Haptic Blackness: The Double Life of an 18th-century Bust.

Gonzales-Day, Levenson, Yang, “Haptic Blackness: The Double Life of an 18th-century Bust.”

British Art Studies, Issue 1, Nov. 2016.

“One Object” is a British Art Studies series that uses an object from a collection as a starting point for collaborative research. Cyra Levenson and Chi-ming Yang have co-authored this essay which is followed by a photo-essay by artist Ken Gonzales-Day and an interview between him and the authors.

Francis Harwood’s Bust of a Man (1758) is a conversation starter—across time, across continents, across collections, across disciplines. Some of those conversations will be explored in this essay. There are two known copies of the bust in museum collections. A signed and dated version, likely to be the original, is held atop a sundrenched hill at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles (fig. 1, right). A second, unsigned and undated, is at Yale Center for British Art (YCBA) in New Haven, Connecticut, amidst its Neo-Gothic campus (fig. 1, left). For years both busts sat quietly in their respective museum settings: the Getty’s Grand Tour gallery of mostly white marble European sculpture (fig. 2), and the YCBA’s display of eighteenth-century British painting and sculpture, featuring portraits of affluent white patrons. In each context the bust stands out, primarily due to its sensuous blackness, but also because of the paucity of information regarding its origins.

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