to the contemporary art, where Henry Moore’s sculptures are stated to be loosely inspired by the clasped hands of the Sumerian sculptures, and Alberto Giacometti more tangentially still by the vaguely comparable forms. However, the Willem de Kooning “Woman” (1953-54) painting is incredible, grinning from a flurry from color on the wall with Sumerian cat eyes. Echoing the later loss of Mesopotamian archaeological finds by war is a 20-photo grid by Jananne Al-Ani contrasting history, war, and contemporary life, while Michael Rakowitz’s assembly of facsimiles replicates through disposable packaging items looted from the National Museum of Iraq. Between the two galleries, one of the old, one of the new, From Ancient to Modern argues for archaeology as something with a constantly developing identity, one entwined in the history of art, and the aesthetics of its contemporaries.
From Ancient to Modern: Archaeology and Aesthetics continues at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World (15 East 84th Street, Upper East Side, Manhattan) through June 7.
“Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants—11.3 per 1,000 black babies, compared with 4.9 per 1,000 white babies, according to the most recent government data—a racial disparity that is actually wider than in 1850, 15 years before the end of slavery, when most black women were…
he ownership of images has a long and nuanced legal history, which has evolved dramatically in recent years as cultural standards and photographic technologies have rapidly advanced
The show, which honors the 50th anniversary of an exhibition history once ignored, continues a series of projects documenting Wilmington’s contemporary art scene.
Renty and his daughter Delia. Renty was an enslaved African, kidnapped from the Congo, sold and forced into slave labor on the South Carolina plantation of B.F. Taylor
What is the relation between possessing a person, possessing their image, and dispossessing their progeny
As a scholar of African American history and photography whose work has focused on the status of violent images in museums and archives, I fully support the validity of Ms. Tamara Lanier’s claim and the amicus brief.
Two K-12 art teachers will each receive a $1,000 cash gift and an additional $500 to put toward classroom art supplies. Nominations are due October 31.
The daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor, Delia, Drana, Alfred, Jack, George Fassena, and Jem remained in an unused storage cabinet until 1975, when it was discovered by an employee of the Peabody Museum.
I am writing in support of the amicus curiae brief submitted by Professor Ariella Aïsha Azoulay of Brown University for the full restitution of the daguerreotypes of Renty Taylor and his daughter Delia, currently held by Harvard University, to their familial descendant, Tamara Lanier.
We cannot be indifferent to the long-lasting effects of photography. The photographs at the center of Lanier v. Harvard are relentless in making Renty and Delia Taylor work and perform as slaves. The pain inflicted on them has not ceased. Photography has the capacity to propagate harm, and we have the moral obligation to interrupt…