With their sumptuous lighting, exquisite detail, and adroit compositions, Harry Burton’s gelatin-silver prints of Tutankhamun’s tomb easily surpass the gothic melodrama of Hollywood’s various mummy franchises. Howard Carter made the sensational discovery of Tut’s burial chambers in 1922; shortly afterward, Burton, a veteran archaeological photographer, began documenting the opulent clutter in situ, arranging mirrors and reflectors to bring light into the tomb for the first time in millennia. He eventually used 1,400 extremely fine-grained glass negatives to catalog the entire site and its individual objects. In one gorgeous shot, Anubis lies atop a shrine surrounded by walls roughly hewn from living rock; the regal god of the dead’s enormous canine ears flare like a vengeful bat as it guards a heap of model boats designed to speed the boy-pharaoh on his journey to the afterlife. A close-up of the decayed mummy’s chest and arms records elaborate jewels: These same13 bracelets, seen in a shot after they have been cleaned, reveal magnificent workmanship. Look closely at Burton’s keenly lit detail of Tut’s face carved into a coffin. The dark eyes gaze directly into ours, and this uncanny naturalism represents, if not a true afterlife, a communion that has survived 3,300 years. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, Through April 29.
‘Manet and the Execution of Maximilian’
Incompetent leaders desperate to extricate themselves from an imperial war gone bad? Plus ça change, Manet might say today of his four paintings done shortly after the 1867 execution of Maximilian, an Austrian installed as emperor of Mexico by France’s Napoléon III. This fascinating historical survey includes all of Manet’s canvases re-creating the event, plus photographs and other works he used as reference and inspiration. A group portrait of the firing squad features seven Mexican soldiers “at ease,” their caps at rakish angles, their arms forming a row of crosses against the diagonals of their long, bayonet-tipped rifles; nearby is a photo of Maximilian’s embalmed and battered corpse propped up in its confining coffin. Museum of Modern Art, 11 W 53rd, 212-708-9400. Through Jan 29.
Clocks with no hands are mounted on the walls; a yard-wide rusty bowl embossed with the word “Memory” sits above a propane flame as water dripping from it instantly hisses away as steam; a tall iron forge hulks in the far corner. Dominick’s Memory Fountain turns the gallery’s broad cement courtyard into a 3-D version of some depopulated plaza out of a surrealist painting. The gray cinder-block surroundings and the heap of fine ash under the forge (left over from the opening’s iron pouring performance) combine with the steam, wintry sun, and shifting clouds to evoke the shimmering, elusive contours of some fading recollection. Black & White Gallery, 483 Driggs Ave, Bklyn, 718-599-8775. Through March 5.
‘Shu: Reinventing Books in Contemporary Chinese Art’
Shu is Chinese for books, and this group show runs away with the form. Xu Bing has printed quotations from Chairman Mao onto cigarettes produced in Durham, North Carolina, marrying Communist preaching to one of American capitalism’s strongest exports. Yuan Chin-t’a’s 2005 stack of ceramic books is full of mystery; each is “open” to the center, but only a black pig with a paintbrush and an orange Visa card ad featured in the topmost volume are fully visible; the rest, with thick clay pages curling away from their spines, teeter gracefully, revealing mere snatches of colorful imagery and calligraphy. More melancholy is Xiaoze Xie’s umber-toned oil painting of worm-eaten library volumes, their contents turning inexorably to dust.
China Institute, 125 E 65th, 212-744-8181. Through Feb 24.
‘Walton Ford: Tigers of Wrath’
Ford has faux-distressed the paper of his watercolors with brown blotches and ragged edges, as if his paintings of animals were well-traveled Audubon prints. Yet despite their vivid colors, immaculate details, and lithe forms, these are not displays of scholarly naturalism. Two different species of birds copulate (or perhaps fight) while riding on an elephant’s distended penis; a tiger’s stripes reveal the shapes of the human warriors who have invaded Vietnam through the centuries; a polar bear lords it over the bones of 16th-century explorers. These large works (up to 12 x 18 feet) are disturbing, if beautifully wrought, visions of nature driven mad by humanity’s unrelenting encroachment. Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Pkwy, 718-638-5000. Through Jan 28.
‘Rossellini on Paper’
In 1952, as her young son toddled toward her husband, Ingrid Bergman flashed a smile with more wattage than the Christmas tree behind her. A 1957 shot shows her hubby—director Roberto Rossellini—grimly lighting a cigarette, which Bergman contemplates with vacant eyes and a slack, tired mouth; they are in the midst of a divorce. This selection of press and family photos runs the gamut, from the radiant joy that marked their scandalous affair (leading the U.S. Senate to denounce Bergman as a “horrible example of womanhood”) to production stills of two consummate professionals working both behind and in front of the camera. Museum of Modern Art, 11 W 53rd, 212-708-9400. Through April 9.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 2, 2007