January 27 - April 29, 2018
“First Sculpture: Handaxe to Figure Stone is the first museum exhibition to present ancient handaxes and figure stones as works of art. First Sculpture will present these objects as evidence of the earliest forms of artistic intention, highlighting the aesthetic qualities of each stone and providing crucial historical and scientific information to give the viewer a deeper understanding of human history, as well as an enriched appreciation for humankind’s early ability to sculpt beautiful objects.” The show is a collaboration between Los Angeles-based artist Tony Berlant and anthropologist Dr. Thomas Wynn.
On View: January 27, 2018 | 11 am – 5 pm
2001 Flora Street
Dallas, 75201 TX
(214) 242-5100Get directions
“Neandertals produced no depictions. There is nothing in the extensive archaeological record that could in any way be construed as a Neandertal’s representation of an animal, or a person, or indeed of anything.” So writes Thomas Wynn in his book “How to Think Like a Neandertal”.
And now Dr. Wynn, a theoretical anthropologist with little apparent understanding of lithic material, has paired up with a wealthy pop artist in producing an elaborate dog-and-pony show promoting themselves as the discoverers of iconistic expression in stone by our hominin predecessors, blatantly misappropriating the work and intellectual property of independent researchers employing a science-based methodology. Almost incredibly, they are even hijacking the term “figure stone”, which fell into disuse at the beginning of the twentieth century and was revived fifteen years ago by the website daysknob.com which, along with palaeoart.com, seems to have provided much of Wynn’s and Berlant’s (unacknowledged) inspiration. (The likely basis for the well presented neuroscience component of their exhibit can be seen at daysknob.com/Face-Recognition.htm .)
Billed as “the first museum exhibition to present ancient handaxes and figure stones as works of art”, it falls well short of this, and even a modicum of due diligence on the part of the curators would have made this evident. There was, among others, the April 2000 exhibit “Werktuigen en kunst (tools and art) van de Neanderthalers uit Fontmaure, Midden-Frankrijk” at the Museon in the Hague, which displayed some of the same Fontmaure stones now shown at the Nasher. And in July 2015 there was Richard Wilson’s large display at the Watford Museum near London, which, being honest, he titled “Neanderthal Art II – The Fontmaure Figure-Stones”.
And speaking of Richard Wilson, Dr. Wynn and Mr. Berlant visited with him during their trip to the British Museum, querying him extensively on his research but failing entirely to mention him in their big and glossy “scholarly catalog” accompanying the Nasher display. At the same time, they gush about their “stimulating talks with Dr. Nick Ashton of the British Museum”, who has long been disparaging the whole figure stones concept.
Giving credit where it is due, this is a beautifully configured exhibit, and it seems no expense was spared in acquiring the artifacts on display. When I visited on 22 February 2018, the staff were at all times friendly and helpful. It’s just sad that the curators are apparently so disingenuous and self-serving.