Object Lessons

Object Lesson: Hills Brothers Coffee Can by Ansel Adams

Photographer Ansel Adams is famous around the world for his dramatic black-and-white landscape photography, in particular views of the American West. Self-taught, Adams played an outsized role in the history of American art photography. He helped found Aperture magazine and the Center for Creative Photography in Arizona, and served as an advisor during the beginnings of the photography program at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In the early 1930s, Adams was also a founding member of Group f/64, a collective of photographers (including Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston) who helped to define American modernism through their preference for precise focus and attention to composition. Read More

Object Lesson: Prohibition-Era Cocktail Shakers

The distinctive swishing, clinking sound of ice cubes and liquid jostling inside a cocktail shaker is a joyful part of mixing up a daiquiri or a French 75. NOMA’s collection includes two American chrome cocktail shakers that date from around 1930, during an era known for the prohibition of alcohol in the United States. But with some irony, the Prohibition era slo saw Americans drinking more distilled liquor than they ever had before. Read More

Object Lesson: Ishimoto Yasuhiro

In the United States, Ishimoto Yasuhiro is perhaps best known for his street photography—in particular his fascination with the people and environs of Chicago. This photograph is typical of Ishimoto’s street work, in that he most often turned his view perpendicular to whatever street he stood on (as opposed to looking down the thoroughfare towards a horizon) to better to capture the people and buildings that interested him. He rarely staged his photographs, but rather took notice of what was in front of him and carefully composed a picture in his mind. Read More

Object Lesson: Way Over There Inside Me (Ocean as a super throughway #4) by Torkwase Dyson

Way Over There Inside Me (Ocean as a super throughway #4) layers dense, minimal shapes, diagrammatic lines, and thick textures of graphite, acrylic, charcoal, and ink over washes of deep blue paint. Within her practice, Dyson has developed a unique vocabulary of abstract lines, forms, shapes, and edges inspired by the design systems of architecture, water infrastructure, the oil and gas industry, and the physical impact of global warming. Read More

Object Lesson: Spirit Gates by John T. Scott

Facing the greenery of City Park, the majestic Spirit Gates at NOMA stand as a testament to centuries of artistic achievement by Black artists in New Orleans. While the gates poetically celebrate the city’s jazz traditions and ironwork craft, in this artwork John T. Scott also addressed a history of racial segregation in the City Park, and by extension, the New Orleans Museum of Art. Read More

Object Lesson: Destruction of Zeppelin near London by H. Scott Orr

On September 3, 1916, Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson of the Royal Air Force was on night patrol in his biplane, when he spotted the wooden-framed Schütte-Lanz airship outside of London. It was one of sixteen that had launched from Germany for the largest air raid over England. Robinson first lost the airship in the clouds, but found it again and made three attack runs on it. During the third, the airship burst into flames and crashed into a field. Read More

A sculpture by Ida Kohlmeyer in the Besthoff Sculpture Garden is made of abstract painted aluminum shapes.

Object Lesson: Rebus 3D-89-3 by Ida Kohlmeyer

This month, Ida Kohlmeyer’s painted aluminum sculpture Rebus 3D-89-3 returns to the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, newly refreshed from structural repairs and brandishing a brand new coat of paint. The expert restoration—undertaken by Kohlmeyer’s longtime fabricator G. Paul Lucas of Lucas Limited in Louisburg, Kansas—brings the work back to its intended brilliancy and allows us to appreciate the work of one of Louisiana’s most influential and enigmatic abstract artists anew. Read More

Photography, Surveillance, and Protest

Gordon Parks famously stated that photography was his “choice of weapons” against racism, intolerance, and poverty. While photographs have certainly been used to document and advance social justice causes in the past, the use of photography in recent protest movements has demonstrated one of the dangers of the medium. While protest photographs have amplified these movements’ messages and visibility, those very same photographs have been used against their makers by other authorities. Read More

A red IKEA watering can designed by Monika Mulder

Object Lesson: IKEA Vållö Watering Can

In 2002, the Vållö watering can’s designer, Monika Mulder, was asked to solve a clunky logistics issue. Her result is a graceful work of art. The challenge was that a standard watering can’s handle, pouring spout, and cavity take up a large volume of space. For IKEA, a company organized around the principle of using thoughtful design to address shipping efficiency in furniture, this excess volume was a big deal. The design request was for a watering can that could be stacked, one within another, which saved tremendously on international transportation costs. Read More

Object Lesson: Scholar’s Objects by Okuhara Seiko

In this work, by Okuhara Seiko (Japanese, 1837–1913), an orchid in full bloom sits atop a wooden plant stand—a “scholar’s rock” at its feet adjacent to a stack of traditionally bound books and a Chinese-style vase holding an ornamental reishi mushroom. The objects are closely associated with the furnishings and decor of a scholar’s study, and represent—individually and in the aggregate—a scholar’s intellectual curiosity and taste. Read More

Object Lesson: Rural Occupations by Kano Tsunenobu

A pair of six-fold screens by Kano Tsunenobu (1636-1713) in NOMA’s collection that depicts the labor involved in rice cultivation throughout the year has provided both the title and focus of the current exhibition in the Japanese galleries: Rural Occupations: Images of Work in Edo-Period Art. Images of urban and rural workers were popular painting themes during the Edo period (1615-1868), created largely for patrons within the governing classes: the military rulers, or shoguns; the daimyo (provincial leaders akin to governors); and the samurai.  Read More

Object Lesson: Aluminum Co. of America, Louis Klinkscales by Margaret Bourke-White

Featured in NOMA’s exhibition Atomic Number Thirteen: Aluminum in 20th-Century Design, this portrait by Margaret Bourke-White illustrates the hard labor involved in aluminum production. Bourke-White was the first woman war correspondent and the first woman photographer to work for Life magazine. Her photograph of the Fort Peck Dam appeared on the cover of Life’s first issue in 1936, one year after she was featured in a monographic exhibition at NOMA. Read More

Object Lesson: Maker Chair by Joris Laarman

When chemists first successfully extracted aluminum from the earth in the 1850s, the raw element was as precious as gold. Today we take aluminum for granted, though it allows for nearly every facet of modern life through its use in architecture, industry, and transportation. From the nineteenth century until today, artists and designers have increasingly turned to aluminum because its unique properties–lightweight, strong, can be pressed thin, resistant to corrosion–allow for the exploration of new ideas through objects. Read More

Object Lesson: WATER by Edward Burtynsky

To create the works in his project WATER, Edward Burtynsky (Canadian, born 1955) travelled around the globe, from the Gulf of Mexico to the shores of the Ganges, weaving together an ambitious representation of water’s increasingly fragmented lifecycle. In enormous, color, aerial images, many bordering on the edge of complete abstraction, Burtynsky traces the various roles that water plays in modern life—as a source of healthy ecosystems and energy, as a key element in cultural and religious rituals, and as a rapidly depleting resource. Read More

Object Lesson: To guna Post

The to guna literally translates to “house of words”—it is a men’s meeting house and considered to be the center of the community. A to guna is often sited in a high place overlooking the village. The roofs of the structures are constructed of layers of millet stalks, which can be over six feet deep and supported by wooden beams. Read More