Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Neanderthals, Reliquaries, and Schreckengost, oh my! Or, how everything old is new again

It is a MuseoBlogger "throwback Thursday," as I find myself haunted by three former passions in the cultural news of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Yesterday, I learned that the Cleveland Museum of Art launched a brand new website, and as I delighted in the new personalization potential of the site, I quickly found a link to the "new perspectives" videos. My favorite features the Museum's Curator of Medieval Art, Stephen Fliegel, interpreting a 12th-century reliquary shaped like a human arm. This ghost of pursuits-long-past was a fantastic discovery, bringing back memories of afternoons spent in the dark of an art history classroom, striving towards my undergraduate degree in Medieval and Renaissance Studies. It also conjured up images of the incredible medieval art collection housed at CMA, but closed to the public for many years now as part of their colossal renovation and expansion campaign. Fortunately for all of us cooky medievalists, the reinstalled gallery will open June 26th, and the arm reliquary will be just one of the many fascinating objects featured there. Check out the Museum's innovative new website and the arm reliquary using the link below.

Arm Reliquary of the Apostles

In today's news I read about the mapping of the DNA sequence of Homo neanderthalensis, a truly ground-breaking discovery that will certainly shed new light on our human origins. Tomorrow's issue of the journal Science will outline the scientific research involved in mapping the Neanderthal genome and describe the subsequent finding that non-African human populations today share between 1% and 4% of their genes with our cave-dwelling cousins. Yet another blast from my academic past.

Besides medieval art history, the other half of my undergraduate degree was in Anthropology, and I loved it enough to pursue a masters degree in the subject. During the 1990s when I was in school there was ongoing debate in the field between anthropologists who held that modern humans swept out of Africa in a giant migration and wiped out neanderthal populations, and those who believed the two human subspecies met, feuded, interbred, and eventually absorbed the archaic humans into the modern human fold.

Milford Wolpoff, my paleoanthropology professor at the University of Michigan was a great proponent of the second view and argued at length that modern humans were descended, at least in part, from Neanderthals. About 10 years ago, with the general acceptance of mitochondrial DNA analysis, it seemed that everyone had dismissed his argument and moved on. Well, vindication has finally come! For those of us who have ever met Dr. Wolpoff, or my father for that matter, we all knew there just had to be some neanderthal DNA in there somewhere.

Tomorrow at The Bonfoey Gallery in downtown Cleveland my back-to-the-future news week wraps up with the opening of From Jazz to Design- the Art of Viktor Schreckengost a retrospective exhibition of Cleveland's own visionary renaissance man and recipient of the prestigious National Medal of Arts.
In the spring of 2006, as Director of Exhibits at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, I participated in the nationwide, 100 day-long exhibition celebrating Viktor Schreckengost's centennial birthday by mounting a small animal-themed exhibit of his work. Since his passing in January 2008, I now only occasionally come across Viktor Schreckengost's work around town, but tomorrow at 5:00PM, The Bonfoey Gallery will debut a collection of works representing all facets of his genius, including a few pieces never before exhibited. From Jazz to Design will be on exhibit through June 5, 2010.

I look forward to posting some follow-up photos from the Schreckengost opening next week and a review of the new medieval gallery at the Cleveland Museum of Art when it opens later this summer. In the meantime, I am heading out for dinner in my pink Izod polo shirt and my khaki pedal-pushers (no kidding) and relishing the fact that everything old seems to be new again.

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