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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Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle

A Passion for American Art: Selections from the Carolyn and Peter Lynch Collection

Kimsooja: Archive of Mind

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

Where the Questions Live: An Exploration of Humans in Nature


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 Passion for American Art: Selections from the Carolyn and Peter Lynch Collection
Through February 2, 2020

Carolyn and Peter Lynch shared an extraordinary life together, traveling widely and exploring American art and culture for almost half a century. Their intellectual curiosity and love of people, nature and the places they chose to call home were the primary catalysts for their passionate collecting. The couple were active participants in the groundswell of interest in collecting American art that followed the bicentennial in 1976 and assembled a diversified collection of American paintings, sculpture, furniture, decorative art and Native American art spanning three centuries.

Their broad-ranging collection includes spectacular, classic furniture from Boston, New York and Philadelphia, works by American Impressionist master Childe Hassam, modern furniture master Sam Maloof, Massachusetts folk painter J.O.J. Frost, and pioneering landscape painter Martin Johnson Heade. Also included are significant works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent. By embracing an organic approach to collecting and by freely integrating multiple subjects, time frames and media, the Lynches created lively conversations about artistic creativity, regional styles and evolving traditions in America.

A Passion for American Art: Selections from the Carolyn and Peter Lynch Collection is organized by the Peabody Essex Museum. Jennifer and Andrew Borggaard, Kate and Ford O'Neil and the East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum provided generous support.

-Kimsooja: Archive of Mind
June 22, 2019 = January 19, 2020

PEM Invites Visitors to Participate in a Meditative Sculptural Installation by World-Renowned Korean Artist

This summer, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) invites you to roll up your sleeves and participate in the North American premiere of Archive of Mind, a meditative sculptural installation by world-renowned Korean artist, Kimsooja. Archive of Mind transforms the simple, repetitive actions made by thousands of visitors into a monumental, texturally-complex sculpture. Sitting at a large work surface, Kimsooja encourages you to empty your mind of distraction and sink into the essentialized experience of forming a ball of clay with your hands. Over the course of the exhibition, thousands of clay spheres are generated, each revealing the emotional traces and individual signifiers of their makers. Kimsooja: Archive of Mind is on view at PEM from June 22, 2019 through January 19, 2020.

“There is a mesmerizing quality to the work as you watch it slowly build and see individual gestures accumulate into something large and powerful,” says PEM’s Curator of the Present Tense, Trevor Smith, who first saw Kimsooja’s Archive of Mind presented in Venice.

There is something in this work that reminds us of human potential and shows us the importance of slowing down and paying attention.

Kimsooja conceived Archive of Mind in 2016 as a conceptual and meditative practice. The repetitive act of rolling clay introduces a polarity between the forces of the participants' palms—transposing their state of mind into matter. Clay is elemental and Kimsooja sees clay as a container, one that holds water and is pliable but once it dries, the clay ends up storing, or containing, the energy its participants created.

“What is particularly exciting about this work is the universal creativity that everyone, regardless of their age or artistic ability, can express through humble materials,” says Smith. “This work is physically simple, yet overflowing with associations – from the microscopic perspective of atoms and molecules to the planetary and intergalactic; from the use of a material that has such deep associations with the earth to invoking immaterial practices of meditation. It has a calming and introspective effect on everyone who participates.”

Kimsooja was born in 1957 in Taegu, South Korea. She earned a BFA (1980) and MA (1984) from Hong-Ik University, Seoul. Her performances, videos, photography and installations use light, sound, and culturally specific materials to express how various cultures intricately overlap and coexist in society. She has developed many projects that explore the role of weaving in cultures worldwide. She has also drawn on the metaphor of the body as needle and as mirror of its environment to question our lives, world, and the major issues facing our world. Kimsooja’s videos and installations blur the boundaries between aesthetics and transcendent experience through their use of repetitive actions, meditative practices and serial forms. A well-known multidisciplinary conceptual artist, she uses a one-word name, Kimsooja, as it refuses gender identity, marital status, socio-political or cultural, and geographical identity by not separating the family name and the first name. Living and working in New York and Seoul, she has held countless solo exhibitions and has represented Korea at the Venice Biennale.

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.

Kimsooja: Archive of Mind was commissioned by the Peabody Essex Museum with the support of Axel Vervoordt Gallery. 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, and Kate and Ford O’Neil 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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