Hopefully you are aware, the Museum will be closed for renovations from August 8th to October 12th. We are going to highlight 40 of our most outstanding artworks from the Museum’s permanent collection in a virtual gallery. One is pictured above, the Oceanic Skull Rack. Visitors will be able to peruse these images and get a good sense of the overall collection. This new virtual exhibition will open on August 9th, 2010 and be viewable on the Current Exhibitions page of our website.
Horizontal Suspension Hook (Skull Rack) New Guinea, Iatmul peoples, Middle Sepik River, first quarter of 20th century, wood, human hair, fiber, shells and traces of red pigment, 7 feet 6 inches long. Permanent Collection 1990.019. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Stephan Lion.
Executive Director George Bolge personally chose what would be included in this exhibition – no easy task. With more than 5,000 pieces in our collection, one could spend months combing through everything. In my day-to-day work, I constantly see things in storage for which I have an affinity, and find myself wishing for more wall space in the galleries. Alas, the renovations are not to expand the museum’s square footage but rather to improve upon the existing structure.
Joan Fontcuberta (Spanish, born in Barcelona, 1955 - ), Science and Friction (landscape), 1990, b/w photograph, 14 ˝ x 11 Ľ inches. Permanent Collection 1993.037. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Steinman.
In any event, I would like to highlight an artwork I find quite intriguing by contemporary photographer Joan Fontcuberta. Fontcuberta considers himself a conceptual artist who uses the photographic medium. His work often incorporates aspects of satire and mystery into its display, often by presenting fantastical things as though they were hard fact.
An excellent example would be his 1988 exhibition in conjunction with Pere Formiguera, “Fauna” at the Museum of Modern Art. Fontcuberta and Formiguera created a massive index of historical information to support the concept of the exhibition. They displayed photographs that showed hybrids of animals (see: winged monkey with unicorn horn, or, Centaurus Neandertalensis) like those pictured at natural history museums. To further prove their existence, Fontcuberta and Formiguera displayed field notes, scientific drawings, X-rays of the animals’ bodies and finally the “real deal” taxidermy mount.
Joan Fontcuberta, Solenoglypha Polipodida, b/w photograph, image from Presentation House Gallery
Roberta Smith, New York Times art critic reviewed the show and writes, “The photographs are sepia-colored, and mysteriously murky. The field notes are written in cramped script with faded brown ink. Questions abound: where, when and by whom were these creatures sighted? We read on, and it gradually emerges that the material under scrutiny purports to be from the recently rediscovered archives of a Dr. Peter Ameisenhaufen, a German zoologist, active in the 1930's and 40's, who devoted his life to tracking down and recording the exceptions to nature's grand evolutionary scheme.”
Read the entire New York Times review, A Furry-Footed Fish and Other Gallery Rogues
The Fontcuberta photograph from our collection, a dinosaur leg propped against a wall, also evokes freakish and unsettling images. His choice of subject matter – dinosaur parts, snakes with legs and other evolutionary oddities – reveals his interest in origin theory. One is never quite sure if he is poking fun at established evolutionary and religious tropes or if he is appealing to his audience in a serious manner.
Besides questioning the many theories of our collective origins, Fontcuberta also asks us to question the veracity of the photographic medium. To be sure, all his photographs appear real, as sepia-toned vestiges of a past to which we haven’t yet been privy. Fontcuberta constructs an alternative version of the past through seemingly genuine bits of history which is at turns both vexatious and persuasive.
Related Posts: Social Change Through Art