This exhibition is a fascinating look at how aesthetics and artist’s materials, combined with various alphabets from diverse cultures and eras, have for millennia supported religious, political and socio-cultural agendas. It is drawn from the Harn’s five collecting areas and was co-curated just before the pandemic by Harn curators Susan Cooksey (now retired) and Carol McCusker.
From the 19th century BCE to the present, Speechless examines how words and their messages have collaborated with the visual arts to generate rich artworks in both form and content. The exhibition includes such diverse forms as a cuneiform-inscribed clay cone originating from 4th millennium BCE Mesopotamia, possibly used as propaganda. An illuminated manuscript from Europe and another from Ethiopia serve as artful prayers, while a Chinese scroll (an ode to aging) combines calligraphy, poetry and painting for a triple-sensory experience. A 10’ X 4’ Ghanaian weaving commemorates in word and image Ghana’s devastating 1939 earthquake. A contemporary Czech artist fuses a realist rendering of whispering mouths to a backdrop of state documents, illustrating the story of his imprisonment. And post-WWII street photographers, walking New York’s Time Square, revel in signage as pure urban design.
The fifty-seven artworks in Speechless illustrate how art combined with words has shored up or challenged ideas of power, tradition, identity and beauty throughout human history.
This exhibition is made possible by the Harn General Program Endowment, Visit Gainesville Alachua County, Gary and Gayle Olson, and Robert and Carolyn Thoburn, with additional support from the Harn Annual Fund.