Thursday, February 05, 2009


Object 5 is listed as being done in gypsum, a soft stone. No date is given. This slab stands nearly 6' and is the color of a California beach on an overcast afternoon, gray but with some whitish splotches, a bit like concrete. On it is a naturalistic relief of two male figures who take up nearly the whole height save a horizontal abstract border defined near the bottom which they appear to be standing on. On the extreme left of the relief, rising from behind the left figure's right foot, are thirteen flowers stacked individually, the top one being mostly outside the frame of the relief. Above this is the right half of a wing, to the end feathers; it appears to be spread perfectly horizontally. In the lower-mid register, a block of text, unlegible to these eyes, running on top of the figures, for about twenty some lines. Returning to the figures, they are both bearded.

The figure on the right has wings and his right calf is exposed to reveal some inhuman like definitions. Both figures are facing towards the left. Their beards are both long, flowing down to their chests, and appear to be twisted into columns, looking a bit like rafts. This characteristic carries over to each figure's hair, the length of which mirrors that of their beards. They are both clothed in robes. The man's robe opens over his chest revealing a necklace with four visible pendants, his robe is tied at his waist. His left arm is partially concealed in his robe. The winged-godman's robe has a detailed hem, and both his arms are covered to just above the elbow. He appears to be guiding the man, who is in front of him. The figures are both in sandals, with straps, and they have their legs spread apart as if they might be walking. Both have their right arms bent with their hands up and pointing forward. There are some distinctions to be made here. The man has his right hand closed with only his index finger pointing forward. The winged-godman has his hand open, palm down, making a gesture similar to our current one signaling, all-okay; but instead of forming a circle with his index finger and thumb he is using his middle finger and thumb. Both figures are carrying something in their left hands, the man is carrying a long thin scepter looking object and the winged-god man is carrying, via a handle, what appears to be a small purse or bucket.

This piece has no similarities to paleolithic or neolithic art, for one the figures are naturalistic and there is use of a written language. Nor does it have anything in common with Egyptian art, as the figures are too muscular for their regal air, and the hats are wrong. Right off the bat when I saw this object I was reminded of the art of later Mesopotamian cultures.

The poetry of Object 5 feels so obviously ancient. But, if it was done today out of Play-Doh by Tom Friedman it might blow my mind. While tributes and processions, and the ancient music I hear when looking at this relief are beautiful to me, it is only in the context of a personal poetic abstraction of love in the neo-locality of our current society. Which I guess might have been an occurrence to someone who was around to see this actual image, maybe even the people who worked on it. People who were powerless, making art that was part of a canon they had no control over. Maybe I saw what they saw in it, and maybe they were somehow Persian, born or conquered – if there's a difference.

1 comment:

alan said...

I like precision of the description and the way the figures are described objectively before being labelled and tentatively interpreted and the work finally integrated into some sort of vague, art-historical frame of reference. When I reached the last para and the idea there that the beauty of the sculpture can only be taken in by us out of context, or "in the context of a personal poetic abstraction of love in the neo-locality of our current society," I realized that it had been prepared for from the beginning by the thread of decontextualization ("Object 5") and partial, failed recontextulaization ("the color of California beaches," "a bit like concrete," "a gesture similar to our current one signaling, all-okay," etc., etc.). The further thought that what is alien to us might have been alien to an ancient viewer too and even to the sculptors themselves is especially striking. I guess I'm saying I like the phrase "the hats are wrong."