art

A Tale of Two Cleopatras: Comparing and Contrasting Art

Happy Thursday, friends! After a recent trip to Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, I found myself with a few art photos that I wanted to share with you all, but I wanted to do something a little different. Instead of sharing the photos and simply telling you what I think about it, I decided that it would be more fun to compare the art with a similarly themed piece that I’ve also viewed in person. That way, I can describe the similarities, differences, and which piece I favor most.

(from left to right) Edmonia Lewis, The Death of Cleopatra; William Wetmore Story, Cleopatra

As you can see from the title, I’m comparing two marble Cleopatras today. The first work was part of my review of Edmonia Lewis’s work at the Archives of American Art (housed in the Smithsonian American Art Museum). Lewis’s The Death of Cleopatra was easily one of my favorite marble works of art at the museum.

IMG_3574

Photos of Lewis’s version of Cleopatra

The second Cleopatra is by William Wetmore Story, and is located at VMFA. This Cleopatra – his earliest version of the tragic Egyptian queen – is located in the American galleries at the museum. The massive work sits imposingly in the gallery and, in true queenly fashion, all other art in the room are dwarfed by the stunning Cleopatra.

img_5822

To keep this focused strictly on the works themselves, I avoided reading up on Wetmore Story. So there won’t be a comparison of the artists’ lives or legacies, but we will get into these pieces and discuss what they have in common and how they differ.

For starters, the subject is the same with both pieces. Both depict Queen Cleopatra, and (interestingly) both of the pieces portray her as having traditionally Greco-Roman facial features (kudos to the artists for remaining historically accurate when it came to her face). Both statues are massive: Lewis’s is a bit taller, but the posture is different, so they are actually very close in size. Amusingly, both also depict Cleopatra with one breast exposed. Perhaps they knew something about traditional Egyptian dress that I don’t?

While both of these Cleopatras are regal and elegant, the theme of the works couldn’t be more different. Wetmore Story’s Cleopatra is pensive and in deep contemplation: she is troubled by something and has probably just asked her servants to give her some privacy. Is she thinking about lost loves, or the impending downfall of her rule? Her mind may be racing over any number of things.

img_5821

Lewis’s Cleopatra has just committed suicide and is dying on her throne as her last royal act. She has just closed her eyes and her left arm has fallen limply to her side. Even in death, her face is struggling to relax comfortably: this queen is pained to the grave.

IMG_3571

As far as fine detailing on the pieces, I’m a fan of Wetmore Story’s version. To be fair, Lewis’s work had been exposed to considerable environmental elements and poor handling, so the sculpture isn’t as impeccably detailed as it (likely) once was.

My favorite Cleopatra is probably Lewis’s version, for this reason: she captured death and pain without making it grotesque or unnaturally pretty. This Cleopatra is finding it difficult to “rest in peace” but, ever the royal, she makes us feel pride, and not pity, for her. Wetmore Story’s Cleopatra is enchanting, for sure: I loved how well he captured her troubled mental state behind her stoic, regal expression. His Cleopatra is alive with emotion; however, Lewis’s Cleopatra moves us even in death.

That’s my not-so-quick comparison of two Cleopatras. I hope you all enjoyed and will make it a goal to see both of these beautiful works at some point in time. Enjoy your day, and I’ll chat with you all tomorrow!

 

art · culture

Howardena Pindell’s “What Remains to Be Seen” at VMFA

A few months ago, I went to a special event at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, announcing an upcoming exhibition. That exhibition was a retrospective of the creative career of Howardena Pindell, multimedia artist, activist and professor. “What Remains to be Seen” is an impressive ouevre that showcases Pindell’s evolution as an artist, and is broken down into the different phases of her life and creative journey.

Today (November 25) is the last day to see the works, so I’m heading to the museum shortly so I can enjoy them one last time before they leave. However, I’ve got a few pictures for you all in this post, some additional commentary (of course LOL!) as well as a YouTube video of Pindell’s most famous short, “Free, White and 21”. Enjoy!

img_5688

Howardena Pindell

img_5689

Pindell’s use of grids and numbers created some of her most riveting work. I love seeing how she turns numbers and otherwise sterile, math-related tools and objects, into art.

img_5692

The 3-d grid below is a good example of the blend of art and math. It’s probably one of my favorite works by her.

img_5695

 

img_5696

The tiny individual circles affixed to many of Pindell’s pieces reveal her love of mathematic perfection reinterpreted. These pieces, attached to the grids she loved to work with, were occasionally numbered individually.

Like many artists, Pindell sought to promote cultural shifts through activism. Her works also featured socio-political themes that were near and dear to her.

img_5701

 

One of my favorite themes explored by Pindell was that of science. Closely related to her mathematics fascination, her interpretation of natural phenomenon and wonders created some of her most aesthetically charming works (though, to be honest, I love all of her work and find it all aesthetically pleasing). I especially loved “Nautilus” and “Night Flight” (pictures are below).

img_5706

 

Finally, here is “Free, White and 21”, Pindell’s video experiment where she aims to repair her memory loss (caused by a serious car accident) by recalling memories from earlier in her life.

words of wisdom

Words of Wisdom: Lorraine Hansberry

“Never be afraid to sit a while and think” – Lorraine Hansberry

Talented, intelligent, and gone too soon: Lorraine Hansberry was an award-winning playwright and activist. She, like many other Black American writers during this time, captured the smoldering inner turmoil and external conflict of ambitious Blacks living in pre-Civil Rights America.

pinterest2

I recently came across a photo of Lorraine while looking up information on another writer and, as always, I was drawn in by her soulful eyes and sweet smile. Behind her wholesome beauty was a gorgeous brain: her writing talents got her critical acclaim and earned her the spot as the youngest playwright to ever have a play produced on Broadway. She is also the youngest winner of the New York Drama Critics Circle Award.

pinterest

I really resonate with her thoughts regarding the path of the creative. Embracing her talent meant encountering feelings of loneliness, over-familiarity with the lows of life, but also an undiminishable hope in a more beautiful and brighter future. Her positive view of life inspires me tremendously.

quote-a-woman-who-is-willing-to-be-herself-and-pursue-her-own-potential-runs-not-so-much-the-lorraine-hansberry-12-35-40

“I wish to live because life has within it that which is good, that which is beautiful and that which is love” – Lorraine Hansberry

(Photos courtesy of AZQuotes and Pinterest)

art

Meta Warrick Fuller and Lois Mailou Jones: Let’s Honor Them Both!

It’s my pleasure to honor two talented Black women artists on this day. On June 9, 1877, Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, a gifted sculptress of Black descent was born. On June 9, 1998, Lois Maillou Jones, Black painter and teacher extraordinaire, died in Washington, DC. Because this day is full of Black Girl Artist Magic (yes, I’m tweaking the #BlackGirlMagic hashtag for my purposes), I wanted to talk a bit more about these remarkable women.

motherandchild

Mother and Child by Meta Warrick Fuller (1962)

Both Meta and Lois spent time in France during the early half of the 20th century. Europe, generally speaking, was a friendlier environment for American Blacks, and it was easier to study in European ateliers than to attempt to integrate White studios in the US. Meta began at Academie Colarossi but eventually studied under Auguste Rodin, while Lois studied as part of a fellowship with Academie Julian.

jones_arreauhautespyrenees

Arreau, Hautes-Pyrénée by Loïs Mailou Jones (1949)

Meta was a sculptress and used her talent to create works that captured her frustration with the treatment of Blacks in America. She explored themes such as despair and melancholy, but also touched on religious devotion and hopefulness. Meta drew upon historical accounts to sculpt some of her heartrending works. She worked primarily in bronze or plaster, and created an impressive body of work during her career. Many of her pieces are exhibited at the Danforth Museum, making it easy for anyone interested in exploring her oeuvre to view a wide variety of her pieces in one location.

pinterest1

Story Time by Meta Warrick Fuller (year unknown)

She received many accolades during her lifetime but fell into obscurity for several years after her death. Toward the end of the 20th century, there was renewed interest in her work, and she is finally becoming a key figure in today’s discussions on American sculptors.

Screenshot 2018-06-06 at 6.54.21 PM - Edited.png

Talking Skull by Meta Warrick Fuller (1937)

Lois, on the other hand, started out as a teacher but never gave up her dream to be an artist in her own right. She taught for over 40 years and eventually retired from the profession, while establishing herself as an artist of note. She drew inspiration from her international travels, including time spent in Haiti.

loisjones

Self Portrait by Lois Mailou Jones (1940)

These women led similar lives in several ways. Aside from both spending time studying in Paris, both Meta and Lois benefited from having White supporters during the early phases of their careers. Samuel Bing sponsored an exhibition for Meta, while Celine Marie Tabary often submitted Lois’s work to circumvent racist art competition policies that prevented Black Americans from competing.

2.2.2.x-collection-detail-jones-ode_to_kinshasa_0

Ode to Kinshasa by Lois Mailou Jones (1972)

Though I’m not an artist, I am tremendously thankful for the fact that both Meta Warrick Fuller and Lois Maillou Jones shared their talents with the world. Their contributions added richly to the fabric and legacy of American art. May their work remind us – in perpetuity – of the importance of Black art!

(Photos courtesy of Pinterest, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Preston Joy blog, and Smithsonian American Art Museum)

art

Howardena Pindell – A Lifetime of Creation

A few weeks ago, I attended a lecture on contemporary abstract artist Howardena Pindell. Pindell’s video, Free, White and 21, was my introduction to her work. I saw the video as part of my online art course through Coursera. I found the video fascinating and have always been curious about the woman behind it.

Pindell’s work will be making a stop at Virginia Museum of Fine Art (VMFA) in August 2018. The work is part of her “What Remains to Be Seen” tour, an exhibit reflecting upon Pindell’s 50+ year career. Artists like Pindell, Betye Saar, Lorraine O’Grady and Senga Nengudi inspire me for their daring and provocative work and their insistence upon carving a space for Black, avant garde conceptual artists. Pindell’s work is thought provoking and highly detailed: it features a great deal of precision, texture and movement, all of which enhance the viewer experience. I’m looking forward to experiencing her art when it comes to VMFA!

ct-1524669850-ak5osp1lqz-snap-image

(photo courtesy of Nathan Keay, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago)

 

You can watch Pindell’s stirring reflections in Free, White and 21 here (or you can just click the play button below):

 

art · life curation

Edmonia Lewis’s Work at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum

Happy Friday, friends! We made it through another week – hurrah!

Earlier this week – before the Mid-Atlantic region got hit with another round of snow – I stopped by the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM). Visits to the museum are good for my soul, and, since most schools are still in session, I don’t have to navigate around a lot of tourists. I can usually get to the museum, tour to my heart’s content, and return to my desk in under an hour. Sometimes I really love working in DC!

logo

Anyways, I recently went to SAAM for a very specific reason. I had researched Edmonia Lewis’s existing artwork and confirmed that one of her most famous pieces, The Death of Cleopatra, was located at SAAM. After learning that it was currently on view, I knew that I had to go and see it for myself.

portrait_image_113711

Photo of Edmonia Lewis (as shown on SAAM’s website)

I talked about Lewis when I wrote about my current favorite app. In that same post, I referenced an Art History Babes podcast episode that discussed Lewis’s life. I saw a few of her works on Google Arts & Culture but viewing art in person is so much more enjoyable. The surprise for me was that several of Lewis’s pieces were on view, so I took lots of pictures during this visit.

IMG_3571

Here is The Death of Cleopatra. This depicts Cleopatra seated on her throne, life slowly slipping away after being bitten by a poisonous snake. She’s dignified even in death, wearing her crown and full regal attire.

 

She’s substantial and powerful, and has chosen to die on the throne that she worked so hard to preserve. It’s a moving piece and a fine example of Lewis’s marble sculpting prowess.

 

A close up of the throne detailing and Cleopatra’s lifeless hand.

Lewis also sculpted Moses, a replica of the statue of Moses rendered by Michaelangelo (the original is at St. Peter’s in Rome). The original is much larger than Lewis’s version, but the resemblance is uncanny. Lewis skillfully imitated the works of great masters.

 

I wish I could have gotten some better photos, but it’s in a case so the reflection off the glass makes it hard to capture the detailing.

This whimsical statue is Poor Cupid, depicting the god of love caught in a trap. Cupid’s “aww shucks” expression made me chuckle.

 

 

As always, I enjoyed my trip to SAAM. There are a few other pieces by Edmonia Lewis on display: I may do a follow-up post about those works. In any case, I hope you enjoyed this post! This weekend, see if you can spend a little time at your local museum. You’ll be glad that you did. Until tomorrow . . .

culture

Women’s History Month in Washington, DC

As many of you know, I work (and play) in Washington, DC. Since I’m in the District several times a week, I try to explore and take in the city as much as possible during my breaks and (occasionally) after work. Out of curiosity, I looked up what is happening in DC during Women’s History Month (WHM), happening right now, until the end of March. I’m happy to say that DC didn’t disappoint, with several museums and other institutions hosting WHM events for the public.

You can find a list of events on the Women’s History Month website (click here for more information). I’m really eager to go to the Library of Congress, to view the exhibition, Drawn to Purpose, which puts the spotlight on women illustrators and cartoonists. Even if you can’t make it in person, you can view the exhibit online. I’m also excited to see Michelle Obama’s portrait over at the National Portrait Gallery.

dtp-preview-hero

Anita Kunz’s Tugged is one of the photos featured on the main page of the Drawn to Purpose exhibition at the Library of Congress

npg-obama-sherald

The portrait of Michelle Obama, painted by Amy Sherald, is a popular new addition at the National Portrait Gallery

Now, on this blog, WHM is EVERY month. But I love that DC has so many events that reflect the month’s theme. I’m looking forward to sharing all of the photos with you as I tour around and have a good time in DC!