Picturing Motherhood Now at the Cleveland Museum of Art

If you’ve been following along you know what I did on my pre-holiday vacation. A little trip to Cleveland and a lot of time spent at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Just across the hall from the Revealing Krishna show is Picturing Motherhood Now! Quite a thought provoking locally curated show that presents us with a lot of different representations of what we think motherhood can be. Some of the works are exceptionally touching. Some of them didn’t quite connect me to the idea of motherhood. But there is a lot of very accomplished and dynamic work to see here.

One of the paintings that captured my attention and emotions is Portrait of her Mother by Mequitta Ahuja (American, born 1976). She writes, “I make paintings by scraping away paint, figuring something new out of loss”. This painting was done during the last months of her mother’s life and I find it quite compelling.

Portrait of Her Mother, 2020. Mequitta Ahuja (American, b. 1976). Oil on canvas; 182.9 x 213.4 cm. Courtesy of Mequitta Ahuja and Aicon Art, New York. © Mequitta Ahuja

Another painting that puts me in a similar frame of mine is Titus Kaphar’s Not My Burden. The painting features two Black women who have been touchingly depicted and are certainly two individuals. But they are holding children consciously absent…so absent that the canvas has been actually cut away to show the exposed gallery wall in a brilliant white. The museum wall card suggests that the missing children might represent white children who are often cared for by Black women or Black children who have been tragically lost and a hole is left to their mothers. This painting is probably the show’s centerpiece and most gripping…

Not My Burden, 2019. Titus Kaphar (American, b. 1976). Oil on canvas; 167.6 x 153 cm. © Titus Kaphar. Image courtesy of the artist and Gagosian. Collection of Ellen Susman, Houston, Texas. Photo: Rob McKeever

There are a number of very elegant but evocative sculptures as well. This clay mother and child or Madonna by Rose B. Simpson (American, born 1983) is a prime example. Ms. Simpson is working with traditional methods used by her family and ancestors in the American Southwest. Titled Genesis this sculpture is both tied to our immediate era and timeless at the same time.

Genesis, 2017. Rose B. Simpson (American, b. 1983). Ceramic and mixed media; 83.8 x 22.9 x 15.2 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Jessica Silverman, San Francisco. © Rose B. Simpson

And then we have a group of multi-media sculptures by Alison Saar (American, born 1956) that are troubling in their content. These works are based on an enslaved child character, Topsy, from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I am going to post a number of photos here. One from the museum that shows us the clear vision of Rice, one of three sculptures on display from a series of five. And then I will provide two more that I took that show all three in the context of the show. The three figures are Indigo, Cotton, and Rice. The youngster is clearly shown wielding the tools of slavery and harvesting cotton. A clear indictment of our past…and a prod to think about what that means to our present.

Rice, 2018. Alison Saar (American, b. 1956). Wood, copper, ceiling tin, bronze, tar, and vintage found tools; 162.6 x 76.2 x 63.5 cm. Collection of Susan Morse, Los Angeles. © Alison Saar. Courtesy of L. A. Louver, Venice, CA
photo by Ed Heinzelman
photo by Ed Heinzelman

And now a bit of whimsy: Louise Bourgeois (American, 1911 – 2010):

The Nest, 1994. Louise Bourgeois (American, 1911–2010). Steel; 256.5 x 480.1 x 401.3 cm. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Purchase through the Agnes E. Meyer and Elise S. Haas Fund and the gifts of Doris and Donald Fisher, Helen and Charles Schwab, and Vicki and Kent Logan, 98.193.A–E. © The Easton Foundation / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Katherine Du Tiel

Picturing Motherhood Now runs through March 13, 2022. This show is ticketed and tickets can be purchased online at the link shown here. Be sure to check the museum website for COVID precautions before visiting.

Ginny and Andrew, 1978 by Alice Neal (American, 1900 – 1984) oil on canvas, from a private collection. photo by Ed Heinzelman

Revealing Krishna: Journey To Cambodia’s Sacred Mountain at the Cleveland Museum of Art .

Revealing Krishna is one of the current highlights at the Cleveland Museum of Art. It tells the story of the circuitous route that their Cambodian Krishna carving took to arrive at the museum as well as the several attempts to restore it and connect it with it’s correct pieces.

One of the gratifying parts of the story is the co-operation between the National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh and the Cleveland Museum. Earlier attempts to restore the Cleveland statue resulting in mismatched pieces…which eventually led to swaps of statue fragments with the National Museum to get the statue in Cleveland and another in Phnom Penh matched with their correct pieces.

Krishna Lifting Mount Govardhan after 2020 restoration, c. 600. Southern Cambodia, Takeo Province, Phnom Da. Sandstone; 203.1 x 68 x 55.5 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, John L. Severance Fund, 1973.106

In addition to Cleveland’s Krishna Lifting Mount Govardhan, the exhibit includes a number of other CMA holdings of Cambodian sculpture plus this stunning carving of the same subject on loan from the National Museum in Phnom Penh:

Krishna Lifting Mount Govardhan, c. 700. Southern Cambodia, Takeo Province, Wat Koh. Sandstone; 161 (without 27 cm tenon) x 65.5 x 35.2 cm. National Museum of Cambodia, Ka.1625. Photo: Konstanty Kulik 

But this exhibit goes beyond the wall cards and wall text that is standard signage in any museum. There is also a visual component that uses a visor and holograms to present details of the restoration process, original site in Cambodia, and the trek that the statue made on its journey to Cleveland. And the exhibit ends with a number of interactive videos that present three dimensional representations of the eight sculptures of gods from the original site along with text explaining who they are and how they are significant to the site and the story! Beyond the ‘in the flesh statues’ this last bit was the most informative and for me at least the next most useful piece of the exhibit.

The “Gods of Phnom Da” digital gallery displays life-size 3-D models of the eight gods of Phnom Da, from c. 600, with motion-activated animations exploring details and iconographic elements. Photo: The Cleveland Museum of Art

More info: Revealing Krishna: Journey to Cambodia’s Sacred Mountain runs until January 30, 2022. There is an entrance fee for this exhibit of $15 but there are discounts for seniors and students and others. Tickets are timed and can be ordered at the link above.

Krishna Lifting Mount Govardhan (detail), c. 600. Southern Cambodia, Takeo Province, Phnom Da. Sandstone; 203.1 x 68 x 55.5 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, John L. Severance Fund, 1973.106

Janauary 6, 2022: update. Here’s a short documentary from PBS: How 3-D technology helped restore ‘Cleveland Krishna’ statue

Stealth Public Sculpture In Milwaukee County’s Lake Park!

I am going to write about something a little bit different today. For a number of years I have admired a number of sculptures in Milwaukee’s Lake Park that are situated along the west side of Lincoln Memorial Drive. I have always been captivated by these and wondered where they came from but only caught quick glimpses as I passed by in my car.

So this past Friday afternoon, I had some spare time and went to visit them and I have photos here of three installations…in the back of my mind there is a fourth one…but I couldn’t find another on Friday.

These pieces are installed in the environment. They appear to be constructed of water washed stone, most likely harvested from the shore of Lake Michigan just across the street. These stones are mounted on wire rods that appear to be brass or bronze from a distance. I didn’t approach too closely to avoid disturbing the sites. But the rods elevate the stones and rocks to define their shapes, their relationships and their presence three dimensionally. And the other ends are anchored in dead logs and stumps to balance and enhance the organic nature of the piece and make it one with the site. These are quite amazing and evocative sculptures.

So here are a few photos. As I said, I didn’t get close for a number of reasons. One is on private property and I didn’t want to disturb the sites of the other two since they are in wild swaths of parkland along the road.

Now I have been aware of this first one for some years and it is probably the most visible. It is just off Lincoln Memorial Drive across from the lagoon and maybe a quarter mile north of the Milwaukee Art Museum/War Memorial building. The contrast in stone and wood and their resilient textures are really comforting in a way but that sense of discovering it rough in nature is quite a rewarding feeling. The three stones here give the appearance that they may be water eroded pieces of concrete. That wouldn’t be difficult to find along the land fill portions of the lake shore.

© 2021 Ed Heinzelman
© 2021 Ed Heinzelman
© 2021 Ed Heinzelman

Now this second one I was also aware of for some time as well but had forgotten about it. This one is certainly made of natural water washed stones mounted on metal rods and embedded in a tree stump that had grown out of a Lannon stone retaining wall along the drive. It came back into focus for me when the county parks crew cleared some brush and vines from the retaining wall a few weeks ago. This one is so simply elegant and precious and the site is perfect! And it is a little harder to notice at first because it is above eye level for most drivers. I had first noticed it because I was already enthralled with the Lannon stone walls along this section of the roadway. There are two similar wall outcroppings there…between the staircase from the Lake Park pavilion down to the lake level and the north end of Bradford Beach…this piece is on the southern outcropping. Hopefully these photos will do the piece justice. Originally I was disappointed that it was an overcast day but that was perfect…since I was facing west and these would have been blindingly back-lit if the sun were about.

© 2021 Ed Heinzelman
© 2021 Ed Heinzelman
© 2021 Ed Heinzelman
© 2021 Ed Heinzelman

Now this third one may have been around as long as the first two but I only became aware of it this fall. When I was driving home from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee there was often a flock of turkeys feeding along the drive just below this installation or just south of it so as I watched for the turkeys each day I spotted this sculpture. It is bigger and grander than the others but just as precious and as filled with wonderment. Now it is on private property just inside a fence and half way up the bluff to North Terrace Avenue. The actual site is immediately north of the lake level gardens for the Villa Terrace Museum (the white building on the left atop the bluff).

Yes this is a grander installation and spans the length of the trunk of a deceased and fallen tree. And again at least some of the rocks used appear to be lake eroded concrete pieces. So I have added a couple of overall shots and then a close up the total piece shown in thirds, left to right.

© 2021 Ed Heinzelman
© 2021 Ed Heinzelman
© 2021 Ed Heinzelman
© 2021 Ed Heinzelman
© 2021 Ed Heinzelman
© 2021 Ed Heinzelman

If you go to visit these incredibly beautiful works of art, please please please, be respectful of the work and the environment. And be careful where you are walking or you may go home with some burdock friends adorning your jeans.

And if any of you know the artist, please share that information in the comments section so that I can properly attribute these here. And if you are aware of other ones in the park, please leave the locations in the comments because I would like to go see them in the wild!

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