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‘Lost at Sea: Art Recovered From Shipwrecks’ Review: The Tangles of Treasure – Wall Street Journal

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A concretion of ceramics (c. 1450–90)


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Asian Art Museum

San Francisco

The most astonishing artifact in the Asian Art Museum’s modest yet provocative “Lost at Sea: Art Recovered From Shipwrecks” is not the fantastically whimsical flying horse on a fragment of 15th-century Vietnamese pottery, or the fierce three-headed stone serpent from the same region that leers at us, some nine centuries after its creation. The really startling item is a nondescript gray mound of once-barnacled stone out of which ceramic boxes randomly protrude, along with shards of pottery, an antler fragment and a carved brick. This jumbled mass, shown inside a vitrine, has been slowly disintegrating during the two decades since its disinterment, revealing an oxidized rust-colored center from which still more relics are being unveiled: a Chinese coin, corroded iron, the remains of sea creatures.

The exhibition, on view as the museum’s major reconfiguration nears its spring completion, is organized by Natasha Reichle, assistant curator of Southeast Asian art, and gently probes the challenging issues raised by the salvage of shipwrecks, taking two examples from the 1990s. Each contained artifacts being transported from central Vietnam. The Hoi An wreck was from the 15th century; the other, of the steamship Le Mei—Kong, from the 19th. the first contained ceramics (yielding more than 250,000 artifacts); the second bore monumental statues taken from ancient ruined temples. The dozen or so works here, including two stone sculptures, were scrupulously restored, scarcely reflecting years underwater.

Lost at Sea: Art Recovered From Shipwrecks

Asian Art Museum
Through March 22

But that mound from the Hoi An wreck (known as a “concretion”) reveals what this pottery had to be rescued from, at great expense and risk. And that has a bearing on the central theme of the exhibition. Questions are posed: “When a shipwreck is found, who owns its contents? The finder, whether it be a fisherman, a salvage company, or a treasure hunter? The state or country in whose waters it was found? The country from which the ship originated? Or the descendants of the people who produced the objects found on board?”

The examples of Vietnamese ceramics shown here, as we learn, were discovered some 230 feet down; three divers had to live for 69 days in a 12-foot-long pressurized chamber or a small diving bell, tied to the surface with umbilical cords as they searched through a half-millennium of detritus. The cost, planning and organizational demands are hinted at, but the book “Dragon Sea,” by one participant, Frank Pope, gives a more extensive picture of this joint enterprise in which an Oxford University archaeological team, a private salvage company, and the Vietnam government tried to accommodate one another’s needs (or not).

Architectural element (c. 1150–1250)


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Asian Art Museum

In some ways, the project succeeded; in others it failed. The 15th-century dating of the cargo provided evidence for a legendary “golden age” of Vietnamese crafts that excavations at kiln sites had only suggested. Mr. Pope’s account notes that the most significant artifacts were allocated for Vietnamese museums, and then distributed among the participants, with a portion sold to raise funds. He suggests that a disappointing auction led to a lack of funding for the archaeological research along with other losses. The exhibition doesn’t go into enough detail, but it outlines other salvage financing strategies, each with its own difficulties.

Another issue also lies behind the stone statues here, since they were taken from the ruins of Hindu and Buddhist temples built about a thousand years ago by the Cham people who occupied the region before the Vietnamese. When the French invaded in the mid-1800s perhaps 200 temples were already untended ruins. A French doctor removed at least 40 statues and sent them in two steamships to France (where many can still be seen), but one ship sank in Somali waters in 1877. After a 1995 joint venture of a private salvage company, a marine archaeologist, and the Northeast Authority of the Republic of Somalia (then in the midst of a civil war), the wreck was explored. Statues were conserved and auctioned; the two seen here were later donated to the museum.

This case resonates with the questions raised about other artifacts removed from their settings by Western colonial forces. But such acts, far from being unique to Western imperial history, have been historically commonplace: For millennia, conquest, plunder and destruction were inseparable. What was more remarkable in the Western instance is that plunder was so often associated with notions of preservation.

Fragmentary dish with design of a winged horse (c. 1450-1500)


Photo:

Asian Art Museum

But what about future underwater excavations? While the exhibition is smart, careful and questioning, it also seems to embrace a 2001 Unesco convention on the protection of underwater cultural heritage (post-dating the cases here) that affirms an obligation to preserve sites without disruption if possible, suggesting that only qualified archaeologists work on maritime excavations and forbidding discoveries to be “commercially exploited for trade or speculation.”

This is an ideal, no doubt. But the Hoi An case reveals some latent problems. The project required considerable investment beyond the means of Vietnam or academic groups. Moreover, local fisherman had already discovered the pottery and were destroying the site as they raked the bottom, trawling for fish and loot. The hope of profit within a joint project ended up making the exploration possible, while the participants’ competing interests kept it on track, at least for long stretches. Not ideal, perhaps, but little is.

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Painting bought directly from Emily Carr donated to Art Gallery of Greater Victoria – Times Colonist

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The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria has acquired two Emily Carr paintings from brothers whose grandmother purchased one from Carr herself, after the two bonded over a shared love of dogs.

The donation comes from Ian and Andrew Burchett, whose parents, Peter and Damaris Burchett, were long-time supporters of the gallery.

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The donated collection — which also contains two sketches from Group of Seven member Lawren S. Harris — includes an untitled Emily Carr painting of Finlayson Point purchased directly from Carr by Peter Burchett’s mother, Bets Burchett.

Ian Burchett, who now lives in Ottawa, said his grandmother loved to tell him and his brother about how Carr invited her over for a series of visits spanning several weeks to look at her paintings and choose her favourite.

“My grandmother always said to us that she knew right away which painting that she wanted, but she agreed to keep going back and to Emily’s home to chat with her, and then finally she bought the painting that hung over our family fireplace,” he said.

Bets Burchett gave the piece to her son and daughter-in-law as a wedding gift, and the painting hung above the fireplace in the North ­Saanich home they built and where they raised their sons.

Their parents had always said they hoped the art would be passed on to the gallery for others to enjoy, Ian Burchett said. After his mother died in 2019, following his father’s death a few years earlier, the brothers decided to fulfil their parents’ wish.

The other donated Carr piece, Angidah Naas River, evokes happy memories for the brothers. In 1971, their parents took them on a camping trip around B.C. to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the province joining Confederation. They went to northern B.C., to an area depicted in the painting of totem poles.

“We were able to actually find what we thought were the poles,” Burchett said. “Later on, when we looked at that painting, we always remembered that wonderful family camping trip.”

Burchett said he and his brother were happy to continue their parents’ relationship with the gallery, and it’s special to see the works he grew up with hanging there. On a recent visit to Victoria, the gallery was one of the first stops he made, to see the paintings on display.

The donated works also include several Chinese jade pieces, two concrete panels by Herbert Siebner and family portraits that date to the mid-1600s.

Gallery director Jon Tupper said it’s the first time the gallery has received a donation of Carr’s work during the 12 years he has been there. The last time the gallery purchased a piece to add to its Carr collection, which has about 45 works, was about a decade ago, when prices were much lower than they are now, Tupper said.

Paintings by Carr sell for $150,000 to $275,000, depending on their ­condition, subject and when they were painted, he said.

“I’m so excited about this — whenever you see major works of art come into the collection, especially ones that are really beyond our means.”

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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'Marking Time' And Making Art: MoMa PS1 Explores Creation And Incarceration – NPR

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Gilberto Rivera, An Institutional Nightmare, 2012. Federal prison uniform, commissary papers, floor wax, prison reports, newspaper, acrylic paint on canvas.

Collection Jesse Krimes

Collection Jesse Krimes

Every second spent in prison is a “measurement of punishment,” says Nicole R. Fleetwood. “You wake up, you’re being punished, you’re being punished, you make art, you’re being punished.”

Fleetwood is curator of “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” a new exhibition at New York City’s MoMa PS1.

The exhibition collects work made by artists who are either currently in prison, were formerly in prison, or had family members in prison. Considering the U.S. currently locks up more than 2 million people, that’s a substantial pool.

Fleetwood grew up in a small town in southwest Ohio, and saw up-close how our system of punishment “stigmatizes, isolates, and humiliates certain people.” She witnessed friends, neighbors and family members swept up by the system of mass incarceration.

She’d do her best to stay in touch — writing letters to her incarcerated cousins, visiting when she could, trading pictures and greeting cards back and forth. But she kept this memorabilia tucked away in drawers or cabinets, until she realized she was also taking part in the shame and stigma of prison. So she started hanging them around her home, as a way of actively bringing her cousins into her day-to-day life, “refusing to have them invisible behind prison walls,” she said.

The practice led her to start researching art in prison, resulting in this exhibition, which includes paintings, photography, sculptures and more.

Tameca Cole, Locked in a Dark Calm, 2016. Collage and graphite on paper. 8 1/2 x 11 inches.

Collection Ellen Driscoll

Collection Ellen Driscoll

Tameca Cole’s Locked in a Dark Calm opens the exhibition. It’s a collage on graphite, small enough that you might miss it if you’re not paying attention. Cole was in prison when she made it, close to the end of her sentence. Then a correctional officer said something that set her off. She didn’t specify what was said, but it was something that made her feel degraded and angry — angry enough to talk back, or as she put it, “mess up everything I had worked hard for.”

Instead, she funneled her feelings into this piece of art. “It just came out,” she said. “I just saw myself outside myself.”

For Fleetwood, the piece speaks to “wanting to be recognized as a person of value and not just someone being punished by the state as a bad person.”

Throughout the exhibit, Fleetwood mostly avoids bringing up the reasons for an artist’s incarceration. She said it was a way to get out of the rigid frameworks we often use to talk about prison — innocent versus guilty, good people versus bad people, those deserving and undeserving of freedom. Instead she wanted the exhibition to be a more holistic reflection of American society and its relationship to incarceration.

Locked in a Dark Calm has brought Cole more attention that she’d ever thought she would get. Out of prison now, she gets calls from gallerists and reporters like me. It’s all a bit overwhelming, actually — juggling her burgeoning art career while holding down a job, and adjusting to life outside of prison. Still, she makes time for her art, and appreciates how much it resonates with people.

“I like my art to speak to people, to inspire people,” she says. “But I definitely don’t want to be famous.”

Mark Loughney, Pyrrhic Defeat: A Visual Study of Mass Incarceration, 2014-present. Graphite on paper (series of more than 600 drawings)

Mark Loughney

Mark Loughney

If time is the measurement of punishment in prison, you can see it most clearly enumerated in Mark Loughney’s Pyrrhic Defeat. Loughney is a portrait artist currently incarcerated in Pennsylvania. The piece collects more than 600 pencil-drawn portraits he’s done throughout his years in prison. At MoMa PS1, they occupy all four walls of one room. Turning around in the room, you can see Loughney get better, more adventurous with his detailing.

Loughney says the hardest part of doing these portraits is simply finding the time and space to do it. Prison is loud and chaotic, and it’s hard for him and his sitters to stay focused. So he tries to get them done as quickly as possible, and he’s had a small advantage on that front recently: “The masks actually make it a lot easier because I don’t have to focus so much detail on a nose or mouth,” he says.

His subjects are in a ¾ view, looking just askew. At first he did this because it was uncomfortable looking in another man’s eyes for an extended period of time. “Everybody is trying to puff up their chests in here,” he says. “And it’s hard to really let your guard down.” But it has an added effect of making his subjects look like they’re in a Renaissance-era painting. Loughney says it gives his subjects a sense of dignity and hope.

“Portraiture is a type of prison currency,” writes Fleetwood in the book that accompanies the exhibition. Many of the portrait artists she’s spoken to told her that the skill was key to their survival in prison. Artists are commissioned to draw portraits of lovers or children or music/sports stars in exchange for commissary items and other necessities. For Loughney, part of the pitch he makes to get his subjects to pose for him is that they can keep the originals, and send copies home to their families.

Larry Cook, The Visiting Room #4, 2019. Digital photograph, 40 x 30 inches.

Larry Cook

Larry Cook

Pictures being sent home are a core facet of prison art. In the accompanying book, Fleetwood includes pictures she took with her cousins in visiting room photo sessions — smiling and posing against painted backdrops. Fleetwood estimates that there are millions of these types of photos circulating between incarcerated people and their families and friends.

Larry Cook’s piece The Visiting Room is a play on this type of photography. Inspired by his uncles who were incarcerated, Cook stages his subjects inside recreation prison visiting rooms. But instead of facing the camera, they’re turned, looking towards painted backdrops of cityscapes, skies, and fancy cars. Counterbalancing Loughney’s hurried sketches, Cook’s photographs are more contemplative. “Having that faceless element allows us to resonate personally in any way that we can in terms of entering into the photograph,” says Cook.

Cook’s background is in club photography which, similarly, uses painted backdrops to evoke an air of fantasy and escapism. But in the context of prison, it offers a decision to break from the aesthetic coldness of a visiting room. Everything in Cook’s photographs — from the shoes to the poses to the backgrounds — are small acts of agency.

So much of prison art is about connecting people who are kept far away, both physically and emotionally. In our interview, Fleetwood brought up the writer Etheridge Knight who was known for the poems he wrote in prison. In his poem “The Idea of Ancestry,” he sits in his cell, looking at 47 pictures of family taped on to his wall and writes, “I am all of them, they are all of me.”

“Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration” is on view at New York City’s MoMa PS1 until April 4, 2021.

Installation view of Jesse Krimes, Apokaluptein 16389067 (2010–2013) in the exhibition Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration.

Matthew Septimus/MoMA PS1

Matthew Septimus/MoMA PS1

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ART SEEN: Rare works by Charles Edenshaw head to market at Art Toronto – Vancouver Sun

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Of the 15 to 16 pieces available for sale during that time, he’s been able to acquire all but a couple of them.

He said while there’s an “enormous level of curiosity” in Edenshaw’s work, the market “is in its infancy in a sense.

“I guess I have to say Art Toronto is a way to test the waters,” he said.

“In all likelihood, I might end up donating five or six works to the National Gallery or to (Vancouver Art Gallery) subject to what happens with the building.”

Headdress Frontlet, wood, paint, abalone shell and metal mirror, Nuxalk, circa 1870, is in an exhibition by Donald Ellis Gallery at ArtTO. jpg

DEG is showing 19th century ledger drawings which were made by largely anonymous Indigenous artists from the Great Plains nations such as the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Lakota.

In many of them, horses figure prominently. When the animal was introduced by the Spanish to the Comanche in the 17th century, Ellis said, it led to major changes among all the aboriginal people in what later became the U.S..

Ellis said ledger drawings are “one of the most important aspects of North American art history and most people don’t even know they exist.”

They’re called ledger drawings because accounting ledger books were a major source of paper for Indigenous people.

“The drawings are both records of actual events and articulate the cumulative acquisition of spiritual power and status,” the Donald Ellis Gallery said in a news release.

Donald Ellis Gallery will donate 10 per cent of all sales to Canadian organizations addressing the legacy of residential schools, supporting Indigenous education and mental health, and promoting reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. The gallery said clients can choose to support one of the following charitable organizations:

Indspire, The Legacy of Hope Foundation, or The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund.

Art Toronto is from Wednesday, Oct.28 to Sunday, Nov. 8.

Ledger Drawing, anonymous artist, Sheridan Ledger Book, Southern Cheyenne, circa 1885, graphite and coloured pencil on lined paper, in a digital edition of ArtTO 2020 in an exhibition by Donald Ellis Gallery, Oct. 31 to Nov. 8.
Ledger drawing, graphite and coloured pencil on lined paper, anonymous artist, Southern Cheyenne, circa 1885, is in an exhibition by Donald Ellis Gallery at ArtTO Oct. 28 to Nov. 8. Photo by John Taylor /jpg

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