Brooklyn Museum’s ‘Connecting Cultures’ Exhibit Highlights Artists From Around the World

Sabeena Khosla


Brooklyn Museum’s long-term installation Connecting Cultures: A World in Brooklyn brings objects from the museum’s extensive collection and unites them thematically. Rather than visit different galleries representing specific time periods and/or cultures, this singular space set on the main floor provides an intimate archive of works from across the globe that range from antiquity to the contemporary. The salon style design, which emphasizes the more complicated relationship between the works, is split off into three integrated sections.


The first, Connecting Places, highlights the influence of location on the artist’s awareness of the self and world. Louis Remy Mignot’s Niagara painting from 1866 is situated above and to the left of Dennis Oppenheim’s Landslide from 1968. Though a century apart, these works reveal the mysticism artists found in extreme natural conditions. 


Mignot’s painting focuses on the grandeur of the falls due to his thick application of the paint in dramatic downward strokes. The light falls on the water just as it charges down the cliff and he has painted the fog rising up from below at the edges of the drop. It’s cavernous, vast, and sensory. Many artists in the 19th century reverted to nature as a space to contemplate existence among political turmoil. Mignot was no different, as he had to leave his home in America for London due to the onset of the Civil War. With that, Oppenheim’s photographs of a landslide in Long Island reveal his association of such natural realities with a grander universal order. Taken from the foot of the slide, the photographs’ perspectives lead the eye upwards to the sky thereby dramatizing the towering effect of the hills. In between the photographs, which are placed alongside his recordings of impressions and coordinates he writes: “In spirit it carries the extent of the globe, much like lines of latitude.” Both artists in their own time employed nature as an otherworldly presence.


Other works in this section focused on the awakening Western artists found in the modern eastern landscape. Louis Comfort Tiffany’s On The Way Between Old and New Cairo (1872) reveals, though through an orientalist lens, the genuine interest in the richness of Middle Eastern history and aesthetics. It was seen in direct contrast with the unchartered newness of the American landscape. The viewer gazes upon a warm, dusty genre scene in Egypt with distinctly Middle Eastern architecture behind the locals. There is calmness yet vibrancy in the atmosphere that points to Tiffany’s romanticizing the eastern city: it carries both the spirit of the past and the beauty of the future. Above the painting is an architectural panel commissioned by the Mughals – the interwoven floral patterns and bold colors were meant to evoke the Gardens in the Qur’an. However, the museum’s juxtaposition of the two objects makes it clear that American artists saw something spiritually idyllic in the everyday in the east.


Connecting People emphasizes the global and generational use of the human body. Leading this section are Picasso’s Woman in Gray (1942) and directly below it Daniel Huntington’s Portrait of the Sketcher Mlle. Rosine The Jewess (1858). While it is abstract versus naturalistic and appears a to be a bit of a stretch to compare the two due to their obvious stylistic differences, the exhibit implores visitors to look deeper at the subject matter. Picasso used grays and flattened forms in creating this woman to represent the bleak situation in Europe during the war, while Huntington used this woman to represent the societal need for knowledge and artistry. Both superficially different yet the women in both are seated in a similar fashion and each evokes the use of women in the arts to identify important national circumstances. This is only heightened by the placement of Judy Chicago’s Sojourner Truth #2 Test Plate from the late 1970’s directly below (with a handy reminder to pay a visit to Chicago’s Dinner Party on permanent display at the museum).



This part of the show naturally contains sculpture due to the medium’s focus on the human form. Behind the wall containing the paintings stands Rodin’s Orpheus (1908) and Nick Cave’s contemporary Soundsuit (2010).  Cave’s work, with the cavernous opening in the head area, is otherworldly and eerie especially when the viewer pictures an individual occupying the suit, twisting and dancing. And, it is meant to release a hypnotizing sound when moved. Though strikingly modern it does invite comparison to the Abelam sculptures from Papa New Guinea on display across from it– both are representative of something mythical, strong, and ceremonial. Rodin also incorporates mythology and drama in his contorting, clenching figure of Orpheus, who died at the hands of those who couldn’t hear his music. The sculptures are wildly poetic in their abstractions and insight into the ethereal aspects of the corporeal body.


And of course, with places and people, Brooklyn Museum fittingly ends the exhibit with Connecting Things. It focuses on the intersection of art and design, as well as the relationship of everyday objects to the Self. Michelangelo Pistoletto’s famed Standing Man Standing Woman with Hat (1980) along with Fred Wilson’s significant Iago’s Mirror (2009) are both placed alongside a wall of mirrors from throughout the ages.  Pistoletto’s work requires the viewers to insert themselves into the work by being a reflective surface, while Wilson’s inverts the mirror surface by painting it black in order to provide commentary on notions of race and identity. The rest of the mirrors, actually used by individuals, emphasize the material and the abstract qualities of the object itself by being paired with the work of the other two artists: mirrors literally reflect but are reversals, fleeting by nature and permanent to psyche.


The exhibition closes on a note that encompasses the purpose of the exhibit. With objects like a display of the Solar System, and a Celestial Map, there is persistence on the part of humans to understand the cosmos and make sense of the omnipotent. Art and design together reflect a need to orient one’s self in both the everyday and the world. And though it appears a cluster of random objects, strewn about the room, the show does succeed in allowing visitors to meander to the objects that catch their eye and form links themselves, rather than forcefully exert a linearity of meaning. It’s immersive without being overwhelming, and makes their expansive collection accessible and intriguing. 



Author Bio:


Sabeena Khosla is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

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