There were plenty of people at Union Square yesterday with tables set up, trying to make a buck off of their artwork. Two artists were using a method of making art that you can’t really buy and take home, though. One guy was making a trail of faces on the pavement and another made a flower pattern out of chalk dust.
I had seen Felix Morelo’s artwork before, last Fall I think. I’d almost forgotten about it and I don’t know why I didn’t take any photos of the faces, because the work he did then was a lot better than what I saw yesterday.
What he does is he gets himself a bag of chalk and a crate to sit on. He draws a face, moves back, draws another face, etc. etc. What he winds up with is a Trail of Faces, with each face a bit different from the others. It doesn’t sound like much, until you look down the long line of faces and realize the sheer quantity of his work. Quantity isn’t the same as quality, but overall I think it was worthwhile to stop and admire.
Right next to the Trail of Faces I saw a flower design made out of chalk dust. I don’t know the story behind this. I’d never seen it before, but there was a pail sitting nearby for money donations. The bags on the ground around the design are full of chalk dust of different colors.
It’s nice to see something going on in the park. After a quick burst of activity in the Spring, things have really died off, but I’m not really surprised. It’s getting hot out there!
The following is the second paper I wrote for my Art History 100 class. We were tasked with finding two art pieces in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and then writing a paper that compares and contrasts them based on form and content. Our choices were restricted to certain art periods from specific locations, like French Gothic or Italian Renaissance. I chose the following two pieces because I found them particularly interesting on a personal level, as well as being easy to write about.
I think I might have been a bit off the mark on fitting The Angel Gabriel to the Renaissance standard, but I won’t know for sure until September, when I can get in touch with the professor and see the paper. It was due on the day of the final, so there’s no way for me to get it back and check it out. I’ll update the grade received and any notes from the professor at some point, on the Essays page.
(Note: The images were not included in the paper that was turned in. I added them here so readers that aren’t as familiar with art as my professor can get a better idea of what I’m talking about.)
Introduction and Location
The paper will be discussing the differences and similarities between two works: The Angel Gabriel and Qur’an Manuscript. The Angel Gabriel was created in approximately 1493, is attributed to Masseo Civitali and is believed to have originally been located in the oratory of Santa Maria dell’ Anunnziata in Lucca, Italy. The work is now located in gallery 500 on the first floor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the “European Sculpture and Decorative Arts” section. The Qur’an Manuscript was created in the early 14th century, by an anonymous artist in Iran or Iraq. The work is now located in a display case in gallery 203, on the Great Hall Balcony on the second floor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Formal Aspect & Genre Descriptions
The Angel Gabriel is a Renaissance sculpture that is roughly life-sized. The sculpture is a painted and partially gilt terracotta statue. It appears to have been free standing on its original base, which is now broken. The statue is now anchored to a display base. The sculpture leans at an almost unnatural angle, covered in a draped garment that is smooth and flowing. The figure is naturalistically proportioned and detailed, though the face is idealized. On the back of the statue, there are two vertical slots where terracotta wings were probably inserted. Renaissance art was largely religious (Aston 105). Compared to the earlier Gothic style, Renaissance art focused more on the human aspect of the art subject. Where Gothic art was solemn and dignified, Renaissance works like The Angel Gabriel attempted to introduce tenderness and beauty into art without sacrificing the aura of divinity associated with religious figures (Aston 133). The introduction of a human element into the sculpture is apparent in the joyous expression on the face and in how the arms are crossed over the chest, as though the angel can barely contain the good news he is about to share. Rather than standing vertical, the angel is leaning forward towards the recipient of his news. Despite these included aspects of human emotion, the aura of the divine is still maintained through the idealized, androgynous face (angels have no gender), and the original presence of wings on its back.
The Qur’an Manuscript is a non-illustrated manuscript folio and an example of Islamic art. The page on display is 34.9 x 27.3 centimeters and was made with ink, opaque watercolor and gold on paper. The page is primarily covered with naskh cursive text, but also contains decorative calligraphy and hand drawn vegetal and geometric images that are painted with gold. Islamic art as a whole is defined by a prohibition against making representations of living things, since it might create a temptation to commit idolatry (Evans 151). The resulting typical expression of Islamic art is mostly abstract, containing geometric patterns, references to vegetation and calligraphy. These elements were reflections of religious beliefs. The geometric patterns represent the perfection of Allah and the vegetation is a reference to paradise in the afterlife. Calligraphy also became a popular form of art, taking the place of images and being used to represent Allah. The main purpose of calligraphy was to appreciate the visual quality, rather than to read it. These elements are present in both secular and religious art, though secular art would not contain calligraphic quotations from the Qur’an.
Both The Angel Gabriel and the Qu’ran Manuscript have a similar theme. Both works are the products of religious devotion. Gabriel is a prominent figure that is present in the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Stories about Gabriel appear in each religion’s holy texts. The Qur’an Manuscript is a handwritten and decorated page of the Qu’ran, the holy book of Islam. The difference between the two works is that while The Angel Gabriel represents a religious idea, it was mostly meant to be decorative, appearing in an oratory. The Qu’ran Manuscript, on the other hand, while being decorative was also meant to be functional, a holy book to read and learn from.
The Angel Gabriel specifically depicts Gabriel, an angel, leaning forward, as if appearing to someone. The name Gabriel means “God is my strength” or “the strength of God” and he is known as The Great Communicator (Aquilina 69). Throughout the Bible, Gabriel appears to people to bring them news from God. In Daniel 8:15-17 he appears to Daniel to explain a vision to him. In Luke 1:16-17 he appears to Zechariah to tell him that he and his wife shall have a child and that his child, John the Baptist, will prepare the way for the Messiah. Later, in Luke 1:26-38, Gabriel appears to Mary, to tell her that she will be the mother of Jesus Christ, the son of God. According to the information placard on the sculpture’s display base, it is believed that The Angel Gabriel was originally part of a pair of statues which included the Virgin Mary. Together, they would have formed an Annunciation Group, which represents the moment when Gabriel shared the news of her divine pregnancy with her.
The Qu’ran Manuscript is a page from the holy book of Islam, the Qu’ran. The top of the page contains a geometric, gold painted rectangular frame that contains decorative calligraphy which reads, “Surat Saud, Eighty Six Verses (Ayats), Mekka surat” (Hany), though Mr. Hany also noted that the surat actually has 88 verses. Just to the right of the rectangular frame is a drawing containing concentric circles around a vegetal image, probably of a flower, also in gold with a blue center. Additional matching representations of flowers, rosettes, are drawn throughout the text as markers between ayas, or verses. In the right margin are two decorative seals, one circular, one teardrop shaped, both in gold and surrounded by a blue outline. These seals contain kufic script in the center. The main text of the page is a cursive form of Arabic known as naskh, with recitation marks added in red ink. The text on the page on display is the last part of the 37th surah and the first 11 ayas of the 38th surah of the 23rd juz (part) of the Qu’ran, The Letter Saud, which was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad at Mecca. Preceding the beginning of the 1st aya in the 38th surah is the phrase, “In the name of Allah, the most gracious, the most merciful,” which is not part of the surah itself and precedes all of the surahs in the Qu’ran (Hany).
The original purpose of The Angel Gabriel would have been to inspire believers and deepen their faith. Many people at the time the statue was created were illiterate, and learning about Christianity, outside of sermons given by clergy, was through observation of religious art. When looking at the sculpture of Gabriel, believers would have been reminded of the good news he shared with people in the Bible, and particularly with Mary. If The Angel Gabriel was originally paired with a statue of the Virgin Mary, then viewing them together would have reminded viewers of their hope of salvation through God’s grace and Jesus’ Christ’s death and resurrection on the cross. The Angel Gabriel was originally designed to be a decorative piece for casual observation and reflection and, though it is now located in a museum rather than a religious building, the effect is essentially the same. It causes the viewer to contemplate the meaning of Christianity and Gabriel’s role in the Bible.
The Qu’ran Manuscript was meant to be a functional copy of the Qu’ran, to be used by believers for study and recitation, as well as to inspire through the decorative artwork it contains. The Arabic text of the page, together with the rest of the text in the Qu’ran, is the physical representation of Allah through language (the written word) in the Islamic faith. The Qu’ran praises Allah and His creation, defines the relationship between Allah and the worshipper, explains the afterlife through eschatological texts and teaches Muslims how to practice their faith in everyday life. While the particular copy of the Qu’ran the page came from is no longer serving that purpose, the text of the Qu’ran has been copied, translated and distributed all over the world and continues to serve the function it was originally created for.
The Angel Gabriel is presented in a small room with other Italian Renaissance pieces. The room is well lit, and Gabriel is the first work you notice as you walk into the room. The lighting brings out the remaining color from the original paint and gilding on the statue, giving the viewer an idea of what it might have originally looked like. Appreciation of how the piece was originally displayed would be helped by having a similar work of the Virgin Mary opposite Gabriel, though that is probably not possible due to limitations in the museum’s inventory. An alternative would be to have a digital rendering of what it might have looked like in place at the oratory displayed next to it, or on the display base. As it’s now displayed, Gabriel appears almost out of place in the room and it requires a lot of imagination to picture how it would have originally appeared.
The Qu’ran Manuscript is set in a glass display case along the wall of the Great Hall Balcony. The display case contains other Islamic works that represent highlights from the Department of Islamic Art. The works range in date from the seventh to the eighteenth century and include textiles, jewelry, pottery and other manuscript pages. Since the case shows a cross-section of art, the overall effect is a bit jarring, especially combined with the noise coming from the entry hall below the balcony and the strong smells coming from the balcony dining area. The benefit of being placed in that location is that it catches the eye of people walking by and the skylights and windows help to keep it well illuminated. It would be easier to appreciate this work in a smaller room with other Islamic manuscript pages from the same time period.
Aquilina, Mike. Angels of God: The Bible, The Church, And The Heavenly Hosts. Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2009.
You may remember this guy. He was in the last graffiti and wall murals post. I only post it again because I wanted to mention that it was a good thing I took a photo of it when I did, during the winter when that tree had no leaves on it. It’s going to be pretty well hidden until Fall comes around.
I found the next mural on the opposite side of the building. I’m not sure why I never noticed it before. Maybe there was a building or something there the last time I walked through the area.
These last few are graffiti from a public restroom.
I’m not sure about this one. I’m still trying to figure out how they get from Sharpie to Sandwich, or what it has to do with staining.
Pretty deep, right? I mean, for toilet art anyway.
Yesterday I went to the Japan Society on 47th Street here in Manhattan. They were having a Concert for Japan, with 100% of the proceeds going to the Japan Relief Fund. I knew I wasn’t going to get there early enough to secure tickets for any of the shows, but the admission fee for the building was only 5 bucks, and it included full access, including the Bye Bye Kitty! art exhibit, which was my main reason for going there anyway.
When I showed up, they had speakers set up outside so you could hear the concert from the street. It sounded pretty good, so I sat down on one of the benches across the street for a while and just enjoyed the tunes.
Then I noticed there were food stalls, so I had myself some takoyaki.
Once I got inside I went to the area called the “J-Lounge”, and got a bottle of Pocari Sweat. It’s better than it sounds! It’s a sports drink, which is why the word “sweat” is included in the name, but the girl gave me a weird look when I asked for it. I had to explain what it is to her, then I shared the story of my reaction when I first saw it in Singapore. She agreed with me that if they really want to market the drink in English speaking markets, they should change the name. The J-Lounge also had a big screen TV in it that was showing the concert on the lower level.
After I finished the drink I went up to the art gallery. The works were, for the most part, pretty impressive. The one that catches your attention first, and most, is called Ash Color Mountains, by Makoto Aida:
The idea behind this is that he’s expressing his disgust with the conformism and lack of individualism of the gray-suited “salaryman”.
From Aida’s War Picture Returns series, the first two images: Beautiful Flag.
These are just a few other images I enjoyed.
And I’m not sure what this is supposed to be exactly, but it was interesting! The ‘blood’ in the tubes was being pumped, and you could hear the motor and the suction sounds. I don’t know if I’d want to come across this in the night.
Overall, it was a very pleasant experience and I’m looking forward to going back when they have future events. It also has me interested in going back to the Metropolitan Museum of Art sometime soon, which is sure to happen, since I have another paper due for my Art History class!
You may remember last week I posted about the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s bizarre laptop policy. This post is about the reason I was there. I had to write an essay for my 100 level Art History class on either a Greek, Indian, Egyptian or Sub-Saharan African sculpture from the museum. You’ll notice in the instructions below that it says we could write about paintings or architecture, but the professor told us to stick with sculptures in class. It’s not a traditional essay, since there’s no real opening or closing paragraph, but these are the instructions we were given:
The paper (1 – 2 pages) should consist of four paragraphs. It should be as follows:
Paragraph 1: Identify the work briefly but adequately. Start by stating that “the paper will be discussing the formal aspects and the museum presentation of the following piece”, then give the title of the work, name of artist if known –if unknown write anonymous—medium, country of origin and date. Mention where it is located in the museum.
Paragraph 2: Describe the work by writing a complete formal analysis. In looking at the form you will consider the various aspects of form that are discussed in class, such as: materials, size, texture, kind of shapes and lines, colors, light…etc. A person who is not familiar with the pieces should get a clear idea of how they look through your description.
Paragraph 3: Consider how the piece is exhibited (displayed). That would include, the approximate size of the gallery (room), kind of light used in the gallery, the case where the piece is exhibited; if a painting, the way it is hung. Mention the other objects in the room and their effect on your chosen piece. In case you are working on an architectural piece such as a room, it will be within a larger gallery, consider its relation with its surroundings and what is displayed within it. Do you think the display effects [sic] the piece and the visitor’s experience negatively or positively? Explain. If you were the curator, would you change the exhibit (display)? Yes, no, why?
Paragraph 4: Suppose you’d like to do research on the piece. What questions would you like to answer? Write down any question for which an answer can’t be found by just looking at the piece.
So, those are the guidelines I was given to write this paper, and this is what I came up with:
Three-Headed Male Figure: Formal Aspects and Museum Presentation
The paper will be discussing the formal aspects and the museum presentation of the following piece: “Three-Headed Male Figure”. The work is a 19th century wood and pigment statue by an anonymous artist from the Kuyu peoples in the Congo Basin area of what is now the Republic of the Congo. The work is located on the ground floor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, New York, in room 352 of the “Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas” section.
The “Three-Headed Male Figure” is a free-standing, carved wood statue of a partially nude male figure. The statue is cylindrical and appears to be carved from one solid piece of wood. The figure is standing upright, in an erect, rigid posture. The statue’s feet are large and rounded, extending backward from the rear of the leg as far as they do forward. The legs are cylindrical and smooth and are disproportionately short compared to the rest of the body. The lower portions of the legs are covered by sets of raised carved wood lines that resemble simple torques. The arms are narrow and are carved flat against the torso, which is highly cylindrical and lacking in natural definition. The front and back of the torso are covered with an assortment of geometric patterns, as are the upper portions of the legs. A toggle shaped pattern covering the upper legs circles the whole form, but leaves the genitalia exposed in the front. The geometric patterns across the abdomen are mostly rounded, with shapes that include circles, curved lines similar to hills, and beaded areas which are also clustered in circles. The rear of the torso is covered in one pattern of lines with points that extend downward on each side of the spine. The patterns are carved from the same wood as the rest of the statue and are raised from the surface, in relief. They are carved deep enough to provide areas of shadow in the pattern, depending on how it is positioned in relation to a light source. The head of the statue is oblong and taller than natural. The cheeks and foreheads are covered with carved decorations. The features of the faces are carved deeply, with hard, strong lines. The faces are arranged so that one is pointed forward and the other two are angled backwards just behind each shoulder, with no gap between each face. Large portions of the statue were originally covered in white and red pigments. Some of those pigments still remain on the tops of the geometric designs on the upper legs and torso, as well as on portions of the faces.
The statue is positioned in a medium sized gallery room, which is filled with other African art pieces. The pieces are all contained in glass display cases which, in most cases, allow for viewing from all four sides. There are no external windows in the gallery and all of the lighting is artificial. Compared to the Greek and Roman gallery, the lighting is dim, with most of the light being focused on the individual pieces. The lower lighting in the room and the focus of the light sources on the pieces invites the viewer to more seriously consider the artwork on display. The positioning of the lighting also allows for the geometric patterns on the pieces to have areas of shadow, which adds to the viewing experience and gives the pieces more depth, emphasizing the three dimensional aspect of the sculptures. The “Three-Headed Male Figure” is positioned in the center of the rear portion of the room, in its own glass case, with multiple light sources illuminating the statue’s three faces. In addition to focusing the viewer’s attention on the pieces, the artificial lighting in the room protects the wood of the art pieces from sun damage and reduces the damage that could be done to the remaining pigments. The gallery the “Three-Headed Male Figure” is positioned in gives it context. The room is quiet, and the spotlight-style lighting greatly adds to the enjoyment of the viewing experience. The smaller pieces, which are grouped together in large display cases, are well positioned, but to improve the overall experience of viewing the sculptures and other large items in the room, benches could be added, so viewers could sit and reflect.
To better appreciate the “Three-Headed Male Figure”, it would be helpful to have a more thorough understanding of the piece’s background and use. African art is functional, so without understanding what it was used for, you can’t truly understand the significance of the art. To further that understanding, research into the traditions and culture of the Kuyu peoples, and other native peoples in the area, could lend insight into what the sculpture was used for. It would also be interesting to know who in the society made the piece: a professional, a priest, a family member, or the person (or persons) for whom the piece was intended to be used. Besides knowing how it was made and what it was used for, it would also be helpful to know how it was originally displayed in the community and whether or not the people that used it interacted with it, or if it was only viewed. Lastly, it would be worthwhile to find out if similar statues are still used by the native peoples of the region, or if the practice has died out completely.
The paper wound up being 2.5 pages, double spaced and in a 12 point font, which was also required. The paper hasn’t been graded yet, but when it has, I’ll add that to the new “Essays (Graded)” page I added to this blog, which can be accessed from the tab bar under the header.
And now, the moment you’ve possibly been waiting for. What does this “Three-Headed Male Figure” actually look like? (Click on the images to see larger versions).
There’s a lot of fascinating stuff to look at in the Met, and I’m very much looking forward to my next trip there, where I can simply look and enjoy, without having to consider how to write a paper about the sculptures, though I think I will be able to appreciate them more, now that I have a better understanding of how these items are made and what they were used for.