Main Navigation

‘Power Couples’ symposium

The first exhibition of its kind is devoted to a comprehensive look at pendants and the artistic strategies at play in such works.

This Friday a dozen scholars from around the world gather at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) to share new research on a familiar but under-examined format in visual art—pendants, works of art conceived as pairs. From a leading expert to a U musicologist and graduate student, these presenters bring critical conversation to the Museum where “Power Couples: The Pendant Format in Art” is now on view. “Power Couples” is the first exhibition of its kind is devoted to a comprehensive look at pendants and the artistic strategies at play in such works.

The symposium will be held 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 4, in the UMFA’s Katherine W. and Ezekiel R. Dumke Jr. Auditorium. Visitors are welcome to drop in as their schedules allow. Admission is free, and advance registration is not required.

Although pendants have been popular for centuries, they’ve received little close scholarly attention until lately. Wendy Ikemoto, associate curator of American art at the New-York Historical Society, authored the first comprehensive study of these works in 2017, “Antebellum American Pendant Paintings: New Ways of Looking” (Routledge). Ikemoto will give the keynote address at 10 a.m.

Jane Daphne Hatter, assistant professor of musicology at the U, will explore a pair of early 16th-century diptychs by Hans Baldung Grien that incorporate musical notation and instruments with skulls and other symbols of mortality.

“Art historians have usually focused on the right panels with their shockingly morbid imagery. As a musicologist, I’m going use my knowledge about what an educated artist and humanist would have known about music and musical performance to increase our understanding of the connections that Baldung was making between music, sexuality and mortality,” says Hatter.

Vasiliki Karahalios, a 2019 U graduate and a first-year U master’s student in art history, got interested in pendants while researching her undergraduate honors thesis. She uses a pair of portrait busts from the UMFA’s permanent collection to consider the intersection of race, gender and American politics in the nineteenth century.

“I explore these ideas through the work of Mary Edmonia Lewis, a female sculptor of color who achieved remarkable things in the nineteenth century,” says Karahalios. “I found a compelling argument about the pendant format playing an important role in the analysis of the works and the claims I make in the presentation. It was important to look at the history of the portrait bust/pendant format to realize why the works functioned as they did in their own contemporaneous moment.”

Edmonia Lewis, Hiawatha and Minnehaha, 1868, marble, UMFA2018.2.1

They’ll be joined by researchers from other leading institutions, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art; The National Gallery, London; the Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences; the Universities of Southern California and Texas; Brigham Young University; and the American Federation of Arts. To see the full schedule of presentations, please visit here.

The symposium is hosted by Leslie Anderson, who curated “Power Couples.” Drawn chiefly from the UMFA’s dynamic permanent collection, the exhibition explores how artists have used the pendant format across media, cultures and time periods to explore gender roles and social status; to present moments of before-and-after, cause-and-effect and departure-and-return; and to compare and contrast familiar stories and ideas. Visitors are encouraged to engage with these concepts through a variety of in-gallery experiences.

“Artists adopted pendants to push the physical and conceptual boundaries of storytelling. It remains a popular format for this reason,” Anderson says.

Parker Scott Mortensen, writing in “SLUG Magazine,” said ” ‘Power Couples’ is one of the most generous exhibitions I have seen in a long time, not just in exposure to the museum’s collection but in the careful curation of delineating the levels on which these pendants work—across gender and status, space and time, and conceptually across ideas.”

“Power Couples” is on view through Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019.

Support for “Power Couples” is provided by curatorial sponsor Marriner S. Eccles Foundation and conservation sponsor Ann K. Stewart Docent Conservation Fund. The symposium is supported by UMFA programming sponsor Kem and Carolyn Gardner.