“The Museum was able to purchase this important relief by meticulously following the international agreements controlling the import and export of antiquities. Strict legal requirements govern the acquisition of ancient artifacts, including proof of provenance, to help prevent the looting of ancient sites. Our curators were able to document the relief’s history of successive ownership by two Swiss collectors (one of them a psychoanalyst), satisfying the legal provisions.”
—Arnold Lehman, Director This relief sculpture represents three mourners coming from a funeral procession. Each holds the top of her dress in one hand, and beats her bare chest with the other. This gesture of mourning in ancient Egypt was often accompanied by loud cries of grief, evident in the open mouth of the woman on the right. Archeologists found this relief in a tomb chapel. Originally it would have been painted, and traces of pigment still remain.
“This is the only bicycle in the world that I would trade my fire-engine-red tricycle for! The fox fur tails on the Spacelander were an extra!”
—Arnold Lehman, Director The curved lines and amoeba-like voids of this bicycle reflect 1940s tastes in organic, rather than machinemade, forms. However, Benjamin Bowden could not have his design commercially produced until the 1960s By that time, changing styles and the bike’s high price—$89.50—kept sales down to only about five hundred bicycles. The Spacelander reveals the Museum’s expansive view of art and design in American popular culture. It was purchased for the Museum’s exhibition Vital Forms: American Art and Design in the Atomic Age, 1940–1960 (2001).
“Although I knew and admired the work of Brooklyn-based Mickey Thomas, seeing this new monumental painting at an art fair absolutely stopped me in my tracks! Its voluptuous reference to Ingres and its surface covered with an astonishing array of patterns and materials were visually overwhelming.”
—Arnold Lehman, Director In this work, a nude black woman reclines amid an interior of vibrant and sometimes clashing patterns. Exploring ideas of self-representation, Mickalene Thomas chose to represent her this way to counter traditional European paintings of female nudes, in which black women were depicted in the background, often as maids or servants, rather than being the focus.
“The Mary Smith Dorward Fund, which provides funding for acquisitions at the discretion of the Director, assisted the Museum in acquiring this remarkable work. I have identified that fund as a key resource for purchasing objects that can be seen as having a broad context throughout the Museum—individual works that are important to different collection areas and to the Museum as a whole.”
—Arnold Lehman, Director Missionaries, travelers, and pilgrims from India initially introduced portable icons of Buddha to China. Around the third century, Chinese artists began to create bronze Buddha statues, incorporating elements of China’s own heritage, such as the Chinese-style robe worn here.
This painting commemorates the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and the leader of Shi‘a Muslims. Husayn sits astride a horse in the center of the composition.
The important seventh-century Battle of Karbala reflected the divide between the Sunni and Shi‘a branches of Islam; Husayn led a resistance against what the Shi‘a believed was the illegitimate rule of the Sunni Umayyad caliphs. The scenes to the left represent the events leading up to the battle, while the right shows Husayn and his companions in heaven and their opponents below in hell.
“While certain masks in Africa have portrayed Western traders, soldiers, missionaries, and others since the nineteenth century, it was an exciting cross-cultural moment when this mask of Elvis entered the collection.”
—Arnold Lehman, Director This mask, representing Elvis Presley, speaks to the ever-evolving art of the masquerade. In modern times, the tradition of masquerade continues, but the subjects are updated and influenced by global exchanges, in this case with the United States. Created by a Chewa artist for a men’s secret society, a mask like this one, portraying an outsider, was intended to represent undesirable values. Other outsider masks have, in the past, depicted everyone from British officials to Charlie Chaplin.
“A major figure within the group of increasingly significant mid-century African American artists living in New York, Beauford Delaney found his influences in many sources: the work of contemporary artists such as Stuart Davis and Marsden Hartley; the disenfranchisement of African Americans and other people of color, despite the bolder voices of black writers, poets, and musicians of the Harlem Renaissance being heard; and a nation recovering first from the Great Depression and then from World War II. The exceptionally powerful composition of this important painting highlights many of the issues confronting Delaney during his very difficult day-to-day life as an artist in New York.
“Helping to establish the Fund for African American Art at the Brooklyn Museum, and seeing it become a leader in the evolving national appreciation for these artists and their work, has been enormously rewarding. Needless to say, I am very proud and grateful that this painting was acquired in my honor.” —Arnold Lehman, Director This still life from 1945 was composed as if to represent an offering, with a bowl of vivid yellow fruits placed before a Fang reliquary figure and visited by a spirit-like black bird. Rendered by Delaney with electric colors and expressionist brushwork, the forms vibrate with energy. The artist created this work at a moment when he had begun to mentor the aspiring writer James Baldwin, who was completing the manuscript for Crying Holy, soon to become Go Tell It on the Mountain. Both were seeking empowerment as black artists and gay men, and were inspired and sustained through a connection to traditional African culture and art.
“The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago is the defining gift of a work of art to the Museum in the first decades of the twenty-first century and has committed the Museum to seeing, understanding, and talking about art in an entirely new way. The Dinner Party and the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, which it iconically represents, have significantly changed the course of the Museum’s programming and interaction with our community. Its importance to the collection encouraged this exhibition’s adjacent placement.”
—Arnold Lehman, Director The Dinner Party, a paragon of 1970s feminism and a milestone in twentieth-century art, is the centerpiece around which the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art is organized. This monumental work of art, triangular in configuration, employs numerous media—including ceramics, china-painting, and an array of needle and fiber techniques, executed with dozens of collaborators—to honor the history of women. An immense open table covered with fine white cloth is set with thirty-nine place settings, thirteen on a side, each commemorating a goddess, historical figure, or other important woman. The table rests on a porcelain floor made up of 2,304 hand-cast, gilded, and lustered tiles on which are inscribed the names of 999 other notable women. The names are grouped around the relevant place settings to symbolize the long traditions of women’s achievements.
“This exceptionally beautiful portrait, purchased in 2007, became a major catalyst for our remarkable exhibition Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties (2011). The dynamic interaction between our rich collection, our new acquisitions, and the Museum’s exhibition program is critical to keeping the collection alive and engaging for our public.”
—Arnold Lehman, Director This close-up portrait shows the artist Paul Cadmus, with carefully defined features and an arresting gaze. At the time the work was created, refined portraits like this one suggested enduring faith in artistic ideals, such as the beauty of the Italian Renaissance, following the devastation of World War I.
Diverse Works: Director’s Choice, 1997–2015
April 15–August 2, 2015
Since taking the helm of the Brooklyn Museum in 1997, Arnold L. Lehman has expanded our collections to include exceptional works from around the world and across the centuries. To honor his vision, and to mark his retirement as Shelby White and Leon Levy Director in the summer of 2015, this installation highlights the scope of the Museum’s collecting accomplishments, underscoring our commitment to diversity in all its forms, under his leadership.
Diverse Works: Director’s Choice, 1997–2015 includes a selection of one hundred works from the nearly ten thousand acquired during Dr. Lehman’s tenure, including objects that range from an ancient Chinese mythical carved figure (5th‒3rd century B.C.E.) to contemporary works by Kiki Smith and Chuck Close. Additional highlights include Kara Walker’s Keys to the Coop (1997), a linocut that depicts an African American woman in silhouette, holding the severed head of a chicken; a silver Song dynasty reliquary (986) inscribed by the artist Li Lingxun; and the biomorphic Spacelander bicycle (1960), one of the rarest and most sought-after industrial designs of the mid-twentieth century.
Diverse Works: Director’s Choice, 1997‒2015 is organized by the curators of the Brooklyn Museum in honor of Arnold L. Lehman.