Fernando Bryce: The Book of Needs

, University Research Gallery, Harvard Art Museums

Fernando Bryce, The Book of Needs (detail #39), 2015. Ink on paper in 81 parts. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Margaret Fisher Fund, 2016.110. Image courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York.

University Research Gallery, Harvard Art Museums

The Harvard Art Museums present Fernando Bryce’s The Book of Needs, a multipart work comprised of 81 ink-on-paper drawings. Bryce, who was born in Peru but has lived extensively in Berlin and New York, selectively reconstructs images from early issues of the UNESCO Courier, published in English, French, and Spanish since 1948. Over its history, the journal has focused on science, education, race, culture, politics, and international strife, among other subjects.

The Book of Needs, created in 2015, shows just how pertinent these themes remain. An assemblage and reconstruction of Courier pages, columns, and photographs, Bryce’s work purposefully illuminates and critiques the ideology behind the content of each page he selects. Following painstaking archival research, Bryce fastidiously re-creates his selected historical documents—word by word and image by image—using ink applied with watercolor brushes. The artist calls this process “mimetic analysis” and refers to himself as a para-historian. Instead of explaining history, as a conventional historian might, Bryce aims to show history. He “reveals” history through his hand and perspective: his deliberate choice of subjects as well as his selective enlargement and placement of image and text.

The 81 drawings in The Book of Needs vary in size but are installed so as to be experienced as a single work, beginning with three issues of the Courier that introduce themes critical to the publication: Race and History by Claude Levi-Strauss, Race and Culture by Michel Leiris, and Race and Biology by L. C. Dunn. The exact images and articles chosen by the artist further highlight these subjects, with the dangerous consequences of racism and nationalism punctuating the expanse of drawings. While the installation speaks most directly to the years following World War II, the issues remain hauntingly relevant today.

Curated by Mary Schneider Enriquez, the Houghton Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Harvard Art Museums.

Modern and contemporary art programs at the Harvard Art Museums are made possible in part by generous support from the Emily Rauh Pulitzer and Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., Fund for Modern and Contemporary Art.