From Hidden to Plain Sight:
A Special Exhibit At the Harvard Art Museums
From Toil to Table
Still Life with Watermelon, 1822
Sarah Miriam Peale, American
(Philadelphia, PA 1800-1885 Philadelphia, PA)
Oil on panel
This painting by Sarah Miriam Peale, one of the earliest women artists in the United States, depicts fruit in an idealized state, free of any blemishes or imperfections. Peale, who gained fame for her portraits and still lifes, was active in Baltimore and Philadelphia during the 1820s, and trained under her father, James Peale, a miniaturist and still-life painter.
Paired with this painting is an interview with a HUDS dining hall worker, highlighting the often-overlooked contributions of working-class individuals to the Harvard community. Through this juxtaposition, and all throughout "From Hidden to Plain Sight," we aim to break the fourth wall and acknowledge the diverse perspectives and experiences of those involved in maintaining and safeguarding the places in which we eat, live, and work.
Hygiene and Upkeep
Statue of Hygieia
This statue of Hygieia, the Greek goddess of health and hygiene, is a copy of a Hellenistic original from the [TBD] BCE. Hygieia was highly revered in ancient Greece and Rome as the protector of health and well-being.
In contemporary society, the custodian's work is essential to preserving places not unlike the museum as a safe and healthy space for visitors and staff alike. In the attached interview, [TBD] comments upon their experiences as [TBD].
Labor and Equity
Manhattan Bridge, 1933
Reginald Marsh, American (Paris 1898-1954 Dorset, Vt.)
Mezzo-fresco (lime wash on plaster)
In the early 1930s, many leftist artists abandoned abstraction and other modernist idioms in an effort to create what the art historian and social critic Meyer Schapiro would term a new “public use of art.” They employed easily legible realist, narrative, and reportage approaches to image making that focused on the daily life, social concerns, and political activities of the working class. At stake was the proposition that the modern artist is a laborer who participates in social action and uses art as an instrument of persuasion and dissent.
Reginald Marsh's fresco visualizes urban poverty by depicting indigent New Yorkers in a location more typically associated with bustling activity. By pairing this painting with interviews from contemporary laborers, and by drawing a connection between the social realism of the 1920s to present-day activist moments of the 2020s, the Harvard Art Museums aims to bring attention to the ongoing struggles of working-class people today, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the increasing calls for social justice and equity. Through this pairing, viewers are invited to consider the direct tensions between the museum and the labor space, and to reflect on the ways in which art can be used to amplify the voices and experiences of working-class communiteis.
Lock and Key Found at Pompeii, modern forgery
Lock: Leaded copper; Key: Leaded bronze
This forgery of the ancient Roman lock and key found in Pompeii speaks to the human desire for guardianship and secrecy. The original warded lock design dates back to antiquity and is still the most recognizable lock and key design in the Western world. Affluent Romans often kept their valuables in secure locked boxes within their households and wore the keys as rings, indicating their wealth and importance.
What's particularly intriguing about this artifact is the fact that it's a forgery. The makers of the lock and key created a replica of a higher-quality original, suggesting a desire to maintain the illusion of security and secrecy, even if it meant resorting to deceit. This forgery prompts us to consider the lengths that people throughout history have gone to in order to safeguard themselves and/or their belongings from others, and the role of deception and secrecy in that process. It also raises questions about the relationship between guardianship and trust, and whether the use of deception undermines the very concept of confidence altogether.
Guardianship, Secrecy, and Performance
Il Femminiello, 1740/1760
Giuseppe Bonito, Italian (1707-1789)
Oil on canvas
This recently-discovered mid-eighteenth century painting represents a unique cultural phenomenon in Naples, Italy, where cross-dressing femminielli were accepted as a "third sex." In this image, we see a comely young male in contrast to the more masculine femminiello, engaging the viewer in a playful inversion of traditional views of gender. The femminiello were known to bring good luck and were considered to be a combination of both male and female strengths, making them highly respected and valued members of Neapolitan society. This painting is the only known representation of a femminiello before photographs made at the end of the nineteenth century; its loan to the Harvard Art Museums exemplifies this institution's commitment to recognizing the diversity of human experience and identity.
Il Femminiello, a recent introduction to the art canon, demonstrates the ways in which individuals have historically guarded, hidden, and expressed their own selves, and invite visitors to reflect upon how they might do the same. Furthermore, the ironic juxtaposition of the two Italian pieces - one real, one forgery - reminds us of the ways that what we believe to be secure or constant can be just as fluid and dynamic as personal identity and societal expectations.
Nick Cave, American (Fulton, MO 1959-)
The "soundsuit" is one in a series of vibrant, multimedia sculptures that completely cover the human form, obscuring race, gender, and class distinctions. This particular soundsuit, on loan from the Smithsonian, is both playful and intimidating; it is quilted in floral patterns, and creates a rustling sound when worn in order to emit an auditory element to its visual impact.
These extravagantly ornamented suits explore the tension between "low craft" and "high art." They are often made from found objects and incorporate a wide range of cultural references, from American craft techniques to African dance rituals. A perfect complement to the pairing of the Italian portrait with a lock and key, this soundsuit explores complications of identity, performance, and traditional definitions of artistic prestige. Together, the work of this activist-artist also serves as a contemporary reminder of how we might navigate our own identities in response to perceptions of privacy and safety around us.
Mock-Up of Exhibit at Harvard Art Museums That I Created In-Studio