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Cevdet Erek: chiçiçiçichiciçi
Feb 28–Apr 21, 2019
Gallery 185 (Griffin Court)

The new performance and installation by Cevdet Erek (born 1976, Istanbul), chiçiçiçichiciçi, takes its cue from daily life: how footsteps strike the pavement; how one’s fingers gently play a railing or a fence; or how beats, rhythms, and sonic patterns affect the movement of people on the street. Each sound is a percussive proposal and designates a different motion or relationship to the architectures and objects that are part of this everyday soundscape.
A black-and-white photograph shows and man with dark hair and a beard with his face turned to the side in profile.

Erek’s practice as a musician, architect, and visual artist revolves around sound as a measure for space, time, and the world around us. Erek’s new work, chiçiçiçichiciçi, uses the gallery wall in the museum’s Griffin Court as instrument, soundtrack, and graphic notation. Conflating representation and performance, Erek adds various forms of visual and written language to the wall—all variations of the work’s onomatopoeic title—while the same wall is host to architectural elements that can be played as instruments. Erek’s own prerecorded sound permeates Griffin Court through a 16-channel sound installation, in order to suggest a pace, to impact how our bodies navigate space, and to designate a shifting proximity to architecture and sound.

chiçiçiçichiciçi is the first installment of Iterations, a series of new performance commissions. Erek opens the installation with a performance on February 28 at 6:00.

The next installment of Iterations presents Cally Spooner's DEAD TIME (a crime novel).

About Iterations
Iterations is a series of new performance commissions that underline the wide range of artistic practices and attitudes in performance today. Over the course of three years (2019–2021), the series will present works by Alexandra Bachzetsis, Math Bass, Cevdet Erek, Ralph Lemon, Paulina Olowska, Cally Spooner, and Evelyn T. Wang. Learn more.
Sponsors

Iterations is made possible through the generous support of the Society for Contemporary Art at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Super/Natural: Textiles of the Andes
Feb 23–Jun 16, 2019
Galleries 57–59

Over the course of millennia, textiles were the primary form of aesthetic expression and communication for the diverse cultures that developed throughout the desert coasts and mountain highlands of the Andean region. Worn as garments, suspended on walls of temples and homes, and used in ritual settings, textiles functioned in multiple contexts, yet, within each culture, the techniques, motifs, and messages remained consistent.

The detail illustrated here is one of over 50 brightly colored figures neatly embroidered in orderly rows that decorate a dark indigo blue mantle, or cloak. Each figure holds a small feline whose striped legs identify it as the pampas cat, a powerful predator and protector of agricultural fields. The individual appears to channel otherworldly power, as streamers emerge from his mouth and down his back, suggesting that the figure embodies the supernatural forces believed to govern the natural world. Made by the Paracas, a southern coastal community that flourished in Peru from about 500 BC to AD 200, this type of figure appears throughout the Andes and across artistic media. For example, among the Nazca, a community that emerged following the decline of the Paracas, woven textiles and painted vessels depict similar imagery—individuals dressed in ornate costumes and wearing whiskered masks—that suggests otherworldly transformation and connection between the natural and supernatural.

This exhibition features over 60 textiles along with a small selection of ceramics from the museum’s collection that together explore the ways select Andean cultures developed distinct textile technologies and approaches to design. While emphasizing the unique aspects of each culture and highlighting Andean artistic diversity, the exhibition also invites comparisons across cultures and time periods. These objects speak to shared ideas concerning everyday life, the natural world, the supernatural realm, and the afterlife, demonstrating a unified visual language that spans the Andes region from its ancient past to modern communities.

Into the Void: Prints of Lee Bontecou
Jan 26–May 5, 2019
Galleries 124-127

The images of Lee Bontecou (American, born 1931) are unmistakably hers: black voids, cosmic orbs, floating serrated teeth, mutant flowers, and strange, hybrid forms. They reflect a post–World War II angst and existential fear brought on by the arms race and nuclear threat, coupled with awe at a technology capable of space travel. While best known for her wall reliefs that bridge the divide between painting and sculpture, Bontecou produced a series of important prints between 1962 and 1982 at Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE), a workshop founded by Tatyana Grosman in West Islip, New York, in 1957. This exhibition is the first show devoted to Bontecou’s prints since 1975 and is drawn from the Art Institute’s complete edition and significant archive of her ULAE production.

In Bontecou’s prints, as in her early sculptures, the color black dominates. “Getting the black,” she said, “opened everything up.” The color, through its endless interpretability, evokes the mystery of the infinite and the terror of the unknown. Her powerful prints—mostly lithographs but some etchings—attend to all of the profound issues Bontecou addressed in her sculptures and drawings. In particular, many of the prints she produced at ULAE explore the black void at the heart of her early sculptures, a motif that runs through her entire career.

Into the Void: Prints of Lee Bontecou analyzes for the first time the totality of her prints as a reflection and an extension of her larger corpus, showing not only final states of her prints but also working proofs, variant states, finished and preparatory drawings, matrices (such as the copper etching plates used to print her works), and other ephemera that shed further light on her practice. Including over 100 objects, the exhibition explores the phenomena of process, repetition, and artistic obsession, and traces Bontecou’s voyage through a series of experiments and happy accidents toward the mystique of her final, definitive images.

Naeem Mohaiemen: Two Meetings and a Funeral
Jan 11–Mar 31, 2019
Gallery 186

Writer and artist Naeem Mohaiemen (born 1969) uses films, installations, and essays to explore the histories of failed utopias within the framework of international left-wing politics. Mohaiemen’s recent three-channel film Two Meetings and a Funeral, which debuted at documenta 14 (Kassel) in 2017, examines two such deeply flawed utopian projects—the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), both of which emerged from the complex political landscape of the Cold War period. The nations and people in the Non-Aligned Movement, including Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Palestine, and Bangladesh, aimed at achieving national sovereignty, decolonization, anti-imperialism, and a new economic world order independent of the United States and the Soviet Union. At the same time, the nations within the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which also included Bangladesh, sided with a transnational nation-state alliance based on unity through Islamic values and supported by new wealth from petroleum exports.

Making its US premiere at the Art Institute of Chicago, Two Meetings and a Funeral considers the historical pivot from the socialist perspective of the 1973 Non-Aligned Movement meeting in Algeria to its ideological counterpoint, the emergence of a transnational Islamic perspective at the 1974 Organization of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Pakistan. The project is centered on Bangladesh’s hesitant, contradictory navigation of these two historic meetings and is set against the backdrop of its struggle for United Nations recognition.

Through archival film material; images of architectural specters in New York, Algiers, and Dhaka; and footage of conversations with key leaders that point to the contradictions within decolonization movements, the film conjures a visually dense memory of these two meetings. Focusing on Global South nations—spanning Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East—and the shift that some of these nations made from a socialist political perspective to one centered on Islamic ideals, the project considers the erosion of a unified Third World as a potential space for decolonization, liberation theology, and socialism.

Chicago by the Book: Pivotal Works that Changed Chicago
Jan 14–Mar 22, 2019
Ryerson Library Reading Room (weekdays only)

With this exhibition, the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries celebrate the Caxton Club's recent publication, Chicago by the Book: 101 Publications That Shaped the City and Its Image (University of Chicago, 2018). Founded in Chicago in 1895, the Caxton Club is a society of booklovers committed to promoting and supporting the art of the book. Chicago by the Book profiles 101 landmark publications about Chicago that have helped define the city and its image. While these books mainly document the history of the city, several also served as agents of change.

Many of the works featured in Chicago by the Book are held in the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries' extensive 130-year-old collection. From the construction of the museum’s Michigan Avenue building during the 1893 Columbian Exposition to the present day, the Art Institute is both a product of the city’s evolution and a contributor to its history. The selections from the library and archival collections on display in this exhibition highlight defining moments in the city's growth and illustrate how the museum is deeply entwined in Chicago's past.

Dawoud Bey: Night Coming Tenderly, Black
Jan 11–Apr 14, 2019
Gallery 188

Dawoud Bey’s latest body of work is a series of black-and-white photographs that reimagine sites along the last stages of the Underground Railroad.

Photographer Dawoud Bey, the recent recipient of a MacArthur genius grant, decided to make a fundamental change in his work as he approached his 60th year. Already renowned as a portraitist, he turned his attention to history, beginning with a group of works that memorialized the six young black people tragically killed in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. He continues this engagement with African American history in his latest project.

Accustomed to urban scenes and subjects, he focused on a very different landscape: thickets, a picket fence, an open field, and Lake Erie. Bey also returned to traditional black-and-white printing, and more particularly to gelatin silver prints, a process he had not used since the early 1990s. Through these choices Bey wanted to make a far greater shift: from pictures of the here and now to the vast, historical subject of the Underground Railroad, the network of secret routes and safe houses that aided enslaved African Americans on their path to freedom.

Bey also wished to pay homage to photographer Roy DeCarava (1919–2009) and poet Langston Hughes (1901–1967), who each addressed the African American experience in their work in part by foregrounding what DeCarava called “a world shaped by blackness.” DeCarava’s mastery of even the darkest tones gave Bey a model for depicting the twilight uncertainty that those fleeing slavery confronted as they traveled northward. Meanwhile, the closing couplet of Hughes’s short poem “Dream Variations”—“Night coming tenderly / Black like me.”—inspired the exhibition title. Bey has said that he wanted to hold darkness itself in a tender embrace.

The result is a series of 25 large-scale photographs, most of which are on view in this presentation—the first showing of Bey’s latest body of work in a museum. All the pictures were made around Cleveland and Hudson, Ohio, a final way station for those seeking freedom in Canada. The photographs show homes and patches of land that are rumored to have formed part of the invisible railroad “track,” leading those seeking freedom from one unfamiliar place to the next.

Bey chose a dense, vibrant selection of 19th- and 20th-century photographs from the Art Institute’s collection to hang directly outside the exhibition gallery, works that complement the exhibition by suggesting the range of ways that the American landscape has been represented in photographs and the place of African Americans within that physical and social landscape.

The series Night Coming Tenderly, Black was commissioned by FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art.

Naeem Mohaiemen: Two Meetings and a Funeral
Jan 11–Mar 31, 2019
Gallery 186

Writer and artist Naeem Mohaiemen (born 1969) uses films, installations, and essays to explore the histories of failed utopias within the framework of international left-wing politics. Mohaiemen’s recent three-channel film Two Meetings and a Funeral, which debuted at documenta 14 (Kassel) in 2017, examines two such deeply flawed utopian projects—the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), both of which emerged from the complex political landscape of the Cold War period. The nations and people in the Non-Aligned Movement, including Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Palestine, and Bangladesh, aimed at achieving national sovereignty, decolonization, anti-imperialism, and a new economic world order independent of the United States and the Soviet Union. At the same time, the nations within the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which also included Bangladesh, sided with a transnational nation-state alliance based on unity through Islamic values and supported by new wealth from petroleum exports.

Making its US premiere at the Art Institute of Chicago, Two Meetings and a Funeral considers the historical pivot from the socialist perspective of the 1973 Non-Aligned Movement meeting in Algeria to its ideological counterpoint, the emergence of a transnational Islamic perspective at the 1974 Organization of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Pakistan. The project is centered on Bangladesh’s hesitant, contradictory navigation of these two historic meetings and is set against the backdrop of its struggle for United Nations recognition.

Through archival film material; images of architectural specters in New York, Algiers, and Dhaka; and footage of conversations with key leaders that point to the contradictions within decolonization movements, the film conjures a visually dense memory of these two meetings. Focusing on Global South nations—spanning Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East—and the shift that some of these nations made from a socialist political perspective to one centered on Islamic ideals, the project considers the erosion of a unified Third World as a potential space for decolonization, liberation theology, and socialism.

Conserving Photographs
Nov 21, 2018–Apr 28, 2019

Related Event
Talks
Lecture: Secrets of the Collection—Conserving Photographs
Feb 7, 2019 12:00–1:00

In the daily care of the Art Institute’s photography collection, photograph conservators take the utmost precautions.
Conserving Photos

Photographs are surprisingly delicate objects—vulnerable to damage sustained through improper handling, poor storage conditions, and even flaws inherent to their own chemistry. Art Institute conservators meticulously document a work’s condition; enact preventative measures to keep it safe while it’s stored, shipped, and displayed; and undertake scientific research to learn more about its material composition. When damage is evident, they carry out state-of-the-art treatments, effectively turning back the hands of time.

Since 1982, the Art Institute has maintained a world-class facility devoted to the examination, analysis, preservation, and conservation of photographs, including a cold-storage vault dedicated to color photographs—the first of its kind in a fine art museum. This exhibition invites visitors to travel behind the scenes of our cutting-edge conservation lab, revealing the numerous steps taken to care for and preserve the collection, which comprises approximately 24,000 objects, from early daguerreotypes to present-day digital prints and time-based media. Visitors are able to discover how structural and aesthetic integrity is restored to damaged works through microphotographs that uncover characteristic features of papers, artificially aged samples that illustrate the effects of light on dyes, and side-by-side copies of the same image that show the inherent shortcomings of certain processes and the benefits of proper storage conditions.

Through a wide selection of works from the museum’s collection that showcase the technical history of photographic processes from the 19th century to the present, as well as the related conservation, preservation, and connoisseurship issues that attend them, this unique presentation affords the rare opportunity to look at the collection through a conservator’s eyes and see photographs anew.

Painting the Floating World: Ukiyo-e Masterpieces from the Weston Collection
Nov 4, 2018–Jan 27, 2019
Regenstein Hall

A Japanese woman in robes decorated with images of hell looks over her shoulder at skeletons dancing behind her.
Inside an Exhibition
An Auspicious Kind of Hell

Shown for the first time in the United States, this comprehensive collection of ukiyo-e paintings brings the “floating world” and its metropolitan amusements to life.

In the 17th century, Kyoto, Osaka, and Edo (now Tokyo) were Japan’s thriving cities, complete with bustling entertainment districts where ukiyo, or the “floating world,” was born. People of all ranks shared in the enjoyment of the floating world’s attractions—brothels, kabuki theater, and seasonal festivities. Artists of the period captured this popular phenomena in ukiyo-e, or “pictures of the floating world.” Over the last 25 years, Roger Weston has assembled an outstanding collection of ukiyo-e paintings—masterpieces by the most famed artists of the day. This exhibition, the first public showing of his comprehensive ukiyo-e painting collection in the United States, showcases the sheer beauty of floating world painting and offers an exclusive view of the urban amusements of early modern Japan.

In contrast to ukiyo-e woodblock prints, which were created in multiples and consequently well circulated, ukiyo-e paintings were one-of-a-kind works commissioned from the same artists celebrated for their prints, including Katsushika Hokusai and Kitagawa Utamaro. Lavish and unique objects, the paintings were conceived in various forms—folding screens, hanging scrolls, handscrolls, and albums—and emphasize the makers’ talent and technical skill. Until recently, these compelling works were not often collected in large numbers outside of Japan, making the quality and range of the Weston Collection all the more extraordinary.

The Weston Collection focuses on images of bijin, or beauties. Whether courtesans, geisha, actors, or women in scenes of everyday life, bijinga (pictures of beauties) embody the floating world’s ideals of style and sophistication. The paintings’ subjects served as important cultural figures: fashion icons, celebrities, and even stand-ins for historical and legendary characters.
A Japanese woman in robes decorated with images of hell looks over her shoulder at skeletons dancing behind her.

Through these bijinga, the exhibition explores changing ideals of beauty and highlights some of the more famous personalities of ukiyo-e, such as the Hell Courtesan, a fabled 15th-century beauty and devout Buddhist who wore robes decorated with images of the underworld. Kawanabe Kyōsai (1831–1889) produced several works depicting the Hell Courtesan, but the Weston Collection painting (above) is among the most prized versions of the subject.

“Ukiyo-e painting has an allure that is so intriguing and special I simply fell in love with the genre,” remarked Roger Weston. “It has been a true pleasure to assemble a collection that encompasses the full chronology of ukiyo-e and all the major schools. I hope to give visitors the same joy viewing it as I have had building it.”

Accompanied by a 350-page catalogue that includes major new essays by leading scholars, Painting the Floating World features over 150 works from the 17th through the 19th century. Each painting offers an exquisite glimpse of the past; as a whole the exceptional collection reveals ukiyo-e’s rich connection to trends in fashion, beauty, and cultural life over centuries.

Tomma Abts
October 19, 2018–February 17, 2019
Galleries 182–84

London-based artist Tomma Abts (German, born 1967) has a remarkably singular and rigorous approach to contemporary painting. Since 1998, she has remained committed to producing acrylic and oil-on-canvas works, mainly in the same 19.8 x 15 inch (48 x 38 centimeter) portrait format. Abts’s works are powerfully magnetic—simultaneously muted and charged, offbeat and rich. This exhibition, co-organized by the Art Institute and the Serpentine Galleries, London, brings together the artist’s work from 2002 through 2017, offering a rare opportunity to experience Abts’s distinctive vision.

In addition to her chosen dimensions, Abts’s painting is shaped by other self-imposed parameters: she works with basic formal elements—arcs, circles, planes, polygons, and stripes—that she carefully layers, juxtaposes, and interweaves in ways both subtle and eccentric. She adds highlights and shadows, transforming two-dimensional canvases into complex illusory spaces. Rarely does she work with a preconceived notion of the final composition. Instead, Abts begins with loose washes of color and shapes that enable the work to unfold gradually. The artist’s additive technique, building up forms and colors on the same canvas—sometimes over a number of years—constitutes an evolutionary process that is embodied in the composition of the finished painting. In their final iterations, the forms and figures display a tension between their status as fixed images and their apparent potential for movement.

Abts’s canvases present themselves as events, in which color and form are only the most visible occurrences in a series of decisions, revisions, corrections, and adjustments that are suggested by the ridges and seams of underlying layers. “I try to define the forms precisely. They become, through shadows, texture, etcetera, quite physical and therefore ‘real’ and not an image of something else. The forms don’t symbolize or describe anything outside of the painting. They represent themselves.” Indeed, the paintings are self-reflexive, and this effect is furthered by the artist’s titling rubric: once a painting is complete, she names it after an entry in a dictionary of first names from a particular region in Germany. The names selected for the titles are neutral and abstract and thereby resist direct references to gender.

This focused selection of 30 recent works from across the United States and Europe—the first solo museum exhibition of Abts’s paintings in the US in 10 years—highlights formal connections that speak to the complexities of the artist’s process. A catalogue, designed by Mevis & van Deursen, in close collaboration with the artist, accompanies the exhibition.
Sponsors

Major support is generously provided by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and Shawn M. Donnelley and Christopher M. Kelly.

Additional funding is contributed by the Alfred L. McDougal and Nancy Lauter McDougal Fund for Contemporary Art, the Pritzker Traubert Foundation, Desiree and Olivier Berggruen, and an anonymous donor.

Annual support for Art Institute exhibitions is provided by the Exhibitions Trust: an anonymous donor; Neil Bluhm and the Bluhm Family Charitable Foundation; Jay Franke and David Herro; Kenneth Griffin; Caryn and King Harris, The Harris Family Foundation; Robert M. and Diane v.S. Levy; Ann and Samuel M. Mencoff; Sylvia Neil and Dan Fischel; Anne and Chris Reyes; Cari and Michael J. Sacks; and the Earl and Brenda Shapiro Foundation.
Organizers

The exhibition was organized by the Art Institute of Chicago and the Serpentine Galleries, London.

Hans Haacke: Gift Horse
October 5, 2018–July 14, 2019
Bluhm Family Terrace

Since 1965 Hans Haacke (German, born 1936) has been living in New York making work that explores the uncomfortable and often hidden connections between art, power, money, politics, and business. His imposing bronze sculpture Gift Horse (2014) was created as a commission for London’s Fourth Plinth project, which invites artists to fill the vacant space in Trafalgar Square originally designed for an equestrian monument to King William IV (1765–1837). The base intended for the monument was left empty due to a lack of funding; since 1999, it has featured temporary installations by contemporary artists.

For his contribution, Haacke took inspiration from an engraving by the British equine artist George Stubbs (1724–1806) to create a monumental bronze horse skeleton that stands more than 15 feet tall. In its original display, Gift Horse stood across the square from a statue of King George IV (1762–1830) riding bareback, complementing the scale of George IV’s equestrian sculpture while challenging its intentions.

In Gift Horse, a large bow, reminiscent of a ribbon tied to a present, prominently adorns the horse’s right leg. LED lights embedded in the bow continuously display the market prices of the country’s leading stock exchange, inevitably linking art and finance. “I’ve always been interested in systems and how they work. Political and social systems, of course, are part of that. They can’t be escaped,” Haacke said.

The installation of Gift Horse on the Art Institute’s Bluhm Family Terrace marks the first time that the work will be seen in North America.
Sponsors

This exhibition is organized by the Art Institute of Chicago with major funding from the Bluhm Family Endowment Fund, which supports exhibitions of modern and contemporary sculpture.

Two Floating Worlds: Japanese Prints and Paintings
October 6, 2018–February 10, 2019
Gallery 107

From the 17th through the 19th century, ukiyo-e, or “pictures of the floating world,” were created both as prints and paintings, often by the same artists and featuring similar subjects: the courtesans and kabuki actors who were the stars of the period.

While overlapping in artist and theme, paintings and prints nonetheless differ in important ways. Paintings are unique works that show the true hand of the artist, capturing his skill and talent. These were often created by commission for wealthy clients, and many were made on silk with costly pigments such as gold paint. Printed images, on the other hand, are the interpretation of a drawing the artist supplied to a publisher that was then carved and printed by other craftsmen. These were usually created in multiples and sold at a price that was within reach of most of the population looking for an appealing image of a well-known beauty or actor.

The two ends of ukiyo-e often cross-pollinated again in the marketplace. For example, once an artist or subject became popular in print, those with the means could commission a painting by that artist of a similar or modified composition. Conversely, images by an artist already celebrated among an exclusive group of painting patrons could be made commercial by being replicated in print.

A complement to the major exhibition Painting the Floating World: Ukiyo-e Masterpieces from the Weston Collection, on view in Regenstein Hall, this exhibition presents ukiyo-e prints and paintings from the museum’s collection, highlighting the similarities and differences between the two media.

My Building, Your Design: Seven Portraits by David Hartt
September 29, 2018–February 3, 2019
Gallery 283

David Hartt (Canadian, born 1967) is an artist interested in investigating the specificity of place and examining the cultural and social implications of the built environment. He is among a generation of artists who emphasize the elements that make architecture: the architectural details, or what defines one project or architect from another; our daily experience of a building, which is rarely a view of a building in its entirety; and how buildings are inhabited.

This exhibition is organized around Hartt’s recently acquired Seven Portraits (Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize, Pin-Up Fall Winter 2014/15 Supplement), a portfolio of photographs of seven iconic buildings designed by contemporary architects, including Seattle Library by OMA, the Fundação Iberê Camargo by Alvaro Siza, and 111 Lincoln Road by Herzog and de Meuron. The installation juxtaposes Hartt’s photographs with drawings, renderings, and models produced during the design process of each building, revealing a dichotomy between the lived experience of a building’s inhabitants and the ideal intentions and objectives originally developed by the architect for the building.

Rosalind Nashashibi: Vivian's Garden
August 23, 2018–December 31, 2018
Gallery 186

London-based filmmaker and artist Rosalind Nashashibi’s meditative films merge everyday observations with a more sensuous and even fantastical cinematographic vocabulary. Presented for the first time in the United States after its premiere at documenta 14 in 2017, Nashashibi’s tender and dreamy film Vivian’s Garden depicts the relationship between Austrian Swiss émigré artists Elisabeth Wild and Vivian Suter—mother and daughter—in the connected houses they share in a jungle garden in Panajachel, located outside of Guatemala City. Wild and Suter have a fluid relationship—the daughter is as much a mother as the other way around. The women live together with Mayan villagers, who act as guardians and maids. Nashashibi’s filmic portrait, which is presented adjacent to Suter’s exhibition el bosque interior in Griffin Court, focuses on the artistic, emotional, and economic lives of the household and offers a delicate look at the complex postcolonial relations within their domestic space. In the fractured moments, incomplete conversations, and intimate interiors that are integral aspects of Nashashibi’s approach to filmmaking, Vivian’s Garden presents a mesmerizing view into lives filled with moments of abstraction and lush beauty.

Ornamental Traditions: Jewelry from Bukhara
Through June 30, 2019
Gallery 50

Located in present-day Uzbekistan, the Emirate of Bukhara (1785–1920) was an important center of Islamic religion and scholarship and a major oasis on the famous Silk Road that traversed Central Asia from ancient times. As such, it was highly diverse—home to the majority Uzbek and Tajik populations in addition to communities of Arabs, Jews, and Turkmens who played a role in the emirate’s vibrant trade. Over time, Bukhara developed its own iconic style of jewelry characterized by intricate blue enamelwork that mirrored the area’s blue-glazed, tiled architecture. Russia’s colonization of the region in 1866 brought with it more advanced enameling techniques, allowing for increasingly complex designs.

In almost every context, the jewelry of Bukhara embodied great meaning and was rarely considered mere decoration. Incredibly large, ornate suits of jewelry were thought to protect the wearer from evil spirits, particularly during important events like weddings, and were the strongest assertion of a person’s power and wealth. Throughout Uzbekistan, such objects were designed to be worn as sets rather than exist as singular pieces.

Some of the most magnificent examples of Uzbek jewelry come from the court of the last emir of Bukhara, Mohammed Alim Khan (1880–1944), where men and women dressed in embroidered silks, fine silver, and enameled jewels. Their jewelry served various functions, often simultaneously: indicating political status and wealth, signifying religious and spiritual practice, and marking important rites of passage or ethnic identity.

Ornamental Traditions: Jewelry from Bukhara brings together nearly 50 jeweled objects from the Central Asian region of Bukhara—promised gifts from the private collection of Barbara Levy Kipper and her late husband, David—and rare ikat and embroidered textiles from the Art Institute’s permanent collection. The jewelry and decorative objects presented in this exhibition offer an exceptional experience of a rich and vibrant artistic heritage rarely seen outside the former Soviet Union.

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