Object Lessons

Object Lesson: The Arctic Regions

The images in this massive book were the first published photographs from the Arctic. In 1869, William Bradford, an adventuresome painter known for his Arctic seascapes and ship paintings, secured funding from businessman LeGrand Lockwood and chartered a steamship, The Panther, for a voyage to Greenland. He invited photographers John L. Dunmore and George Critcherson to join him on the expedition. During a three-month summer journey, the group produced drawings, texts, and photographs that were published in the lavish tome on display at NOMA in A Brief History of Photography and Transmission. Read More

Object Lesson: Junichi Arai

Innovative fabrics that can be blunt like concrete or ethereal like clouds sprung from the imagination of Japanese designer Junichi Arai, but were made possible through studied innovation and technological experimentation. A shimmering blue and silver textile by the artist is currently on view at NOMA in the exhibition Atomic Number 13: Aluminum in 20th-Century Design, representing the metal’s role in artistic experimentation by the end of the century.  Read More

Anthropomorphic Rice Ladle with Janus Head Handle (wunkirmian or wa ke mia)

Object Lesson: Wunkirmian/Wakemia (Ceremonial Ladle)

Dan ceremonial ladles known as wunkirmian or wakemia (spoon associated with feasts) are badges of prestige that acknowledge a woman for her invaluable generosity to her family and the entire community. These objects were created to serve as symbols of status and the bearer of spiritual powers. The complex design and craftsmanship of these ladles are the mark of their relevance. Read More

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: Fairyland Lusterware

Wild stories from the imagination of designer Daisy Makeig-Jones come alive on this metallic-glazed “Fairyland Lusterware” vase from NOMA’s collection. This enchanting, and sometimes very strange, luxury porcelain was manufactured by England’s centuries-old Wedgwood ceramic factory. Combining whimsical children’s illustrations with advancements in iridescent glaze chemistry Fairyland Luster became enormously popular in the 1920s. 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