For his first solo museum exhibition, Los Angeles-based artist Sean Townley created two new sculptures using molds produced by the conservation department of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Collaborating with Museum staff, Townley created fragmentary copies of two masterworks from the Museum's permanent collection: the Bust of Prince Ankhhaf from Egypt's Old Kingdom and the monumental Roman Juno. Reproduced in multiples in Townley's studio, the sculptures 7 Diadems and Red Ankhhafs are displayed in lines, stressing the repetition of form. Their installation mirrors that of the ancient works directly across the Museum—as if Townley's works were extensions of the originals, and his studio practice an extension of the work the Museum does to preserve them.
Ancient Egyptians created and displayed multiples—their statues were considered to be replicas of a person. Responding to the threat of German invasion during World War II, the MFA created copies of one of the most valuable objects in its collection—the Egyptian painted limestone bust of Prince Ankhhaf. One of the decoys was displayed temporarily in place of the actual masterpiece, and the mold used to create the duplicates was placed in storage as part of the Museum's historical record. Late last year, Townley created his own cast using the vintage mold, and subsequently cast copies in aluminum. By utilizing the MFA conservators' reproductive tools, Townley highlights the Museum's ability to self-produce using technologies associated with sculpture, which now include 3-D scans and printing, as well as traditional casting techniques. Townley sees his original artwork, Red Akhhafs, as continuing the work of the ancient Egyptian artist, as well as the work of the Museum, ensuring that the sculpture "continues to happen now."
In 2011, while treating the MFA's newly acquired monumental sculpture of the Roman goddess Juno, conservators made a mold of the sculpture's head and diadem, to aid in sculpting stand-ins for her missing nose and lips. The nose she bears today is based on sculptures of comparable date and size in other collections—its shape was researched and proposed by the curator, and modeled by the conservator. Though based in science, and dedicated to historical accuracy in principal, museum conservation often bleeds into acts of interpretation in the face of information lost to time. Townley creates multiple versions of Juno's head and crown, laying them one after another directly on the floor, as if in procession from past to present. His exhibition emphasizes the Museum's potential to shape, shift, and perform history in the process of restoring and rebuilding its collection.
Curated by Liz Munsell, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art and Special Initiatives, a position supported by Lorraine Bressler, with research assistance from Lawrence Berman, Norma Jean Calderwood Senior Curator of Ancient Egyptian, Nubian and Near Eastern Art; Christine Kondoleon, George D. and Margo Behrakis Senior Curator of Greek and Roman Art; and Susanne Gänsicke, Conservator.
SMFA Traveling Fellowships
Since 1899, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston has awarded Traveling Fellowships, enabling select graduates to advance their artistic careers through funded travel and research. Sean Townley (BFA '08, School of the Museum of Fine Arts and MFA '12, University of Southern California) is the first Traveling Fellow to engage with the MFA collection for a solo presentation.
Presented with support from the Callaghan Family Fund for Contemporary Exhibitions.