CONNECTING CULTURES—An Illustration
When works of art enter a museum, they take on new meanings and can be understood in new ways. In a gallery setting, we can compare objects from different cultures in ways that were not possible before they were gathered together, leading to new insights into what cultures share, and what makes them different.
The objects presented in this central area of the exhibition illustrate these opportunities for comparison. In some cases, we see objects whose original purpose was to demonstrate the status of the owner, an important function in many societies. For example, the simple fact of owning a chair, of being among those allowed to sit comfortably while others stand, is a theme that can be compared across cultures.
We also see objects whose very materials reflect the values of the cultures that produced them. The meaning of the value attached to particular materials is an important part of the study of luxury objects, for example. Which is more valuable, gold or alpaca wool? It depends on who you are.
We encourage you to examine these objects and begin to think about the people who produced them. What cultural connections can we draw through an understanding of these objects?
A Pictorial History of the Brooklyn Museum
The history of the Brooklyn Museum and its predecessors begins in 1823. It is impossible to list all the many collections, donors, and events that have made this institution what it is today. The following is a brief outline of the major moments in the Museum’s rich historical legacy.
1820s–1830s A Repository ... of books ... for enlarging the knowledge, and thereby improving the condition of mechanics, manufacturers, artisans and others. —An Act to Incorporate the Brooklyn Apprentices' Library Association, passed November 20, 1824
In 1823, a group of concerned Brooklyn citizens begins organizing the Apprentices’ Library Association, which becomes the first free and circulating library in Brooklyn. The Apprentices’ Library Building on Cranberry Street, shown here, is completed in 1825.
The Library commissions and purchases its first painting, this portrait of Robert Snow by William Dunlap, in 1831. Snow was one of the founders and the first president of the Apprentices’ Library Association.
Acting Librarian Walt Whitman reports in 1835 that the Library has 172 readers and 1,200 volumes, which include books devoted to a wide array of cultural and scientific topics.
Several books originally held in the Apprentices’ Library remain in the Brooklyn Museum Library’s collection to this day, including an atlas (its title page is shown here) by Nicolas Sanson, printed in 1692 and on display in this gallery.
1840s–1850s We commend these Exhibitions ... and hope the spirit which prompts them will increase and multiply in Brooklyn. We wish some plan could be formed which would result in a perpetual free exhibition of works of art here, which would be open to all classes. —Walt Whitman, "About Pictures, &c," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 21, 1846
The Apprentices’ Library moves to new quarters (the columned building at right of center) on Washington Street in 1841 and begins a series of exhibitions of paintings, sculpture, machinery models, and curiosities of nature. By 1843 the Apprentices’ Library and the Brooklyn Lyceum are legally consolidated and renamed The Brooklyn Institute. The Institute focuses its exhibitions efforts on works of art.
In 1846, The Brooklyn Institute announces plans to establish a permanent gallery of fine arts “containing specimens of the finest European artists, with productions of the best painters of our own country.” American art collected at this time includes Winter Scene in Brooklyn, circa 1819–20 (shown here), by Francis Guy.
In 1855, the Institute commissions Asher B. Durand to paint The First Harvest in the Wilderness, using money from a fund bequeathed in 1851 by Augustus Graham, one of the original founders of the Apprentices’ Library.
1880s–1890s ... Brooklyn should have an Institute of the Arts and Sciences worthy of her wealth, her position, her culture and her people. —The First Yearbook of the Brooklyn Institute, 1889
A citizens’ committee forms plans in 1888 for a new museum building (a preliminary rendition is shown here) that would house a unique combination of the arts and sciences. Legislation sets aside land adjacent to Prospect Park for art and educational institutions.
The newly established Department of Photography begins a series of annual exhibitions focused on pictorialism in 1889. The Institute becomes the first North American art museum to present photography as an art form. This photograph of what was then called the East River Bridge, circa 1888, by Breading G. Way, was included in the first exhibition.
The Brooklyn Institute is reorganized into the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences in 1890, the eventual parent institution of the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. Institute departments range from anthropology to zoology, and gallery displays include a wide variety of natural history specimens (shown here on display in the early twentieth century) as well as works of art.
Charles A. Schieren, mayor of the city of Brooklyn, lays the cornerstone for a new museum building in 1895 designed by McKim, Mead & White. Franklin Hooper, Director of the Brooklyn Institute, announces that the museum is to embrace “all known human history…. Through its collections in the arts and sciences, and through its libraries it should be possible to read the history of the world.” The initial wing of what comes to be known as the Brooklyn Museum is shown here under construction on Decoration Day in 1896.
Booker T. Washington proclaims that “the study of art that does not result in making the strong less willing to oppress the weak means little,” in an address delivered at the Institute in 1896.
By 1897, the west wing of the Museum is completed, collections are installed, and the building opens to the public. This image shows the initial wing as it looked in 1898, surrounded by farmland.
The Institute continues to expand its collections with acquisitions such as the William Wallace Tooker Collection of Indian Relics of Long Island. The Tooker Collection becomes part of the Department of Ethnology under a new collections organization plan in 1899, which includes Fine Arts and Natural Sciences departments.
1900s ... building up great ethnological collections, sending out expeditions for acquiring of antiquities, first over all America, then over the entire world. —Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 18, 1903
Susan A. Hutchinson, the first Museum Librarian and later Curator of Prints (served 1900–35), works to build the collections with William Henry Goodyear, the first Curator of Fine Arts (1899–1923), and Stewart Culin, the first Curator of the Department of Ethnology (1903–29). Here, Hutchinson and Goodyear work in the Library reading room, about 1910.
In 1900, Brooklyn residents raise funds for the purchase of a series of 350 watercolors by James Tissot illustrating the Gospel accounts of the life of Christ. These works, world famous at that time, are the first Museum purchase by public subscription.
Acquisitions continue, with a mission to build all parts of the collection, including both the Fine Arts and Ethnology departments.
In an effort to bring the world to Brooklyn, plaster casts of ancient sculptures and replicas of renowned works of art are acquired and installed in 1901.
In 1901, Brooklyn Mayor Charles A. Schieren donates the first southwestern Native American objects to the Museum—pottery from the Anasazi and Pueblo peoples of Arizona and New Mexico, such as this Anasazi pitcher, 900–1300.
The Egyptian antiquities collection is established in 1902 with objects obtained from the prominent Egyptologist Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie. This faience amulet in the form of two eyes, 1539–1075 B.C.E., meant to bring good health and physical well-being to the wearer, was one of the Petrie objects. Through Petrie, the Brooklyn Museum begins a long relationship with the Egypt Exploration Society.
In 1902, Colonel Robert B. Woodward establishes an endowment fund of $50,000, which is crucial to the institution’s collecting initiative, aimed at furnishing the Museum’s newly opened galleries with key works representing art from around the world. This painting by Thomas Couture, The Fugitive: Study for “Timon of Athens,” circa 1857, is one of the earliest purchases made using the Woodward Fund.
Stewart Culin travels extensively (here he is shown in the field) during his tenure as Curator of the Department of Ethnology (1903–29). He acquires over 9,000 objects representing Native American, African, and Asian arts and cultures, laying the foundations of several different curatorial departments for the Museum. In 1906, the Museum becomes involved with excavations in Egypt, which continue into the 21st century.
The central pavilion of the Museum building (shown here in winter) is completed in 1907, followed by the east wing. Curators continue to acquire works to fill the newly available space.
By 1907, the collection is composed of 532 paintings, watercolors, photographs, plaster casts, and decorative-arts objects as well as large quantities of archaeological, ethnographic, and natural history material collected through Museum expeditions. The Museum also purchases works, including Funerary Stela of Senres and Hormose, circa 1539–1425 B.C.E., the most significant addition to the Egyptian collection up to that time.
Thirty allegorical statues designed under the direction of the renowned sculptor Daniel Chester French are added to the façade of the Museum building in 1909. Here one is being hoisted into place.
In 1912 the Museum adds to its rich collection of American watercolors, acquiring several by Winslow Homer, including In the Jungle, Florida, 1904.
The Museum continues to collect works for display in its spacious new building. Notable acquisitions include the Samuel P. Avery collection of Chinese cloisonné, a model of a humpback whale, and many watercolors by John Singer Sargent, including The Bridge of Sighs, circa 1905–8, acquired by public subscription in 1913.
The Print Department is established as part of the Library in 1913, and the collection grows over the years. This Self-Portrait, 1914, by Max Beckmann was an early acquisition by Carl Schniewind, Museum Librarian and Curator of Books and Prints (1935–40). Beckmann was a teacher at the Museum’s Art School, which existed from 1891 to 1985.
With the assistance of the noted scholar, collector, donor, and trustee Luke Vincent Lockwood, the Museum acquires several American period rooms, including the Cupola House, circa 1725, the Hall of which is shown here. Although the first period rooms are acquired in 1915, they are not installed until 1929.
Objects collected by Charles Edwin Wilbour, one of America’s first Egyptologists, begin to enter the collection in 1916. This major donation is followed by additional donations from his wife and children, including objects as well as the establishment of the Wilbour Fund to support the Egyptian Department and the Wilbour Library of Egyptology. The famous Female Figure, circa 3500–3400 B.C.E., one of the oldest objects in the collection, was purchased with the help of the Wilbour Fund.
The Museum holds the First Annual Exhibition of the newly founded Brooklyn Society of Etchers in 1916. The Museum purchases this Edward Hopper etching, Housetops, made in 1921, after it is exhibited here in the Tenth Annual Exhibition, in 1925. Hopper was a member of the Brooklyn Society of Etchers.
Curator Stewart Culin, in collaboration with M.D.C. Crawford of the American Museum of Natural History, opens a Study Room in 1918 filled with ethnographic works of art such as the clothing and textiles shown here. Artists and designers are invited to visit and be inspired by the art on view.
1920s I left the building a much delighted man ... filled with the hope that the Museum having taken the first step would take others.... The Museum struck me as having rich possibilities for experimental work in the true spirit of To-Day! —Alfred Stieglitz to Brooklyn Museum Director William H. Fox, June 21, 1921
The opening of a subway stop in front of the Museum (the entrance is visible in the foreground of this photograph) in 1920 markedly increases attendance.
Edgar Degas’s Portrait of Mlle Fiocre in the Ballet “La Source,” circa 1867–68, enters the Museum collection in 1922; at the same time, A. Augustus Healy, President of the Brooklyn Institute (served 1895–1920), leaves the Museum his personal collection of works of art and an acquisitions endowment. Healy’s donation, along with gifts from William H. Herriman, enhances the Museum’s collection with paintings by Rubens, Sargent, and Degas.
The precedent-setting exhibition Primitive Negro Art, Chiefly from the Belgian Congo is organized by Curator Stewart Culin in 1923. The exhibition showcases over 1,500 African objects, shown as works of art rather than as ethnographic specimens.
In 1924 Delia J. Akeley, an explorer and writer, leads one of many Museum-sponsored collecting expeditions, which eventually adds over 200 Congolese objects to the collection. This early twentieth-century anthropomorphic pot from the Ubangi or Uele region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is one such object.
Curator Stewart Culin showcases key works from the ethnographic collections in 1925 in what he calls the Rainbow House installation, located in the center of the Great Hall (where you are now standing).
In 1927, construction ends on the interiors of the east wing and the Beaux-Arts Court, the last two sections of the original McKim, Mead & White plan to be completed.
The Museum’s building campaign ceases in 1927 with only one-fifth of the original McKim, Mead & White plan completed (the area shown in colors on this floor plan).
Herbert Spinden succeeds Stewart Culin as Curator of Ethnology in 1929. Spinden focuses his activities on building collections from Mexico and Central and South America. During his tenure (1929–50), he leads several collecting expeditions and also acquires key objects such as this Life-Death Figure, circa 900–1250 (on display in this gallery), making the Museum a leader in this area.
1930s There seems to be a place ... for a museum of a different type emphasizing the history of cultures, and the social and industrial relations of art. —Philip N. Youtz, Museum Director, in the Brooklyn Museum Annual Report, 1934
Over 6,000 books are added to the Museum Library as part of the 1930 purchase of the estate of the founding Curator of Ethnology, Stewart Culin. This image is a page from one of Culin’s books, Classical Patterns for Dyeing, 1934–38, by Kodo Kawarazaki.
The Museum expands its educational mission by establishing an education department, in 1930, which focuses on continuing the educational activities begun by the Brooklyn Institute and its predecessors. Activities include programs such as the one shown here, led by Native Americans, in the Beaux-Arts Court in 1932. Additional outreach efforts at this time include working with radio station WNYC to broadcast lectures and interviews.
In 1934 the Museum building is modernized; the monumental front stairs are removed, and a new entry hall is created at ground level. The workers in this photo may be members of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA completed a number of projects at the Museum during the era of the Great Depression, including construction of a new entrance and auditorium and the creation of models, maps, and sketches for exhibitions.
The Museum establishes a new collecting policy in 1934 emphasizing the fine arts, cultural history, and the social and industrial aspects of art. Exhibition topics, such as The Story of Silk, 1934, shown here, mirror this approach.
With the new concentration on fine arts and cultural history, galleries formerly focused on natural history, like this one, photographed sometime between 1905 and 1915, are repurposed. The natural history collections are dispersed to several institutions, including the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and the American Museum of Natural History. The fine-arts collections are then arranged in chronological order, beginning with the prehistoric period on the ground floor of the Museum and continuing up to the Gallery of Living Artists on the top floor.
The Restoration Laboratory, one of the first conservation laboratories in America, is established in 1934.
The Wilbour Library of Egyptology, one of the world’s most important resources for the study of ancient Egypt, opens in 1934.
The Dick S. Ramsay Fund is established in 1934 to allow for the purchase of works created by American artists. This fund will support the acquisition of key works by artists including John Singleton Copley, Thomas Cole, and Thomas Eakins. This painting, Letitia Wilson Jordan, 1888, by Eakins, is one such purchase.
Frank L. Babbott, a former trustee, bequeaths his collection of Italian art as well as a fund to support acquisitions, in 1934. The Museum has been able to purchase many works using Babbott funds, including this Peruvian tapestry dating from circa 600–1000.
The Print Department is separated from the Museum Library, and the William A. Putnam Print Room is established in 1937 in honor of Putnam and his wife, who had given several works of art, including works by Dürer, Millet, and Rembrandt. This photograph from 1939 shows a researcher studying prints from the collection.
The Paracas Textile, a cornerstone of the South American collection, is acquired in 1938. This extraordinary mantle or cloak, made by early Paracas artists, is one of the most renowned Andean textiles in the world.
During World War II the Museum joins the home-front effort by tending to “victory gardens.” With the help of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, three acres of land behind the Museum are tilled for staff to plant.
The exhibition America South of the U.S. opens in 1941, showcasing the Museum’s newly acquired collection of colonial Spanish American art. The Museum is one of the first North American art museums to collect and exhibit the art of the viceregal period in the Spanish colonies.
The Brooklyn Museum Art School, jointly organized by the Institute and the Brooklyn Art Association in 1891, is installed in the Museum’s west wing in 1941. The school remains active until 1985. Here a faculty member demonstrates a technique for one of her students during a class in 1979.
The decorative arts collection is significantly enriched with a large gift of American ceramics given by Arthur W. Clement, an author and avid collector of early American ceramics. This unusual earthenware jug, 1860–80, is part of the Clement gift.
In 1947, the Museum debuts American Printmaking, 1913–1947: A Retrospective Exhibition in conjunction with the American Institute of Graphic Arts. The exhibition is the first in a series that continues for over sixty years, designed to foster printmaking and to showcase the work of new printmakers.
The Edward C. Blum Design Laboratory is created in 1948, in memory of the former chairman of the board of the Institute. The Laboratory, initially known as the Industrial Design Division, further develops a relationship between the New York garment industry and the Museum that was begun by Stewart Culin. Here, the Design Laboratory is prepared for its opening night.
In 1948 the Museum purchases over two thousand Egyptian antiquities from the New-York Historical Society. The acquisition of this collection (shown installed) made the Museum’s Egyptian collection one of the most important in the United States.
The architectural firm of Brown, Lawford & Forbes develops a new plan to renovate the Museum.
The Nathan Sturgis Jarvis collection of Plains objects, assembled in the 1830s and formerly on deposit at the New-York Historical Society, enters the Museum collection in 1950. This Yanktonai Sioux buckskin shirt from the Jarvis collection is decorated with porcupine quills, glass beads, and pigment.
In 1952 this fourteenth-century porcelain wine jar, a cornerstone of the Asian collection, is donated to the Museum as part of the William B. Hutchins Collection.
In 1953 the Museum becomes the first American art museum to open a series of nineteenth-century American period rooms. The Parlor of the Colonel Robert J. Milligan House (1854–56) is still on view today.
Masterpieces of African Art opens in 1953. With this groundbreaking exhibition, the Brooklyn Museum is the first museum to apply the term masterpiece to African art. Up to this time, the Museum had remained the only public repository in New York to display African works as art rather than as ethnography.
In 1953, Hagop Kevorkian donates funds for the purchase and installation of twelve monumental Assyrian alabaster reliefs previously on loan from the New-York Historical Society. The reliefs are currently on view in the Kevorkian Gallery on the third floor.
Daniel Chester French’s allegorical figures Brooklyn and Manhattan, removed from the approaches to the Manhattan Bridge, are placed on either side of the Museum’s main entrance in 1964.
The Louis E. Stern Foundation donates a large collection of American and European prints in 1964, including this 1944 work by Alexander Calder, Circus Study, and works by Delacroix and Manet.
In 1966 Charles Kyrle Wilkinson, Curator of Ancient Middle Eastern Art, and his wife, Irma, make the first of several donations of Islamic works of art to the Museum. Prince Yahya, circa 1830s, attributed to Muhammad Hasan, was a gift from the Wilkinsons and is a cornerstone of the collection.
The Frieda Schiff Warburg Memorial Sculpture Garden, containing decorative architectural fragments from demolished New York buildings (shown here circa 1980), opens behind the Museum in 1966.
Listening to Pictures opens in 1968 and is one of the first exhibitions to use audiotapes in the galleries of an American art museum.
This early twentieth-century drum from Papua New Guinea is one of more than 150 pieces of Oceanic art donated by Evelyn A. J. Hall and John A. and Marcia Friede in 1972.
The Museum, a New York City designated landmark since 1966, is added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. This photograph shows the front of the Museum as it looked in the seventies.
The 1980s begin with a large service extension, added at the rear of the Museum, designed by Prentice & Chan, Ohlhausen. The addition holds administrative offices and collections storage.
The Contemporary Art department is officially established, and a series of site-specific exhibitions featuring contemporary artists is initiated for the Museum Lobby in 1983.
This Chimu-Inca seated figure, 1400–1532, enters the Museum’s collection in 1986 as part of the donation of former trustee Ernest Erickson’s collection, which encompasses nearly five thousand years of history and focuses on the cultures of ancient and non-European peoples.
Arata Isozaki & Associates/James Stewart Polshek and Partners are chosen in 1986 to devise a new architectural master plan to guide the renovation and refurbishment of the Museum building for several years. This print, The New Brooklyn Museum: South Elevation, 1988, was created by Arata Isozaki and is part of the Museum collection.
In 1987 the Museum mounts an exhibition showcasing one of the most significant gifts it has received in the field of modern sculpture: fifty-eight sculptures by Auguste Rodin, donated by the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation in 1984.
The Museum acquires over seventy works of African, Oceanic, and pre-Columbian art in 1989 from Esther and Adolph Gottlieb, an American Abstract Expressionist painter. These objects are included in Image and Reflection: Adolph Gottlieb’s Pictographs and African Sculpture, held that year.
1990s The Brooklyn Museum Collection: The Play of the Unmentionable opens in 1990. The exhibition features over one hundred objects chosen by the artist Joseph Kosuth. Ranging from ancient Egyptian objects to contemporary photographs, the works were deemed objectionable at the time of their creation because of the religious, social, or political issues they raised (including Gaston Lachaise’s Standing Woman, shown at center in the photograph and now on display in this gallery). The exhibition affirms the Brooklyn Museum’s position against censorship.
The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Auditorium opens in 1991 on the third floor of the Museum. The 460-seat facility is part of the 1986 architectural master plan designed by Arata Isozaki & Associates/James Stewart Polshek and Partners.
In 1992 Mary Dorward, former Museum Librarian (in 1951–58), leaves an endowment of over one million dollars to the Museum, the income of which is used for the acquisition of works of art, including artist books such as Corona Palimpsest, 1996, by Nora Ligorano (shown here).
In 1993 the Museum opens renovated gallery space on three floors of the west wing, including the Egyptian galleries on the third floor, shown here, adding 30,000 square feet.
The following year the renovated west wing is renamed the Morris A. and Meyer Schapiro Wing, in recognition of Morris A. Schapiro’s pledge of five million dollars, the largest single gift to the Museum up to that time, in honor of his brother, the art historian Meyer Schapiro.
The bequest of Edith and Milton Lowenthal, in 1993, enriches the Museum’s collection of modern American art with key works by Arthur G. Dove, Marsden Hartley, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Stuart Davis. Davis’s Pad No. 4, 1947 (shown here), was one of those works.
The Beatrice Riese Collection of African art begins to be given to the Museum in 1994 and includes significant objects that are cornerstones of the collection today, such as this nineteenth-century Fang face mask.
Through the generous support of many donors, the Museum acquires fourteen portraits of the Inca kings in 1995, further enriching the Museum’s strong holdings of Spanish colonial art and colonial portraiture. This portrait is Atahualpa, Fourteenth Inca.
The exhibition Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection opens in 1999 and draws international attention.
2000s The mission of the Brooklyn Museum is to act as a bridge between the rich artistic heritage of world cultures, as embodied in its collections, and the unique experience of each visitor. —From the Brooklyn Museum's Mission Statement, adopted in 2001
The Museum acquires the uppermost panel, Christ Blessing (shown here), of Nardo di Cione’s altarpiece Madonna and Child with Saints and reunites it with the lower panel. This now-complete work of art is considered one of the most important mid-fourteenth-century Italian paintings in America.
In 2001 the Museum debuts a new approach to presenting American art with the opening of American Identities: A New Look, a major installation that integrates paintings, sculpture, prints, drawings, photographs, and decorative arts ranging from the colonial period to the present.
The Martha A. and Robert S. Rubin Pavilion and Lobby opens in 2004, offering a new front entrance and public plaza designed by Polshek Partnership. The project is the first in a series of building improvements, including more extensive climate-control systems, refurbishment of the Beaux-Arts Court, and the creation of new contemporary art galleries in 2007.
The Luce Center for American Art, including the Visible Storage Study Center, opens in 2004.
In 2004 the spaces housing the Museum Libraries and Archives are refurbished, providing climate-controlled storage for the research collections. The renovated reading room is shown here.
The Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art is established in 2007. The Dinner Party, 1974–79, by Judy Chicago, donated by Dr. Sackler, is the focal point of this center dedicated to the study of feminist art.
American Paintings in the Brooklyn Museum: Artists Born by 1876, a two-volume catalogue, published in 2006, documenting the depth and breadth of the Museum’s historic collection, receives the Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award in 2007, given each year to an especially distinguished catalogue in the history of art.
The Museum acquires Pablo Picasso’s Woman in Grey (displayed in this gallery) in 2008 with the help of the Alex Hillman Family Foundation, which also donates several other important works.
In 2009 the Museum transfers its Costume Collection, which includes Charles James’s “Butterfly” Dress, 1955, to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is to be known as the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
2010s ... every object in our collection, and particularly every newly acquired object, must take upon itself the great responsibility of helping us to better tell the story that we as a museum are responsible for.... The better we tell the story, the broader and greater our audience will be, and the more we will deserve recognition as one of the great museums of the world. —Brooklyn Museum Director Arnold Lehman, 2012
In 2010, the Museum establishes the Brooklyn Museum Fund for African American Art, to be used for the acquisition of pre-contemporary works by African American artists. Web of Life, 1958, by John Biggers, is the first purchase made using this fund.
The Museum acquires Free Women of Color with Their Children and Servants in a Landscape, circa 1764–96, by Agostino Brunias, in 2010—its first colonial painting of the West Indies.
The space formerly known as the Hall of the Americas is renamed the Great Hall in 2011. The redesigned space offers more galleries and continues the program to climatize and refurbish each floor of the Museum.
CONNECTING CULTURES—A World in Brooklyn
Museums bring the world’s treasures to the public. Like many other museums, the Brooklyn Museum collects works of art in order to inspire, uplift, and inform.
Museums carefully organize and present these works of art in ways that make them more understandable. Traditionally, gallery presentations have been organized in several ways: by geography, or by medium, or by chronology, or sometimes a combination of these. Such categories are useful because they allow the viewer to make important comparisons within a group of closely related works. At the same time, however, those traditional categories can be limiting, because they do not offer an opportunity to make larger comparisons—across different cultures, mediums, or time periods.
This gallery challenges those traditional approaches and offers an alternative option meant to augment other organizational themes in the Museum. Here, works of different places, types, and times from across the Museum’s collections are gathered into broad themes, emphasizing connections across cultures, which allow us to see the ways in which art reflects our shared humanity.
This introductory gallery represents only one approach to regrouping works of art and the ideas they embody. Using this gallery as a springboard, we invite you to make your own connections by exploring the rich collections in the rest of the Museum.
We are naturally curious about the world around us. Indeed, our lives are defined by where we live. The features of the earth—different for each place—and the features of the heavens—shared by all humanity—influence our perception of ourselves.
From realistic representations of sea and sky to artistic impressions of the forces of nature, cultures have explored their own identities through depictions of place. Many cultures have even imagined a broader cosmology, or a view of the unseen world, in elements of the place they know—in earth, wind, fire, and water; in mountains, oceans, and gardens.
Here we present a variety of works from different cultures and times, each exploring the idea of “place.” What connections do you see between these works? With other works in the gallery?
For most of history, people perceived the world with themselves at its center. It is not a surprise, then, that our bodies, our shared physical humanity, play such a large role in imagination and in art.
An image of the human form can represent more than a specific person, as in a portrait. It can also represent an idea, such as the broader human condition. And it is at the heart of many peoples’ concept of the divine. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, for example, God created man in his own image. Conversely, many cultures have conceived of the divine in humankind’s own image. At the same time, some traditions have combined human characteristics with those of various animals. In its many diverse variations, the human image is at the center of our worldview.
Here we present a variety of works from different cultures and times, each representing “people” in a different way. What connections do you see between these works? With other works in the gallery?
All of the works in this gallery are man-made things, even if they depict places or people. This particular section, however, is devoted to objects used in daily life.
Across time and place, people have used things not only as practical tools, but also as markers of status and as means for self-definition. The emergence of stone tools was one of the most notable developments in the evolution of humankind, and it was not long before man-made things took on symbolic or religious meanings, assisting in navigating and understanding both this world and the next. Whether the objects that surround our lives manifest our wealth, express our religious devotion, or memorialize us after death, those things we make, as the only creatures on earth with the ability to create, are an essential part of how our humanity expresses itself.
Here we present a variety of “things” from different cultures and times. What connections do you see between these works? With other works in the gallery?
In the modern world, cosmology is the science that studies the nature of the universe. Cultures have always been fascinated by the world around them and have often developed worldviews that combined observation of the natural world with mystical or religious responses to the questions that observation could not answer.
From the people of the ancient Americas to our own time, trying to understand the universe in which we live has triggered both learning and imagination. Striving for a better understanding of the universe can stimulate the creation of art, and works of art can, in turn, explain and codify the concept of the universe.
When we think of chairs, we tend to think of a comfortable place to sit in order to rest or to efficiently complete a task. This, however, is a very modern idea that presumes everyone has a seat.
When looking at historical chairs it is important to consider how they were used in their own time. For much of history in places around the world, comfort was not the purpose of a chair. Instead, a chair was there to make the sitter appear important and powerful. It separated, and often raised, the sitter from others present, physically surrounding him or her with richly worked and expensive material. A chair was more like a throne.
For over two thousand years, followers of Buddhism have been making images of the Buddha, representing the historical person Siddhartha Gautama as both god and man, and in various guises. Individually, many of these images are beautiful and moving works of art, while offering diverse representations of one of the world’s major religions. Brought together in rich collections such as that of the Brooklyn Museum, they reveal the many faces and interpretations of the spiritual in physical form.
Frames have multiple functions. They protect the work they surround, whether a rare painting or drawing, or an inexpensive photograph, or a piece of silvered glass mirror. They also present the work, giving it importance and making a statement about it.
Historically, frames have often been more expensive than the works of art they surround. This selection of frames dates from the mid-1880s, and expresses the style known at the time as “aesthetic.”
The basic form of things is often defined by their purpose. For example, pitchers are meant first to hold liquid and then to pour it, so across time, place, and culture, the objects made for those purposes have certain similarities. The nature of the pitcher’s physical form, the materials and decoration, reveal a great deal about where, when, and by whom a pitcher was made.
The Brooklyn Museum collection has great depth, allowing us to understand the innumerable variations that occur in any given form of things.
February 1, 2012:
An innovative installation, featuring some of the most important objects in the Brooklyn Museum collection, has been developed to create new ways of looking at art and exploring the Museum by making connections between cultures as well as objects. Scheduled to open on April 19, 2012, Connecting Cultures: A World in Brooklyn, on long-term view in the newly renovated Great Hall, near the main entrance, provides for the first time a dynamic and welcoming introduction to the Museum’s extensive collections, which range from ancient Egyptian masterpieces to contemporary art, representing almost every culture around the world, both past and present.
“This remarkable cross-collection presentation, built around some of the most exceptional works in the Museum, better enables the visitor to explore the collection galleries by providing a model of how to make connections between cultures and how to better understand the ways that different peoples have addressed many of the same issues throughout time,” states Museum Director Arnold L. Lehman. “For the very first time, our visitors have the opportunity to sample the breadth and depth of our holdings as they enter the Museum.”
“Over the course of the twentieth century, the Museum collected on a grand scale, making works of art that had previously been reserved primarily for the elite available to the public. As works of art became available to the many rather than the few, their meanings often changed. Deconstructing those meanings on a basic level provides an understanding of the Brooklyn Museum’s collections as a resource for study,” comments Chief Curator Kevin L. Stayton, who has coordinated the presentation, working with the Museum’s curators. The installation is organized around three main sections: “Connecting Places,” “Connecting People,” and “Connecting Things.” In viewing the juxtaposition and combination of works from different cultures around the world, the visitor will be asked to consider the importance of the idea of place to the definition of culture and the self; the ways in which people represent themselves in the works of art that help define them; and the role of objects, or things, in supporting identity, both personal and cultural.
The “Connecting Places” section presents artworks that reflect the human fascination with the physical world around us and how it relates to spirituality. The landscapes in which people live and the elements of nature that surround them deeply affect the way people see the world and how they try to understand the universe. This section includes a four-legged bowl (circa 250-600 C.E.), made in what is now Guatemala, that reveals a Mayan concept of the cosmos; an eighteenth-century cosmic diagram, made in Gujarat or Rajasthan, that presents a unique worldview; the monumental 1765 painting Our Lady of Chocharcas Under the Baldachin showing the celebration of a pilgrimage in which Lake Titicaca is almost as significant as the statue of the Virgin herself; a festival hat, probably made around Potosi in the eighteenth century, depicting a triangular mountain that might be the Cerro de Potosi, the source of the silver that enriched the area; Louis Rémy Mignon’s monumental painting Niagara (1866), which became a powerful symbol of natural resources that made their potential seem almost limitless; the renowned Century Vase made by the Union Porcelain Works of Brooklyn for display at the Centennial Exposition, in 1876, displaying native animals and scenes of progress unique to the American experience; and a contemporary work, Soundsuit by Nick Cave, that explores man’s involvement with nature.
The “Connecting People” section investigates the ways in which human beings have represented themselves in artworks, in various cultures through time. A number of the works address the journey from life to death, such as a stunning and rare Huastec stone statue that features a standing human figure on one side and a skeleton on the other. Other works include a kachina doll, in the Brooklyn Museum collection since 1904, that reflects the ways in which the human form can represent the spiritual and universal; and Gaston Lachaise’s monumental Standing Woman, a modern work that dignifies the human form and raises it to a level that reflects the humanist tradition.
The “Connecting Things” section includes works that carry particular significance to those who make and use them. Among the objects is a group of more than 100 pitchers to illustrate the many permutations of a single form; kero cups used in ritualistic ceremonies that were important to the Andean concept of reciprocity; a coffin in the form of a Nike sneaker, by Ghanaian artist Paa Joe, that reflects the importance of consumer society and global trade in the modern world; and an African staff, a symbol of authority that is the model for an African-American emancipation cane.
The installation was designed by Matthew Yokobosky, Chief Designer at the Brooklyn Museum, working together with Chief Curator Kevin Stayton, Director Arnold Lehman, and all of the Museum’s curators. Generous support for this long-term installation has been provided by Lisa and Dick Cashin.