sábado, 17 de febrero de 2018



El texto sin imágenes es:


Pedro Azara

The identification of pictures hanged on the walls of Son Boter -a XVIIIth century mansion at Palma de Mallorca (Balearic Islands, Spain) used by Joan Miró as his studio for sculptures since the sixties-, by the professor and architect Marc Marín, as images of Sumerian masterpieces from the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad –and not images of ethnographic or traditional art as most historians of modern art have written-, led the Joan Miró Foundation in Barcelona to organise a large exhibition of the relationship between “Sumerian art” and modern art.
 The exhibition is devoted to the discovery of “Sumerian art” by modern artists at the time large Anglo-North-American archaeological missions working in the south of Iraq between both world wars, when Iraq was an English colony, were making discoveries such as the hoard of worshipper statues at the Diyala valley. However, archaeologists like Charles Leonard Woolley, head of the mission in Ur (Iraq), were not fascinated by their finds, as they considered Mesopotamian art inferior to Egyptian and to Graeco-Roman art. They thought Mesopotamian iconography was an expression of a violent and barbaric culture. Sacrificed bodies found at the Royal Tombs of Ur were the proof that the Bible was right. However, the archaeological discoveries, published by magazines as popular as the Illustrated London News and by newspapers, and promoted by archaeologists in spite of their disdain for finds, found a very favourable reception outside the archaeological world. Modern or surrealistic writers like Michel Leiris and George Bataille, who published the journal Documents at the very end of the twenties and early thirties, and Christian Zervos, collector and publisher of Cahiers d´Art -both journals appreciated by modern artists and collectors-, wrote illustrated articles of “Sumerian” culture. They considered it as a new “primitivism” at the time when the fascination for African art was vanishing. Christian Zervos asked to the known Argentinian photographer Horacio Coppola, who was working at the photographic studio at the Bauhaus, to portrait Mesopotamian works of art or artefacts at the Louvre Museum and the British Museum for the journal. These magnificent black and white pictures –shown publicly for the first time at the Joan Miró Foundation- framed the way modern artists perceived and judged “Sumerian” art: Coppola took black and white frontal and lateral pictures of different parts of sculptures, mostly heads, shown isolated against an abstract background. During the same years, different economic illustrated instalments of L´Encyclopédie de l´Art, with short commentaries by the purist painter Amédée Ozenfant –who worked with the architect Le Corbusier-, on Mesopotamian art and culture, promoted black and white images that structured and conditioned the way “Sumerian” art would be perceived. These journals and magazines mediated between modern artists and ancient art. For instance, Giacometti, who made quite a large number of Sumerian heads, did not draw from life. His drawings of Gudea heads are of a plaster copy he bought at the Louvre museum. Other drawings of “Sumerian” heads are of photographs by Coppola. Even Miró, whose sculptures from the 60´s were inspired by Mesopotamian art –an art Miró loved and considered not only the first art but also the only true art, as he declared to the French writer Pierre Schneider during a visit to the first rooms of the Département des Antiquités Orientales at the Louvre Museum-, are based on photographies of Mesopotamian works of art published in the French Arts & Loisirs magazine –which main copywriter was the writer George Perec-.  So the knowledge of Mesopotamian art, and the way it was looked at, was due, not to permanent and temporary exhibitions –Museums did not show too many Early Mesopotamian art before the Second World War-, but to illustrated publications on modern art, as “Sumerian” art appeared as a new and different “primitive” art.
Sumer and the Modern Paradigm would like the spectator to stand at the same position of surrealistic artists. What he should look at is not archaeological material but its interpretation by modern photographers, graphic designers and writers. For instance, an economic book on Neo-Assyrian reliefs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with black and white pictures and a careful lay out by the painter and photographer Charles Sheeler, during the Second World War, was an important contribution to the appreciation of “barbaric” reliefs.      
The exhibition combines graphic and written original documentation, modern works of arts by Miro, Moore, Hepworth, Giacometti, le Corbusier, Smith, de Kooning, Baumeister, and a few but outstanding archaeological items from the Louvre museum, the British Museum and the Vorderasiatisches Museum. The exhibition visualises nets of relations between ancient and modern works and documentation. We would like the spectator to look at works and their connections, not to isolated works of art. Written and graphic documentation, such as pictures by Coppola or texts by Bataille, are part of the archaeological material, part of its meaning. 
The exhibition deals with what some modern –surrealistic- artists have seen in early Mesopotamian material. What has raised their attention?  How they have reacted to this interest? How they have communicated their interest or discoveries? Some artists, like Moore –who wrote an early article on Mesopotamian sculpture-, Hepworth, de Kooning, or Miró have focused on the interpretation of “Sumerian” worshipper statues. For them, the gravity of the statues, the large eyes, the clasped hands, have been formal solutions to express feelings of tranquillity and restrain. Meanwhile, the French poet and artist Michaux was fascinated by cuneiform writing because he considered it a primal writing, able to express directly, without any mediation nor distortion, the being of the called and described things. The North-American sculptor David Smith focused on cylinder seals. They were a mean to create compositions without any beginning nor end, endless compositions able to suggest the distorted or destroyed times of the war. While the German painter Baumeister, during the Second World War, looked at the Poem of Gilgamesh and other “Sumerian” texts recently translated, he illustrated, as way of looking for a refuge in the past when there was no future, trying to find an explanation to violence and destruction. The Poem, dealing with the human condition, was a way to accept it. This poem was not the first ancient eastern text known in the XXth century. Ancient Testament possesses myths and legends inspired by Mesopotamian texts. One of these myths, the Tower of Babel, was a mythical recreation of the ziggurat of Babylon. Architects like Le Corbusier and Loos used the ziggurat typology for projects symbolising the mixture of languages –a hotel called Babylon, by Loos- and the power of human knowledge – the Mundaneum, a museum for all kind of arts and technics, by Le Corbusier-. These architects used the ziggurat motif having in mind the mythical symbolism of the Babel Tower.
The exhibition does not put an end to the research on Mesopotamian influences in modern art, but it tries to find a possible answer to this unexpected interest in artists apparently so far away from near ancient motifs such as Miró or Le Corbusier. They did not copy Mesopotamian art; they looked at it (or at images of it) for clues to understand the complexity of the modern world. 

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