First Sculpture: Handaxe to Figure Stone

January 27, 2018 - April 29, 2018
First Sculpture: Handaxe to Figure Stone is the first museum exhibition to present ancient handaxes and figure stones as works of art. Traditionally understood as the longest-used tool in human history, with examples dating back more than 2 million years, some handaxes are equally fascinating for their non-utilitarian, aesthetic qualities.
First Sculpture will present these objects as evidence of the earliest forms of artistic intention, highlighting the aesthetic qualities of each stone and providing crucial historical and scientific information to give the viewer a deeper understanding of human history, as well as an enriched appreciation for humankind’s early ability to sculpt beautiful objects. Whether carved from visually interesting stones or rendered at unusual sizes that would inhibit use of the object as a tool, a case can be made for the handaxe as the first sculpture our prehistoric ancestors conceived. The exhibition’s second focus, that of figure stones, suggests early human ability to recognize beauty and meaning in found objects. These naturally occurring stones possess evident shapes and patterns, including geometric forms, animals, and especially faces. Prehistoric people recognized these shapes, and augmented their mimetic qualities through additional carving. 

First Sculpture: Handaxe to Figure Stone is the product of a unique curatorial collaboration between Los Angeles-based artist Tony Berlant and anthropologist Dr. Thomas Wynn, Distinguished Professor at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. The exhibition will be accompanied by an illustrated, scholarly catalogue published by the Nasher, with a central essay co-written by exhibition curators Berlant and Wynn, as well as a foreword by renowned American scientist Jared Diamond. The exhibition will be designed by prominent French designer and museographer Adrien Gardère.

First Sculpture: Handaxe to Figure Stone is made possible by the Eugene McDermott Foundation and the Lyda Hill Foundation, with additional support provided by Nancy O’Boyle, Betty Regard and the Museum of Street Culture.