Arts + Culture

Outdoor installation by Máximo González added to Fowler's 50th anniversary celebration

"Walk among Worlds," an immersive outdoor installation by Mexico City–based artist Máximo González, will debut at the Fowler Museum's 50th anniversary celebration on Saturday, Oct. 12, and will be on display through Sunday, Nov. 3. The installation will incorporate thousands of beach-ball globes that appear to float up the walls of the museum's Davis Courtyard and billow out the top. 
"'Walk among Worlds' is a fitting metaphor for a visit to the Fowler on the occasion of the museum's 50th anniversary, during which we are offering an especially rich array of thematic exhibitions, with nearly 1,000 artworks from the Fowler's vast, acclaimed global collections," said Marla C. Berns, the Shirley and Ralph Shapiro Director of the Fowler Museum.
"Fowler at Fifty" celebrates the remarkable trajectory of the Fowler Museum's groth over the last five decades. Opening to the public on Oct. 13 is a suite of eight exhibitions that honor the achievements of the museum. Each exhibition highlights a particular strength of the museum's now-vast holdings, and each takes a distinctive curatorial approach or engages an artist's perspective. Together, the eight anniversary exhibitions reveal the depth, breadth, range and quality of the museum's collections. The ideas and interpretations encompassed in each exhibition communicate just what an institution can do with such expansive resources.
"Fowler at Fifty" contributes to global knowledge and cross-cultural understanding at the same time that it attests to the power of multiple voices and viewpoints and engenders an appreciation of local artistry and ingenuity — extending from the deep past to the present moment. On the occasion of this milestone, the Fowler underscores its long-held conviction that artworks are never static in meaning or value but are instead dynamic resources subject to reevaluation, reinterpretation and reconsideration over time.
From the Sepik River to Los Angeles: Art in Migration
Oct. 13, 2013–March 2, 2014
The Fowler Museum's collections today include more than 4,500 masks, figural sculptures, shields, architectural elements, ritual objects and other items from the South Pacific island of New Guinea. Three-quarters of these were acquired through private donations in the short period from 1963 to 1969, and most originally came from the Sepik River region, now part of the nation of Papua New Guinea. What factors, both here and in distant New Guinea, conspired to drive this surge of so-called "primitive" art to Southern California?
This exhibition showcases, for the first time since 1967, more than 50 of the finest examples of Sepik art to arrive on our shores in such short order. It also explores how this massive migration changed both the art itself and the ways we think about it.
(Curated by Roy W. Hamilton, senior curator of Asian and Pacific collections at the Fowler Museum.)
Double Fortune, Double Trouble: Art for Twins Among the Yoruba
Oct. 13, 2013–March 2, 2014
This exhibition explores the power and prevalence of "two-ness" in Yoruba art and thought with an impressive display of more than 250 carved-wood twin memorial figures, known as ere ibeji. The Yoruba, who live in southwestern Nigeria as well as Togo and Benin, have one of the highest rates of twinning in the world, and special attention is paid to twins, both during life and after.
These works from the Fowler's extraordinary collection display a remarkable stylistic range and illuminate issues of apprenticeship and mastery, local innovation and invention; their surfaces and adornments show how they were treated and transformed once they left the sculptors' hands and moved into the hands, hearts and minds of family members.
Contemporary artist Simone Leigh's newly commissioned installation, "Topsy Turvy," will incorporate hundreds of colorful West African plastic dolls (which sometimes substitute for the carved figures) in a dramatic suspended work. Leigh creates sculpture, videos and installations informed by her interest in African art, ethnographic research, feminism and performance.
(Curated by Henry John Drewal, the Evjue-Bascom Professor of African and African Diaspora Arts at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, with Betsy D. Quick, director of educational and curatorial affairs at the Fowler Museum.)
Powerful Bodies: Zulu Arts of Personal Adornment
Oct. 13, 2013–March 2, 2014
In 19th-century southern Africa, highly individualized arts of personal adornment experienced a florescence among isiZulu speakers, who today are known as the Zulu. Personal objects worn on or carried around the body were made with considerable aesthetic investment, and they announced status and identity. Intimate objects like ivory hairpins and snuff spoons were worn in elaborate hairstyles; beautifully crafted snuff bottles were worn against the body, suspended from belts and necklaces; and finely sculpted staffs and clubs carried by all adult men were prized possessions.
Men and women wore intricately sewn jewel-colored beadwork to accentuate bodily "zones of power": Necklaces drew attention to the head, beaded fringes and belts highlighted the reproductive organs, and bracelets and anklets emphasized the hands and feet. "Powerful Bodies" includes 79 fine examples of such objects, which are often imbued with the physical traces of their former users.
(Curated by Anitra Nettleton, chair and director of the Centre for the Creative Arts of Africa and faculty of humanities/Wits Art Museum, Wits School of Arts at South Africa's University of the Witwatersrand, with Gemma Rodrigues, curator of African arts at the Fowler Museum.)
Maori Cloaks, Maori Voices
Oct. 13, 2013–March 2, 2014
When the ancestors of the Maori people sailed to Aotearoa (New Zealand) roughly 900 years ago, they became the first Polynesians to settle a land outside the tropics. Previous generations of Polynesians had little need for clothing and made thin, beaten barkcloth, more for ceremonial purposes than for warmth. In Aotearoa, Maori women abandoned barkcloth and turned instead to the harakeke plant (New Zealand flax), developing new techniques to twine its fibers into garments by hand, without the benefit of a loom. The finest cloaks, including some covered with stunning, iridescent feather-work, transcended practical needs and became treasured markers of prestige.
This exhibition features 13 rare and beautiful 19th- and early 20th-century cloaks, shown publicly for the first time since their arrival in Los Angeles in 1965 as part of the major gift from the Wellcome Ethnological Collection in London (see "History of the Fowler" below). The exhibition includes a video in which a panel of Maori artists and scholars comment on the cloaks and their ongoing meanings and relevance.
(Curated by Tharron Bloomfield (Ngati Porou), a Mellon fellow with the UCLA/Getty Conservation Program; Michelle Erai (Nga Puhi, Ngati Whatua and Ngati Porou), assistant professor of gender studies at UCLA; Roy W. Hamilton, senior curator of Asian and Pacific collections at the Fowler Museum; Karl Rangikawhiti Leonard (Te Arawa, Ngati Awa and Nagati Raukawa), a Fulbright fellow at Flathead Valley Community College; and Rangi Te Kanawa (Ngati Maniapoto), textile conservator at the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand.) 
The Peruvian Four-Selvaged Cloth: Ancient Threads/New Directions
Oct. 13, 2013–Jan. 26, 2014
The tradition of weaving textiles with four finished edges — selvages — characterizes the creative process of the ancient weavers of Peru, known for their mastery of color, technique and design. Without cutting a thread, each textile was woven to be what it was intended, whether a daily garment, royal mantle or ritual cloth. This approach to weaving required the highest level of skill, even for the simplest of plain, undecorated cloth, and reflects a cultural value in the integrity of cloth — not only in its design and function but in the way in which it was made.
This exhibition highlights selections from the Fowler Museum's noteworthy collection of pre-Columbian textiles and includes masterworks that demonstrate the extremely high level of artistic achievement of Peruvian weavers. These range from ancient ritual textiles from the early Chavin and Paracas cultures (500–100 B.C.E.) to the extraordinary garments of the Inca empire (1485–1532). While exploring the origins and development of this approach to weaving, the exhibition will also examine its influence on three contemporary artists ― Shelia Hicks, John Cohen and Jim Bassler — each of whom, through his or her own artistic path, has considered and transformed ancient weavers' knowledge and processes into new directions.
(Curated by Elena Phipps, independent scholar and curator.)
New World Wunderkammer: A Project by Amalia Mesa-Bains
Oct. 13, 2013–Jan. 26, 2014
Chicana artist Amalia Mesa-Bains is working with the Fowler Museum's collections to create "New World Wunderkammer," which will include three "cabinets of curiosity" representing Africa, the indigenous Americas and the complex cultural and racial mixture (colonial mestizaje) that typifies the New World.
Over two decades, Mesa-Bains has created installations that intervene in and disrupt the conceptual foundations of European museum collecting and display. "New World Wunderkammer" will be the first time she has utilized the holdings of a major museum to recontextualize hundreds of objects within the themes of memory, struggle, loss and wonder.
Following both a personal and professional trajectory, Mesa-Bains will weave elements from her previous installations into this work. The space will be completed by eight new prints made by the artist based on key pieces from the Fowler collection; images of artworks will be layered with botanical, cartographic and historical photographic references. This "theater of wonder" will animate the cultural landscape and human geography of the New World through objects of beauty and narratives of power.
Chupícuaro: The Natalie Wood Gift of Ancient Mexican Ceramics
Oct. 13, 2013–Jan. 26, 2014
Purchased for the museum in 1969 by the late actress Natalie Wood, the Fowler's extensive Chupícuaro holdings are its most important collection of ancient Mesoamerican art. This selection of nearly 70 works illustrates the breadth of Chupícuaro's remarkable ceramic tradition.
Because Chupícuaro's vivid palette and bold patterning stand alone among the pre-Classic cultures, this culture's origins and legacy have elicited great debate. New investigations in the Acámbaro Valley, however, have enhanced our understanding of this culture's rich history and its place at the intersection of two cultural spheres: the west Mexican lands along the Pacific Coast, and the Basin of Mexico, the Mesoamerican heartland. Recent data suggests that the Chupícuaro migrated inland from the west, along the Lerma River, and settled into the fertile Acámbaro Valley around 600 B.C.E.
While artists drew on the source traditions of ancient Colima, Jalisco and Nayarit, they experimented with colors and forms, ultimately developing a stark visual language. Large hollow figurines, mammiform tripods, jars, and cylinder vessels are juxtaposed with works from neighboring traditions to reveal Chupícuaro's complex roots and rich legacy.
(Curated by Victoria Lyall, associate curator of the arts of the ancient Americas at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Latin American Department, and Francisco Javier Martinez Bravo, archaeologist at the University of Guanajuato, Mexico, with Patrick A. Polk, curator of Latin American and Caribbean popular arts at the Fowler Museum.)
From X to Why: A Museum Takes Shape
Oct. 13, 2013–March 2, 2014
"From X to Why: A Museum Takes Shape" focuses on the Fowler Museum's formative history through its earliest acquisitions. These works reveal the strength and breadth of the collection and foreshadow the Fowler's role as one of the premier museums for preserving and exhibiting works of art from cultures around the world. The installation begins with the very first object to enter the collection, a magnificent Balinese ceremonial textile, and continues with 35 objects, including African masks, American Indian pottery and basketry, Latin American ceremonial dress, Peruvian vessels, Indonesian puppets and European Carnival masks.
The exhibition also addresses how objects assumed new lives in the museum context. The Fowler staff assigns a number with the prefix "X" to every object that enters the collection. "X" marks the object's transition from a previous context of use and display to its new life and roles within the museum. 
(Curated by Peter L. Haffner, Elyan Jeanine Hill, Dana L. Marterella, Elaine E. Sullivan, Tommy Tran and Rita M. Rufino Valente, graduate students in UCLA's Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance, with faculty mentor Professor Mary (Polly) Nooter Roberts.)
Fowler in Focus: Fiftieth Anniversary Gifts
Sept. 15, 2013–April 2014
The Fowler in Focus gallery, located inside the long-term display "Intersections: World Arts, Local Lives," will feature new gifts and promised gifts made to the Fowler in honor of its milestone anniversary. The first installation focuses on art from across Asia, with a particular emphasis on textiles, and includes stunning examples from Indonesia, Japan, China and Malaysia. 
History of the Fowler
The museum was established in 1963 by then–UCLA Chancellor Franklin D. Murphy as the Museum and Laboratory of Ethnic Arts and Technology. Its first home was in the lower level of Haines Hall on the UCLA campus. In addition to active collecting, the museum initiated research projects, fieldwork, exhibitions and publications.
Within two years of its founding, the museum received a transformational donation that propelled it into the top tier of museums holding African and Pacific arts: 30,000 objects from the celebrated collection of Sir Henry Wellcome. Wellcome, a noted businessman, philanthropist, patron of science and co-founder of the British pharmaceutical company Burroughs Wellcome, was a passionate collector of medical artifacts and objects relating to life-cycle rituals and wellness. Prior to his death in 1936, he amassed a vast and diverse collection of more than 1 million objects.

Over the past five decades, the Fowler collections — focusing on Africa, Asia, the Pacific and the indigenous Americas — have grown to more than 120,000 objects (with additional archaeological collections of more than 4 million items), and the museum has become one of the nation's premier repositories of world arts. To date, the Fowler has presented more than 258 exhibitions and published 132 books, most of them major scholarly volumes.
The current facility, built especially for the museum in UCLA's north campus area, features approximately 20,000 square feet of exhibition space. It opened in September 1992 and was named in recognition of lead support by the Fowler Foundation and the family of collector and inventor Francis E. Fowler Jr.
To commemorate this landmark anniversary, the Fowler will publish a lavishly illustrated book featuring more than 250 objects that are the highlights of the museum's collection. (Hardcover, ISBN 978-0-9847550-6-6).
The Fowler Museum at UCLA is open Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. and Thursday from noon to 8 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. The museum, part of UCLA Arts, is located in the north part of the UCLA campus. Admission is free. Parking is available for a maximum of $12 in Lot 4. For more information, the public may call 310-825-4361 or visit
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