Paul Robeson as Othello
Through Jan. 13. Pusey Library. Free.
When Paul Robeson first played Othello on Broadway in 1943, he was given a twenty-minute standing ovation. Robeson was the first African-American actor to take the role of Othello in over a century, and his hallmark production showed both how much progress America had made on issues of race and how far it had to go.
The “Paul Robeson as Othello” exhibit, opening Wednesday in the Harvard Theater Collection of Pusey Library, includes photographs and documents that demonstrate why some people believe that Robeson’s Othello was “the most important Shakespearean production of the century,” according to Harvard Theater Collection curator Fredric W. Wilson.
Before Robeson, while it was not uncommon for black actors to perform on Broadway, in America, the role of Othello had to be played by white actors in makeup. It was inconceivable that a black man could marry a white woman and kiss her onstage, even in a Shakespearean play. But as Robeson’s Othello toured the nation, playing to packed theatres in every city and amassing huge box office profits, audiences gradually became accustomed to the notion of the mixed-race pairing.
Robeson’s famous portrayal of Othello, Wilson says, also “turned the tide” for the role artistically, and it began to be unthinkable to have a white actor play the role.
The exhibit also makes clear the extent of the racial divisions in 1940s America.
One letter on display, from the President of Baylor University in Waco, Texas, informs Othello’s artistic company that the audience of the play would have to be segregated according to Texas’s Jim Crow laws. The production’s artistic company refused to perform before segregated audiences, and so Othello did not tour Baylor University, or, in fact, any Southern city. Even in Northern cities, segregation was such a fact of life that Robeson, although a national star, had trouble finding hotel accommodations in some cities.
—Lois E. Beckett
Forging the New: East Asian Painting in the Twentieth Century
Through Oct. 16. Arthur M. Sackler Museum. Free.
Those willing to venture past the flashier Degas show currently at the Sackler museum will have the pleasure of discovering “Forging the New,” the less extensive but no-less-rewarding exhibit currently on display. Despite the subtitle “East Asian Painting in the Twentieth Century,” the show itself is a broader survey of all kinds of art from China, Japan, and Korea. The display of pieces ranging from classic paintings to ceramics to textiles, comprising over 75 pieces of the Sackler’s permanent collection, creates a broad and valuable look at an oft-overlooked subset of art history.
The main thread running through “Forging the New” is conflict: between East and West, between old and new, between representation and abstraction; and the styles represented are largely depictions of individual artists’ reactions to these tensions. Utsumi Nobuhiko’s “Innerscape: Manifestation,” for example, propels traditional Japanese ink across a water-covered sheet of paper using a powerful dryer—combining an old medium with a new technique. Meanwhile, “Early Spring” by He Huaishuo features a classical Chinese subject matter and materials but uses the Western process of multiple drafts and revisions. That many of these artists, Huaishuo included, are émigrés—particularly from the Cultural Revolution—is unsurprising when one considers the personal trials necessary to create the evocativeness, power, and intensity bursting out of this not-to-be-missed exhibit.
—Elisabeth J. Bloomberg
New VES Faculty 2005-06
Through Oct. 6. Carpenter Center. Free.
This year’s Visual and Environmental Studies faculty show presents a diverse collection of still photographs and paintings from the new professors and lecturers in the department. Upon entering the exhibit, one encounters the largest of several acrylics by visiting lecturer Thomas Eggerer, a messy vibrant drawing for his 2004 work “Privileged of the Roof.” Look towards the far left wall for the real prize in Eggerer’s collection, an evocative photo collage entitled “Terror of All Things Liquid.” After examining this work, turn around to find the Sharon Harper installation “Moon Study No. 4.” The assistant VES professor’s work, a dreamlike patchwork of the moon’s image as it traverses the sky, is largely static, but even as a still image, the atmosphere of the work (set behind dark curtains in its own chilly environment) is affecting. Another film installation at the center of the exhibit belongs to visiting professor Tishan Hsu, and depicts ocean waves and bird feathers crashing into one another and propelling off the screen. A tour of the exhibit would appropriately end with a look at Burden Visiting Professor of Photography Deborah Bright’s two “Glacial Erratic” pictures, showing the same rock photographed with the full explosion of seasonal variety around them. Visitors should also note that the exhibition space itself was designed by visiting lecturer Sergio Muñoz-Sarmiento and his CLANCCO company.
ONE TO WATCH: The first work you should see as you walk in is a small video screen. Put on the headphones and take in Ruth Lingford’s three short films: “Death and the Mother,” “Pleasures of War,” and “The Old Fools,” featuring brusque digital paint strokes alongside live images, all bleakly blending into one another and creating formlessly diabolical images of the ravages of war and aging.
—Ben B. Chung and Isabel J. Boero
Stratification: An Installation of Works Since 1960
Through February 26, 2006. The Busch-Reisinger Museum. Free.
Google the name of “Thomas Lenk” and you’ll find that he’s a 29-year-old actor who plays the geeky, James Bond-obsessed, ambiguously-gay character of Andrew Wells on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” But visit the Busch-Reisinger Museum and you’ll find that Lenk, a German sculptor born in 1933, is one of the seven artists whose work will be on display until February 26 as part of the museum’s ongoing exhibit, “Stratification: An Installation of Works Since 1960.”
A curatorial intern at the museum, M. Celka Straughn, organized the exhibit of German and Swiss painters and sculptors. Undergraduates involved in the project will be giving gallery talks. The exhibit highlights seven key pieces from the museum’s collection.
In the same year that Lenk (the sculptor, not the actor), was born, Hitler shut down the progressive Bauhaus art school, which sought to produce high-end but cheap functional architecture and consumer goods. For the next three months, the Busch-Reisinger’s collection of Bauhaus work will be featured in a special online-only display, “Extra Ordinary Every Day,” at artmuseums.harvard.edu.
—Daniel J. Hemel and Lindsey R. Canant
Through Oct. 30. A New Kind of Historical Evidence: Photographs from the Carpenter Center Collection. Examining more than 28,000 prints, negatives, and other related materials, this exhibit offers a unique resource for the study of fine art, professional photography, and documentary. Fogg Art Museum. Free.
Through Nov. 27. Degas at Harvard. Uniting more than 70 of Degas’ paintings, sculptures, and drawings, the exhibit explores the reception of French Impressionism in 20th-century America, while presenting some of Degas’ masterpieces in a new and innovative light. Arthur M. Sackler Museum. Free.
Through Dec. 23. The Century of Bach and Mozart: Perspectives on Historiography, Perspectives, Composition and Performance. This joint exhibition features original sheet music from the pillars of classical music, as well as an original watercolor painting by Mozart of…an ear. Houghton and Loeb Music Libraries. Free.
Through Jan 29. Silver and Shawls. This exhibit highlights shawls and silver tableware produced in India during the late colonial period, focusing on the evolution of the former towards European styles and the latter towards more traditional Indian designs. Accompanied by a series of lectures and gallery talks by curators throughout the semester. Arthur M. Sackler Museum. Free.
Dec. 17, 2005—March 12, 2006. French Drawings and Paintings from Harvard’s Dunlap Collection. This exhibition of approximately 35 works showcases some of the most celebrated French paintings and drawings of the 18th and early 19th centuries. Highlights include pieces by François Le Moyne, Charles-Joseph
Natoire, Jean-Baptiste Greuze, and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Fogg Art Museum. Free.
—Kimberly A. Kicenuik and Ben B. Chung