Peabody Essex Museum Peabody Essex Museum
Salem, MA
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Peabody Essex Museum (PEM)
161 Essex Street
Salem, MA 01970
978.745.9500 | 866.745.1876 

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Carlos Garaicoa: Partitura

Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle

A Lasting Memento: John Thomson’s Photographs Along the River Min


Carlos Garaicoa: Partitura
March 8, 2020 – January 3, 2021

This weekend, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) opens a new installation in its Jeffrey P. Beale Gallery, a space dedicated to immersive art experiences. Multidisciplinary artist Carlos Garaicoa, one of the most widely exhibited Cuban artists, has imagined a new kind of orchestra made up of 40 musicians he discovered performing in the streets of Madrid and Bilbao. Making its North American premiere at PEM, Partitura weaves together artists from disparate cultural backgrounds and musical traditions -- from West African drummers to accordion players and European opera singers. Carlos Garaicoa: Partitura is on view at PEM from March 8, 2020 through January 3, 2021.

“The experience of cities is of particular importance to Carlos Garaicoa,” says Trevor Smith, PEM’s Curator of the Present Tense, who has known the artist for 20 years. “The emotional core of his work lies in the tension between the aspirational cosmopolitan ideals which have long attracted people to urban centers, and the often gritty realities they find there. Street musicians are one way that the city is enlivened through creative expression. Although the musicians who participated in Partitura were filmed in Madrid and Bilbao, their experience has universal resonance and invites us to consider how we choose to interact with our own built environments.”

Forty music stands are arranged in semi-circles like a virtual orchestra. On each stand an abstract drawing on score paper is paired with a street musician’s performance played back through a video tablet and headphones. Throughout the gallery a composition by Esteban Puebla is heard that is assembled from these individual performances. This technique of remixing pre-recorded sources nods to contemporary DJ culture but it has its origins in musique concrète (concrete music) of the 1940s. Puebla used audio recordings and other electronic effects that go beyond traditional forms of orchestration. A video triptych featuring an abstract animation of the music reveals how the composition weaves individual performances together. The result is a collective portrait of creative expression that is surprising, joyful and revelatory.

“The idea of pulling together all of these different musical traditions and degrees of talent into a single composition is a very utopian gesture,” says Smith. “It asks us to consider how inspiring beauty can be created from great diversity.”

Carlos Garaicoa was born in 1967 in Havana, Cuba. The artist studied thermodynamics before his mandatory military service, during which he worked as a draughtsman. Garaicoa then attended the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana from 1989 to 1994. Since the early 1990s, Garaicoa has employed photography, performance, drawing, sculpture, installation, text, and video to comment on architecture's reflection of and effect on the political, economic, and cultural reality of cities. As an artist in residence at Art in General in New York, Garaicoa created the series When a Desire Resembles Nothing, which offered up a comparison of Havana and New York City. He has participated in numerous international biennials including Havana, Sao Paolo, Venice, Johannesburg, Moscow as well as Documentas 11 and 14.

Under the guidance of curator Trevor Smith, PEM’s Present Tense Initiative celebrates the central role that creative expression plays in shaping our world. The Present Tense Initiative engages leading creative agents and thinkers to cultivate innovative experiences fueled by the intersection of cultures, disciplines, and technologies. By encouraging innovation and fostering new forms of creativity, PEM seeks to push the boundaries of what a museum experience can be.

Carlos Garaicoa: Partitura is commissioned by Azkuna Zentroa, Bilbao, and adapted for the Peabody Essex Museum. This exhibition is made possible by the Nancy B. Tieken Memorial Fund and supporters of the Present Tense Initiative, including The Jeffrey P. Beale Fund for Contemporary Art and Susan and Appy Chandler. Carolyn and Peter S. Lynch and The Lynch Foundation, Jennifer and Andrew Borggaard, James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes, Kate and Ford O’Neil and Henry and Callie Brauer provided generous support. We also recognize the generosity of the East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum.

Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle
January 18, 2020 to April 26, 2020

PEM is offering free admission over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend in celebration of the opening of our special exhibition Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle.

Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle is the first museum exhibition of the series of paintings Struggle: From the History of the American People (1954–56) by the best known black American artist of the 20th century, Jacob Lawrence (1917–2000). Created during the modern civil rights era, Lawrence’s thirty intimate panels interpret pivotal moments in the American Revolution and the early decades of the republic between 1770 and 1817 and, as he wrote, “depict the struggles of a people to create a nation and their attempt to build a democracy.”

Reunited for the first time in more than sixty years, the Struggle paintings revive Lawrence's way of reimagining American history as shared history. Utilizing historical fact to underscore universal values, he created a broader narrative of U.S. history by pairing image and text, quoting a range of voices and rendering figures from prominent Founding Fathers to underrepresented historical actors. The paintings of the series, along with works by contemporary artists Derrick Adams, Bethany Collins, and Hank Willis Thomas, resonate with the effortful pursuit of democracy, justice, truth, and inclusion — struggles ongoing around our nation and the world today. The exhibition, organized by PEM, will tour nationally.

Share your impressions with us on social media using #AmericanStruggle.

Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle is organized by the Peabody Essex Museum. This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. To find out more about how National Endowment for the Arts grants impact individuals and communities, visit www.arts.gov. Carolyn and Peter S. Lynch and The Lynch Foundation, Jennifer and Andrew Borggaard, James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes, Kate and Ford O'Neil, Henry and Callie Brauer and Burt Adelman and Lydia Rogers provided generous support. We also recognize the generosity of the East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum.—

A Lasting Memento: John Thomson’s Photographs Along the River Min
June 1, 2019 - May 17, 2020

The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) presents a voyage into 19th-century China through one of PEM’s photographic treasures, John Thomson’s rare album Foochow and the River Min. More than forty striking landscapes, city views, and portrait studies will be on view, captured by Thomson as he traveled in the Fujian province in Southeast China from 1870 to 1871. These prints are complemented by a selection of photographs by contemporary artist Luo Dan, who was inspired by Thomson to undertake his own journey in southwestern China in 2010. A Lasting Memento: John Thomson’s Photographs Along the River Min is on view at PEM from June 1, 2019 through May 17, 2020.

From 1870 to 1871, Scottish-born photographer John Thomson traveled 160 miles up the River Min to document the area in and around the city of Fuzhou (Foochow), one of the most picturesque regions in China. Thomson gathered eighty photographs from this voyage into an album titled Foochow and the River Min which was sold by advance subscription to the foreign residents of Fuzhou — tea planters, merchants, missionaries and government officials — who wanted a way to share their experiences with friends and family back home. Of the 46 copies originally published, fewer than 10 survive today and PEM is privileged to own two of them, both of which are featured in the exhibition.

“Many people have a conception of China as very industrialized and modern, even sterile, but these photographs complicate that notion and reveal the country’s incredible beauty and geographic diversity,” says Sarah Kennel, PEM’s Byrne Family Curator of Photography. “The roots of China’s rapid modernization go back to the 19th-century and are part of a larger history of maritime culture, trade, and globalization that are also entwined with PEM’s origin story. This exhibition affirms how photography can bring us back to another place in time and can change the way we see the world.”

Thomson was a renowned photographer, focusing on fine art, landscape, and architectural photos, and was often credited with being one of the first photographers to use pictures in conjunction with journalistic commentary. Foochow and the River Min is accompanied by introductory text, presenting a pictorial journey featuring the character of the growing city of Fuzhou, the beauty of the landscapes surrounding the River Min, as well as Thomson’s studies of the people he encountered there.

Thomson is considered one of the first photographers to document East and South Asia. Born in Scotland, he learned photography while still in school, working as an apprentice to a maker of optical and scientific instruments. In 1862, he joined his older brother William, also a photographer and watchmaker, in Singapore, where they established a studio. Thomson spent the next several years photographing throughout Asia, including Cambodia, India, and Thailand. By 1866, he had joined the Royal Ethnological Society of London, was elected a Fellow member of the Royal Geographic Society, and styled himself as an expert on Eastern cultures. In 1868, he established a studio in Hong Kong, a burgeoning center of photography and trade. For the next four years, Thomson traveled and photographed throughout China before returning in 1872 to Britain, where he remained until his death in 1921.

The exhibition follows Thomson’s journey up the River Min, from the city of Fuzhou to Nanping. “Thomson’s extraordinary gifts as a photographer are evident in his compositions, including his famous view of the floating island pagoda,” says Kennel. “You can look at these as merely beautiful pictures, but if you unlock them a little bit they tell the story of an important moment of economic trade, cultural exchange, and political tension.”

Among the works on view are an extraordinary series on the Yuen Fu monastery, tucked high up a steep, rocky ravine. A strain of wistful romanticism is present, particularly in landscape photographs that incorporate a solitary figure.

In order to make his negatives, Thomson used the wet-collodion process. This required him to set up a large camera on a tripod and prepare the photographic plate on the spot by dipping it into light-sensitive chemicals in a makeshift darkroom, putting it in a plate holder and making the exposure within five minutes. He experimented with these processes while traveling by boat or ascending very steep hills and traversing rough terrain with a coterie of Chinese employees who not only hauled his equipment but also sometimes carried Thomson himself. Missionary and business colleagues helped facilitate introductions and provide access to unique locations so that Thomson could make his landscapes and portraits. The albums were printed using the carbon process, which imbues them with a rich, purplish tonality.
(Detail) Luo Dan, Simple Song No. 4 (Yang Du Lei and Her Sister Yang Hua Lin, WaWa Village), 2010. Inkjet print from collodion negative. © Luo Dan, Courtesy of M97 Gallery.

Contemporary Chinese photographer Luo Dan’s work focuses on the impact of modernization and globalization in China. Inspired by Thomson’s example, Luo traveled to the remote Nu River Valley in southwestern China, where he lived with and photographed the Lisu and Nu Christian ethnic minority communities for nearly two years, using the same hand-made wet-collodion process that Thomson had employed some 150 years earlier. Luo was especially interested in what he perceived as the villagers’ connection to local cultural traditions. A Lasting Memento features 10 works by Luo that reflect on and reverberate with the spirit and enterprise of Thomson’s 19th-century project.

A Lasting Memento: John Thomson’s Photographs Along the River Min is organized by the Peabody Essex Museum. Carolyn and Peter S. Lynch and The Lynch Foundation, Jennifer and Andrew Borggaard, Kate and Ford O'Neil and the East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum provided generous support.

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