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Questioning the Place of Black Art in a White Man’s Collection

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PHILADELPHIA — Dazzled by the iconic Cézanne, Matisse and Seurat paintings, most visitors to the Barnes Foundation overlook the African sculptures. Yet to Albert C. Barnes, who founded the collection, they were central. He started acquiring African sculpture in 1922, the year he set up the foundation, because it had inspired Picasso, Modigliani and many other artists in France he supported. “When the Foundation opens, Negro art will have a place among the great art manifestations of all times,” he wrote to his Parisian dealer in 1923.

Barnes thought an appreciation of African masterpieces would also advance the cause he fervently promoted alongside modern art: the advancement of African Americans in society. Testifying to his commitment, African sculpture was the subject of the first book published by the foundation, and the entrance of the original museum in Merion, a suburb of Philadelphia, featured tile and terra cotta designs modeled on African pieces in the collection.

But the patronage of Black art by a white millionaire is complicated, then as now. The acquisition of cultural artifacts from a society that is subjugated or impoverished raises ethical questions. And once African sculpture is taken out of the context in which it functioned, what role does it play? And whose interests does it serve?

With a commission by the Barnes for the foundation’s centenary, the Black English artist Isaac Julien created a five-screen black-and-white film installation, “Once Again …(Statues Never Die),” that looks at the place of African art in the Barnes and other Western museums.

In two adjacent galleries, he complemented the film with a sculpture show that features eight African art pieces moved from their usual perches upstairs at the Barnes, accompanied by three bronzes of African-American subjects by Richmond Barthé (1901-1989), a prominent artist of the Harlem Renaissance, and five contemporary works, by Matthew Angelo Harrison, of cutup African tourist-trade sculptures embalmed in polyurethane resin and encased in aluminum-framed vitrines.

The protagonist of Julien’s film is Alain Locke, an African American writer, critic and teacher who is credited as the intellectual father of the Harlem Renaissance. Through Barnes, Locke had his first significant exposure to masterpieces of African sculpture. Locke in turn gave Barnes access to Black writers and artists. Julien explores the real-life working relationship — both collaborative and antagonistic — between these strong-willed men. Each educated yet mistrusted the other. In a personal sense, their exchanges encapsulated the sensitivities and inequities that surround the adoption of Black African art by the prevailing white culture, and the struggle by Black Americans to claim and use that heritage as their own.

“I’m calling this the poetics of restitution, which is something I’m trying to explore in the work,” Julien said in a telephone interview from London. “The debates that we’re having today that seem contemporaneous were happening 50 years ago, if not before. I think that’s really interesting.”

In ways that won’t be apparent to most audiences, “Once Again …(Statues Never Die)” is a quasi-sequel to two films: “Statues Also Die,” a 1953 short by Chris Marker and Alain Resnais, which ruminates on the removal of African art to Western museums by imperialists who degraded the cultures and people they colonized; and Julien’s breakthrough movie, “Looking for Langston,” of 1989, which he calls a “meditation” on the ambiguously queer identity of the poet Langston Hughes. Locke, who was discreetly but unmistakably gay, romantically pursued the youthful Hughes. In “Once Again …(Statues Never Die),” Julien incorporates footage of Harlem gay balls that he staged for “Looking for Langston,” as well as a musical setting he used earlier of Hughes’s famous line, “What happens to a dream deferred?”

In “Once Again …(Statues Never Die),” Julien, a queer Black artist, looks with sensitive curiosity at Locke’s friendship, sporadically sexual, with the younger African American sculptor Barthé. The film incorporates bits of archival footage but relies primarily on staged scenes by actors playing Locke, Barthé and Barnes. The recreations are often very precise, as when, mirroring filmed documentation of Locke and Barthé, the actors replicate their original positions and expressions as they smilingly examine Barthé’s art.

One of Barthé’s major works, “Male Torso,” is a nude that diverges from the Greco-Roman ideal in search of an alternative Black prototype. It was, Jeffrey C. Stewart writes in his authoritative biography of Locke, “The New Negro,” “a sculpture that visualized a new Black masculinity” that was “leaner, slenderer, svelte” and “an icon of Black homosexual desire.” The naked model in the movie conforms uncannily to the sculpture. (Julien confirmed that he had done “body casting” to find him.)

But in a half-hour film, the question of what it was like for a Black gay man such as Locke to live in America in the first half of the 20th century meshes awkwardly with the issues that surround the displacement of African art into Western museums. “Once Again …(Statues Never Die)” intercuts re-enacted scenes of Locke with a fictional character that Julien describes as his “second protagonist,” a tall African female curator who first appears in a scene shot at the Pitt Rivers anthropological and archaeological museum at Oxford, where she testifies to the wounds suffered by civilizations stripped of their cultural treasures.

Toward the end of the film, historical photos of the 1897 British raiding expedition that destroyed Benin City in what is now Nigeria and brought a trove of bronze-and-brass masterpieces to the British Museum, are accompanied by excerpts from the diary of the expedition’s chief of staff. Julien also includes footage from “You Hide Me,” a 1970 documentary shot in the basement of the British Museum in 1970 by the Ghanaian filmmaker Nii Kwate Owoo, which follows a young Black man and woman as they unpack African artifacts stored in crates.

These scenes amplify Julien’s theme of the unquiet journey of African art into Western domains, whereas a re-enactment of Locke lovingly gazing upon Barthé as he sleeps feels like an outtake from “Looking for Langston.”

In the interview, Julien chided Barnes for limiting his support of Black art to the work of African civilizations and not collecting the output of his own African American contemporaries. (Barnes did, however, purchase and display the paintings of Horace Pippin.)

“Someone like Barnes was not interested in Richmond Barthé’s sculptures, they are not in his collection, but they were of great interest to Alain Locke,” Julien said. “Why are people not familiar with Richmond Barthé’s works? He did not make many works, but he was an important African American artist. There’s a sense of the sensuousness of Richmond Barthé’s sculpture. The reason they are disavowed, could it be their resonating in the manner of something that was questionable?” Even today, Julien said, homoeroticism is a delicate subject for many African American art historians.

But Barnes ignored Barthé for other reasons. Barnes favored cutting-edge modernism; neither a folk artist nor a Cubist, Barthé was closer in style to Rodin than to Jacques Lipchitz, Alexander Archipenko and the other sculptors Barnes collected. But for Locke, the chief importance of African art was its power to invigorate the flowering of Black consciousness in the present. That important distinction can get lost in the torrent of ancillary material in Julien’s film.

Unlike the British raiders in Benin, Barnes did not burn a city to obtain his sculptures. Still, his admiring acquisition of African art that was pried from the society that nourished it continued a process that began with the shipments of the Benin Bronzes to the British Museum at the end of the 19th century. Raising these issues in an evocative film, Julien’s installation puts a spotlight on the Barnes’s estimable trove of African art — and on the long shadows that it casts.

Isaac Julien: Once Again … (Statues Never Die)

Through Sept. 4, Barnes Foundation, 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, Pa.; 215.278.7000; barnesfoundation.org.

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This Off-the-Shoulder Sequin Top Is Perfect for New Year’s Eve — On Sale Now!

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Us Weekly has affiliate partnerships so we may receive compensation for some links to products and services.

Our closet is like a New Year’s Eve graveyard, filled with the sequined skeletons of past holiday outfits we’ve since discarded. That’s the thing about New Year’s — it often feels like a waste of money for just a few hours of fun. Rather than splurge on a sparkly dress you’ll only wear once, we recommend buying a staple piece you can style over and over again. Our top choice? This off-the-shoulder shirt that’s currently on sale from Amazon.

Adorned with sequins and available in 12 different colors, this trendy top features a flattering silhouette that complements all figures. The drapey style shows off a little skin while still covering trouble areas on arms, and the relaxed fit skims curves nicely. You can mix and match this statement shirt with a variety of bottoms, from high-waisted pants to a mini skirt. Since the options are endless, you’re getting more bang for your buck.

Read on to find out why this sequin shirt is a New Year’s Eve necessity!

Get the Anna-Kaci Women’s Short Sleeve One Shoulder Sequin Top for just $36 (originally $45) at Amazon! Please note, prices are accurate at the date of publication, December 23, 2022, but are subject to change.

The Anna-Kaci Women’s Short Sleeve One Shoulder Sequin Top is perfect for a New Year’s Eve party! The unofficial dress code of the holiday is sequins, so you’ll fit right in. Bonus: this top is surprisingly comfortable.

We also love the versatility of this sparkly shirt. As everyone else around you is freezing in frocks, you can choose to complete your ensemble with warm pants or a blazer on top. Pair this shirt with faux leather pants in the winter or shorts in the summer! Stick with a solid shade, or go all out with a multicolored or ombré option.

Get the Anna-Kaci Women’s Short Sleeve One Shoulder Sequin Top for just $36 (originally $45) at Amazon! Please note, prices are accurate at the date of publication, December 23, 2022, but are subject to change.

Take this sparkly shirt from a holiday party to a concert! Stand out on any special occasion in this fun top that will earn you all the compliments. As one shopper said, “This shirt was perfect for attending a bling Christmas party. It fit well and shined brightly. It’s perfect for events.” Another customer gushed, “This shirt is everything! Comfy, flattering and makes this boxy girl have a waist!” And if you’re worried about this top feeling less than luxe, just read this rave review: “Many sequined tops and dresses look more like a costume to me, but this one doesn’t. I ordered for a concert but feel like it is something I will also wear on other occasions.”

On New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, rock this one-shoulder sequin shirt, on sale now at Amazon!

See It! Get the Anna-Kaci Women’s Short Sleeve One Shoulder Sequin Top for just $36 (originally $45) at Amazon! Please note, prices are accurate at the date of publication, December 23, 2022, but are subject to change.

Not your style? Shop more from Anna-Kaci here and explore more tops here! Don’t forget to check out all of Amazon’s Daily Deals for more great finds!

Looking for other New Year’s outfit ideas? Check out more picks below:

This post is brought to you by Us Weekly’s Shop With Us team. The Shop With Us team aims to highlight products and services our readers might find interesting and useful, such as wedding-guest outfits, purses, plus-size swimsuits, women’s sneakers, bridal shapewear, and perfect gift ideas for everyone in your life. Product and service selection, however, is in no way intended to constitute an endorsement by either Us Weekly or of any celebrity mentioned in the post.

The Shop With Us team may receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. In addition, Us Weekly receives compensation from the manufacturer of the products we write about when you click on a link and then purchase the product featured in an article. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product or service is featured or recommended. Shop With Us operates independently from the advertising sales team. We welcome your feedback at ShopWithUs@usmagazine.com. Happy shopping!

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‘Babylon’ stars Margot Robbie, Jean Smart fear deepfakes: ‘Year 3000 porn’

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Jean Smart and Margot Robbie aren’t so fond of advanced technology in Hollywood.

During promotion for the film “Babylon” — which documents the rise and fall of characters in 1920s Hollywood — the cast of the movie was asked what they believe will be the next big shift in Tinseltown.

In Entertainment Weekly’s “Around the Table” video series, almost all the actors who joined — including Robbie, Smart, Brad Pitt, Diego Calva, Jovan Adepo and Li Jun Li — agreed they were concerned about deepfakes.

Deepfakes use artificial intelligence to manipulate videos and replace the likeness of one person with another.

Margot Robbie and Diego Calva in “Babylon.”
Scott Garfield/Paramount Pictures via AP

“Are they just going to take our faces, and we won’t even be going to work anymore?” Robbie, 32, said.

“So creepy,” Pitt, 59, chimed in.

Smart echoed the concern but pointed out that their likeness can be used even after they’re gone.

“Or after you’re dead, they’ll go, ‘Oh, let’s put Margot Robbie in that movie’ — a hundred years from now, having her doing God knows what. And your estate will have to sue them. It’ll be horrible, Margot,” the 71-year-old actress said.

Margot Robbie, left, and Li Jun Li in "Babylon."
Margot Robbie and Li Jun Li in “Babylon.”
Paramount Pictures via AP

The “Hacks” star continued saying that she’s troubled by seeing Marilyn Monroe in TV commercials and Fred Astaire in Coke commercials due to the technology in Hollywood — and said she will not be OK with her likeness being used after she’s dead.

“Unless my kids are getting rich off it. Of course. In that case, then it’s all right,” Smart quipped.

But there’s one thing that is absolutely off the table for Smart’s likeness.

“I don’t want to be in a year-3000 porn,” she added.

Jean Smart in "Babylon."
Jean Smart said she will not be OK with her likeness being used after she’s dead.
Scott Garfield/Paramount Pictures via AP

Meanwhile, some celebrities are already using deepfakes for projects.

Back in September, it was reported that an AI platform created a “digital twin” of Bruce Willis, who was diagnosed with aphasia — a brain disorder that affects his ability to communicate, which will allow him to appear on screen after his retirement from acting.

The “Die Hard” actor’s deepfake already made its debut in August 2021 when his face was “grafted” onto Konstantin Solovyov for a commercial for MegaFon, a Russian telecommunications company.

His estate has the final say on what’s created with his face.

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Erika Jayne is spotted in LA as she sports a pale blue sweatsuit and sunglasses during shopping trip

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Make-up free Erika Jayne shops for expensive Christmas gifts at luxury store Hermès in LA – amid the RHOBH star’s money woes

Erika Jayne went without makeup as she shopped in Los Angeles days before Christmas.

The fashionista was low-key as she wore a pair of oversized glossy black rectangle-shaped sunglasses. 

The 51-year-old Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star – who has been battling money woes ever since her ex husband was declared bankrupt – was dressed expensively in a pale blue Alexander Wang sweatsuit and sneakers.

Bare face: Erika Jayne went without makeup as she shopped in Los Angeles days before Christmas

The platinum blonde beauty wore her locks bone straight, styled in an undefined part as they cascaded over her shoulders.

She looked cozy in her crew neck top and matching loose-fitting sweats, which she coordinated with pale pink and blue sneakers. 

Erika carried an Hermès bag on her arm as she carried a small, bottled water with pristinely manicured hands.

She was out and about by herself as she fit in some retail therapy two days before Christmas.

Under the radar: The fashionista was low-key as she wore a pair of oversized glossy black rectangle-shaped sunglasses

Under the radar: The fashionista was low-key as she wore a pair of oversized glossy black rectangle-shaped sunglasses

Last weekend Erika got into the holiday spirit as she attended a Christmas party with friend and costar Lisa Rinna.

Both women flaunted their long, toned legs as they wore dresses to the event hosted by friend Sanela Diana Jenkins.

Jayne took to Instagram to share a snapshot from the gathering in which she and Lisa kicked their legs up.

‘This was the BEST Christmas party EVER!!!’ she wrote in the caption as the photo showed her in a luxe white fur coat.

Season's greetings: Last weekend Erika got into the holiday spirit as she attended a Christmas party with friend and costar Lisa Rinna

Season’s greetings: Last weekend Erika got into the holiday spirit as she attended a Christmas party with friend and costar Lisa Rinna

The fashion-forward socialite donned a pair of pointy-toe metallic purple heels as she sat in a chair designed to look like a sleigh.

Rinna was equally stylish in a cream blazer dress with a black satin collar and gold accoutrements set in a pattern.

She added a pair of knee-high black leather boots and carried a metallic gold clutch.

Erika finished her caption with a shoutout to Lisa as she wrote: ‘thanks for babysitting me and telling me what happened at the party.’

Looking great: The two gal pals were also spotted together earlier this month as they attended the 2022 People's Choice Awards with their Bravo TV castmates

Looking great: The two gal pals were also spotted together earlier this month as they attended the 2022 People’s Choice Awards with their Bravo TV castmates

The two gal pals were also spotted together earlier this month as they attended the 2022 People’s Choice Awards with their Bravo TV castmates. 

For her part, Erika wore a long, mock neck bodycon dress with a trendy, nude silhouette graphic design.

Rinna, who’s feuding with Kathy Hilton amid the RHOBH hiatus, donned a long black dress with a plunging neckline. 

Engaging with her 2.5 million followers on Instagram, Jayne shared photos and wrote in a caption: ‘I had fun last night.’

Hot! Erika wore a long, mock neck bodycon dress with a trendy, nude silhouette graphic design

Hot! Erika wore a long, mock neck bodycon dress with a trendy, nude silhouette graphic design

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