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Fowler Exhibition Spotlights a Century of Collecting at UCLA

Erin Conners/UCLA Newsroom

UCLA’s museums, libraries and archives are home to an astounding array of more than 21 million artworks, rare documents, artifacts and related objects. An exhibition opening July 1 at the Fowler Museum at UCLA will display works from 13 of the campus’s collections — highlighting their role in the pursuit of knowledge.

“The Map and the Territory: 100 Years of Collecting at UCLA,” was organized in partnership with the Hammer Museum at UCLA and the UCLA Library. Originally conceived as a part of UCLA’s centennial celebration, the exhibition was delayed by 15 months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The juxtaposition of approximately 200 items — from rare books and manuscripts to historic and contemporary artworks, and from musical instruments to meteorites — offers visitors opportunities to reflect on the meanings and connections the objects create when they are brought together.

Curators and custodians of UCLA’s diverse collections worked together to identify common themes for the exhibition, which represents various geographic regions, eras and modes of reckoning with human experiences.

The exhibition’s title was inspired by a 1946 short story by Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges, which describes an empire so obsessed with maps that it creates one that matches the actual size of its territory; this scale, of course, makes the map useless. Like maps, collections document and represent knowledge through aggregations of objects. The Fowler exhibition strives to represent the richness of UCLA’s holdings in ways that are evocative and enlightening, while also acknowledging their inevitable incompleteness.

“‘The Map and the Territory’ offers an unprecedented and unparalleled opportunity to celebrate the remarkable resources that have contributed to UCLA’s distinction,” said Marla Berns, the Shirley & Ralph Shapiro Director of the Fowler Museum. “It also makes visible what is often the invisible work of the university in its pursuit of knowledge in our global society.”

The exhibition is organized into three thematic sections:

  • Borders and Boundaries. The objects in this section explore how borders — real and imagined — affect relationships among individuals, communities and places. It begins with an installation by contemporary artist Mercedes Dorame, who graduated from UCLA in 2003. Dorame, a member of the Gabrielino-Tongva tribe, maps the history of the original inhabitants of Tovaangar — what is now called Los Angeles County — by carefully selecting objects found at regional archaeological sites and preserved at the Fowler. Contextualized by a set of Dorame’s photographs from the Hammer Museum, the objects and images provide an individual meditation on cultural and familial memory and loss.

    “I am interested in the problematics of living in a place that once belonged to my ancestors, a place I feel connected to, yet have lost access to,” Dorame said. “Each time I create an installation, I create another puncture or pinpoint back to the earth. Although temporary, these spaces of creation become my territory again, even if just for a blink of an eye. And without permanent land/place/space/home I can always look upward and occupy the imagined vertical space of the sky.”
     
  • Home and the Built Environment. Our day-to-day experiences are defined not only by the lands we live on, but by the structures that surround us. Approaches to housing and built environments are geographically and culturally specific; the objects shown in this section reflect this global diversity. Some depict actual buildings, others imaginary ones, still others something in between.

    They include Southern Californian mid-century architectural drawings and models, such as Lloyd Wright’s 1930 unbuilt proposal for the Los Angeles Cathedral, Ruth Shellhorn’s 1955 landscaping and magnificent vistas designed for Disney’s iconic Fantasyland, and Richard Neutra’s and A. Quincy Jones’ models for schools and postwar private residences. Images of doors by contemporary artists Robert Overby, Frances Stark and Rachel Whiteread conjure up personal experiences and memories. Images of homeless encampments demonstrate the trauma of losing the structures — both actual and social — that shape our most intimate experiences.

    A group of works from UCLA Library Special Collections capture views from both inside and outside the Japanese internment camps during World War II. Estelle Ishigo’s delicate 1942 watercolor of domestic life at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming hangs alongside a 1943 gelatin silver print “Entrance to Manzanar” by Ansel Adams.
  • The Beyond. People around the world have long created objects to gain insights into the mysteries of existence and the forces that help us survive. Such unseen entities are often embodied as containers, be they ceramic receptacles employed by Nigerian healers to hold spirits, carved wooden figures of “otherworld spouses” used by the Baule of Ivory Coast or television shows that express a culture’s anxieties and hopes about an uncertain future. 

    Gathered in this section are images of first century Chumash petroglyphs, aerial illustrations made from a hot air balloon in 1786, and contemporary artist Vija Celmins’ pinpricks of white stars against the black night sky: objects that share the urge to grasp places out of reach. A UCLA banner that traveled to space with astronaut Anna Fisher, a UCLA alumna, reflects the human drive to explore and transcend new frontiers. Science fiction books and films show how creative minds work to envision unfamiliar worlds, including the drafting of the opening monologue for “Star Trek.” Specimens from the UCLA Meteorite Gallery — such as a rare example from Argentina estimated to be 4.5 billion years old — bring these faraway realms closer to us.

    The exhibition ends with a meditative installation by artist River Garza, an Angeleno of Tongva descent, who curated archival materials from the Fowler’s archaeology collections that speak to how these repositories of knowledge are built and experienced. In a statement accompanying the work, Garza writes, “During this process, I have come to understand and acknowledge that the stewardship of these items is a difficult and an evolving process that demands an ongoing relationship and dialogue between tribal communities and institutions of knowledge.”

The exhibition is made possible by major funding from UCLA External Affairs. Additional support is provided by donors to the Fowler’s UCLA Spark crowdfunding campaign.

Admission to the museum is free. For museum hours, parking information and more, visit the Fowler Museum website.

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