Isaac Julien’s installation at the Barnes Foundation highlights the museum’s African sculptures even as it questions the ethics of their acquisition.
PHILADELPHIA — Dazzled by the iconic Cézanne, Matisse and Seurat paintings, most visitors to the Barnes Foundation overlook the African sculptures. Yet to Albert C. Barnes, who founded the collection, they were central. He started acquiring African sculpture in 1922, the year he set up the foundation, because it had inspired Picasso, Modigliani and many other artists in France he supported. “When the Foundation opens, Negro art will have a place among the great art manifestations of all times,” he wrote to his Parisian dealer in 1923.
Barnes thought an appreciation of African masterpieces would also advance the cause he fervently promoted alongside modern art: the advancement of African Americans in society. Testifying to his commitment, African sculpture was the subject of the first book published by the foundation, and the entrance of the original museum in Merion, a suburb of Philadelphia, featured tile and terra cotta designs modeled on African pieces in the collection.
But the patronage of Black art by a white millionaire is complicated, then as now. The acquisition of cultural artifacts from a society that is subjugated or impoverished raises ethical questions. And once African sculpture is taken out of the context in which it functioned, what role does it play? And whose interests does it serve?
In two adjacent galleries, he complemented the film with a sculpture show that features eight African art pieces moved from their usual perches upstairs at the Barnes, accompanied by three bronzes of African-American subjects by Richmond Barthé (1901-1989), a prominent artist of the Harlem Renaissance, and five contemporary works, by Matthew Angelo Harrison, of cutup African tourist-trade sculptures embalmed in polyurethane resin and encased in aluminum-framed vitrines.
The protagonist of Julien’s film is Alain Locke, an African American writer, critic and teacher who is credited as the intellectual father of the Harlem Renaissance. Through Barnes, Locke had his first significant exposure to masterpieces of African sculpture. Locke in turn gave Barnes access to Black writers and artists. Julien explores the real-life working relationship — both collaborative and antagonistic — between these strong-willed men. Each educated yet mistrusted the other. In a personal sense, their exchanges encapsulated the sensitivities and inequities that surround the adoption of Black African art by the prevailing white culture, and the struggle by Black Americans to claim and use that heritage as their own.
“I’m calling this the poetics of restitution, which is something I’m trying to explore in the work,” Julien said in a telephone interview from London. “The debates that we’re having today that seem contemporaneous were happening 50 years ago, if not before. I think that’s really interesting.”
In ways that won’t be apparent to most audiences, “Once Again …(Statues Never Die)” is a quasi-sequel to two films: “Statues Also Die,” a 1953 short by Chris Marker and Alain Resnais, which ruminates on the removal of African art to Western museums by imperialists who degraded the cultures and people they colonized; and Julien’s breakthrough movie, “Looking for Langston,” of 1989, which he calls a “meditation” on the ambiguously queer identity of the poet Langston Hughes. Locke, who was discreetly but unmistakably gay, romantically pursued the youthful Hughes. In “Once Again …(Statues Never Die),” Julien incorporates footage of Harlem gay balls that he staged for “Looking for Langston,” as well as a musical setting he used earlier of Hughes’s famous line, “What happens to a dream deferred?”
In “Once Again …(Statues Never Die),” Julien, a queer Black artist, looks with sensitive curiosity at Locke’s friendship, sporadically sexual, with the younger African American sculptor Barthé. The film incorporates bits of archival footage but relies primarily on staged scenes by actors playing Locke, Barthé and Barnes. The recreations are often very precise, as when, mirroring filmed documentation of Locke and Barthé, the actors replicate their original positions and expressions as they smilingly examine Barthé’s art.
One of Barthé’s major works, “Male Torso,” is a nude that diverges from the Greco-Roman ideal in search of an alternative Black prototype. It was, Jeffrey C. Stewart writes in his authoritative biography of Locke, “The New Negro,” “a sculpture that visualized a new Black masculinity” that was “leaner, slenderer, svelte” and “an icon of Black homosexual desire.” The naked model in the movie conforms uncannily to the sculpture. (Julien confirmed that he had done “body casting” to find him.)
But in a half-hour film, the question of what it was like for a Black gay man such as Locke to live in America in the first half of the 20th century meshes awkwardly with the issues that surround the displacement of African art into Western museums. “Once Again …(Statues Never Die)” intercuts re-enacted scenes of Locke with a fictional character that Julien describes as his “second protagonist,” a tall African female curator who first appears in a scene shot at the Pitt Rivers anthropological and archaeological museum at Oxford, where she testifies to the wounds suffered by civilizations stripped of their cultural treasures.
Toward the end of the film, historical photos of the 1897 British raiding expedition that destroyed Benin City in what is now Nigeria and brought a trove of bronze-and-brass masterpieces to the British Museum, are accompanied by excerpts from the diary of the expedition’s chief of staff. Julien also includes footage from “You Hide Me,” a 1970 documentary shot in the basement of the British Museum in 1970 by the Ghanaian filmmaker Nii Kwate Owoo, which follows a young Black man and woman as they unpack African artifacts stored in crates.
These scenes amplify Julien’s theme of the unquiet journey of African art into Western domains, whereas a re-enactment of Locke lovingly gazing upon Barthé as he sleeps feels like an outtake from “Waiting for Langston.”
In the interview, Julien chided Barnes for limiting his support of Black art to the work of African civilizations and not collecting the output of his own African American contemporaries. (Barnes did, however, purchase and display the paintings of Horace Pippin.)
“Someone like Barnes was not interested in Richmond Barthé’s sculptures, they are not in his collection, but they were of great interest to Alain Locke,” Julien said. “Why are people not familiar with Richmond Barthé’s works? He did not make many works, but he was an important African American artist. There’s a sense of the sensuousness of Richmond Barthé’s sculpture. The reason they are disavowed, could it be their resonating in the manner of something that was questionable?” Even today, Julien said, homoeroticism is a delicate subject for many African American art historians.
But Barnes ignored Barthé for other reasons. Barnes favored cutting-edge modernism; neither a folk artist nor a Cubist, Barthé was closer in style to Rodin than to Jacques Lipchitz, Alexander Archipenko and the other sculptors Barnes collected. But for Locke, the chief importance of African art was its power to invigorate the flowering of Black consciousness in the present. That important distinction can get lost in the torrent of ancillary material in Julien’s film.
Unlike the British raiders in Benin, Barnes did not burn a city to obtain his sculptures. Still, his admiring acquisition of African art that was pried from the society that nourished it continued a process that began with the shipments of the Benin Bronzes to the British Museum at the end of the 19th century. Raising these issues in an evocative film, Julien’s installation puts a spotlight on the Barnes’s estimable trove of African art — and on the long shadows that it casts.
Isaac Julien: Once Again … (Statues Never Die)
Through Sept. 4, Barnes Foundation, 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, Pa.; 215.278.7000; barnesfoundation.org.
Windsor Public Library wants to show you local art while you ride your bike – CBC.ca
Windsor Public Library wants to showcase the city’s downtown art. It plans to have two cycling tours to show it off.
Becky Mayer, a librarian at the Windsor Public Library organized the tours. She said the main reason she wanted to do this is because people think there’s nothing to do or see in Windsor.
“I often ride my bike around and I see a lot of cool and weird stuff,” said Mayer. “So, I just thought that maybe a few people would want to join me on a weird stuff tour.”
Mayer said she’ll be bringing Betty the Bookmobile along for the journey. She said the ride will be pretty casual and if someone has a story to tell she’s happy to give them space to share.
“I’m fine with talking as well. If you want to have a silent tour, that’s also cool. Like, it’s very, very casual. Go with the flow. We’ll see what happens,” Mayer said.
The first tour starts at 6 p.m. August 16, the second tour is on August 20 starting at 10 a.m. The tours last about an hour and starts at the library’s Central Branch at the corner of Ouellette Avenue and Pitt Street.
Youth get creative at summer art camp – Lakeland TODAY
ST. PAUL – A variety of mediums were used to create unique works of art during a week-long Youth Art Camp held at the St. Paul Visual Arts Centre, last week.
Pam Bohn, the art instructor for the art camp, said the camp gives youth the chance to not only do art but form friendships.
“We also go outside to play and go to the park, and so it is also a day where they can make friends.”
The art camp included acrylic painting, watercolour painting, mixed media projects, and much more.
“While I facilitate the classes, [the children] are free to create as they please,” she said. “That allows those who like to do art that freedom to have different art mediums and try things that they may be unable to do at home.”
Bohn said the participating youths have enjoyed the art camps, adding, “They all get excited when they come and take their [art] home to show their parents.”
The Hive celebrates three new exhibitions at Art Gallery of Burlington | inHalton – insauga.com
Published August 15, 2022 at 2:41 pm
A special event celebrating three new exhibits is being hosted by the Art Gallery of Burlington.
The Hive is happening Saturday, Aug. 27, from 1 to 4 p.m. This free, all-ages event incorporates the organization, cooperation and energy of a beehive into an afternoon of art, activity, learning and fun.
The Hive will feature a special workshop led by Toronto’s Clay and Paper Theatre, live arts and crafts demonstrations, a screen-printing presentation, live performance, food and drink.
The event is being held in celebration of the AGB’s three new fall exhibitions:
- The Future of Work, an exploration into how the pandemic has affected labour markets and our quality of life
- ਨਜਰ ਨਾ ਲੱਗੇ/Nazar na lage/Knock on wood, a vibrant and meaningful interpretation on the art of rangoli by artist Noni Kaur
- Know your Place, an exhibit of cartoon-like clay sculpture that reveal the raw emotional experiences of the artist Sami Tsang
Known for work inspired by oral traditions, folk songs, poems and fables, Clay and Paper Theatre will charm participants and audiences with their original multi-disciplinary performance-based production. Guests who wish to participate with Clay and Paper Theatre should arrive early and be ready to create.
Visitors are invited to an interactive, screen-printing demonstration led by artist Jesse Purcell and are encouraged to bring any used clothing to be transformed into a bunting display to be hung in the gallery by the artist collective Works-in-Progress.
Arts Burlington will be opening its doors to guests with arts demonstrations and the Burlington Handweavers and Spinners Guild will guide guests through a natural plant-based dying demonstration, teaching attendees what they need to know to create from home.
The AGB parking lot will be free for the day. For more information, visit the AGB website.
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