There are two amazing exhibitions on in Canberra right now; and this dear heart believed such magnificence warranted a personal appearance. And so off to our nation’s capital I traipsed for a day of art-fatigue-and-visual-overload.
First: ‘Gold and the Incas‘ at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA).
Exhibition media: “Gold and the Incas showcases the splendour of ancient pre-Hispanic cultures of Peru. Art made of gold, silver, precious stones, textiles and ceramics will excite our visitors and provide a new experience at the National Gallery of Australia. More than 200 objects are included, from gold regalia, intricate jewellery and striking vessels to elaborate embroidered and woven cloths. Australian audiences will encounter the aesthetic depth, drama and beauty of the famous Incan empire and its predecessors.“
The most important comment I’ll make to potential visitors – it’s not all about gold. There is a rich collection of ceramics and the most exceptional textiles in this exhibition; and I was pleasantly surprised by the number of items. So if gold isn’t your thing, perhaps it’s still worth a visit.
Best overheard comment: “they sure did like nose rings”. Yes, yes they did. Below are some sketches of some of my favourite nose ornaments [left, top right, bottom right].
One of the pieces that made me giggle was a Nazca forehead ornament: with an central impressed design of a face (serious, straight mouth), with little heads floating above his head, and little serious faces in the eleven ‘rays’ from the top of the object … a forehead object, with a man who looks like he also has a forehead object on, with little men with foreheads … ha, iteration hilarity, oh the fun I had in that little moment.
Along with nose-rings and being quite obvious about the sexy-time (I was terribly disappointed to realise that I had missed seeing the splendid cock vessel in person … boo), they also liked huge headpieces. The last room in the exhibition is worth the visit alone. The sketch below only gives the barest of ideas – but it is splendor you cannot imagine, on a scale that is formidable, in a display that is stunning. Earrings the size of your forearm? Oh for sure!
The most breathtaking object is the Sican-Lambayeque mantle – it is lit in such a beguiling and entrancing manner, and the unevenness of each of the individual little ravioli-shaped silver components (sewn on to cotton I think) plays beautifully in the light.
The most surprising to me were the textiles – stunning.
Finally, the objects I found most moving were the Quipu. Strange really, considering their use was actually for trade; but when I first saw them I thought they may be maps or objects for personal memories.
My most significant, though minor in perspective, gripe is the darkness of the rooms … truly, many times I couldn’t see where my pencil was on my paper (explaining my less-than-fine drawings). I do understand that this is often necessary for conservation, especially for the feathers and textile pieces; and on the upside, it did make the gold stand out (perhaps the most pertinent reasoning for the low voltage?); but it was disorienting and tiring and somewhat oppressive.
I must admit that my most recent visits to the NGA have been enjoyable, to the extent that I would say (now the value of timed entry ticketing is well understood) that I like how the NGA does blockbusters – specifically, (so far) avoiding traps of ‘ambiance’ manufacturing, ‘real life dioramas’ and ‘virtual experiences’ and such banality some exhibitions fall for.
‘Gold and the Incas‘ is at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, until 21st April 2014.
See my other posts about exhibitions at NGA here.
Please note: sketches in this post not to be reproduced without author’s permission.
Update (28th January): It’s been on my mind since my visit … the low lighting that is.
To give you a gauge of how odd it was: the round nose ornament in bottom right of the top image is actually half silver and half gold, and the lighting was such I couldn’t even tell they were different. It should have been obvious right?! And in the same case, the nose ornament on the left in the sketches has two twisted wires between the plate and the spiral components, but the lighting was so poor I couldn’t tell what was going on there, just that it wasn’t flat and not round – I just couldn’t see the detail. The room was dark but the display boxes so lit that the contrast was washed out.
And from memory the lighting was in fact brighter in the places where the ceramics and textiles were displayed – so may I be so bold as to suggest that the low lighting in the gold displays was for dramatic effect only? I mean honestly, gold or silver is not going to fade or be damaged by a little more helpful lighting; certainly no more so than feathers and textiles.
Yes, I’m unreasonably annoyed by the lighting … but the exhibition is still worth a visit.