‘Gold and the Incas’ @ National Gallery of Australia

22 01 2014

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].

nose ornament 1inca_003

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.


NGA Travelling exhibitions

12 11 2013

While I may be slow off the mark here, I’ve just discovered the ‘travelling exhibitions‘ page of the National Gallery of Australia. Yay for art lovers in regional centres of Australia!

Most interesting is the exhibition currently travelling is
Bodywork: Australian jewellery 1970-2012‘.

exhibition media

exhibition media

Exhibition media: “This exhibition includes the work of 42 Australian jewellers exploring jewellery from a number of viewpoints within six broad themes: Romanticism, Interpreting the Vernacular, Encapsulating Nature, Technics, Social Message and Sculpture for the Body. All of the works are from the collection of the National Gallery of Australia.

I’m kind of disappointed I won’t get to see it – it’s not coming anywhere near Melbourne … in fact, it’s not coming to Victoria at all. Oh boo.

But if you’re near the many other centres it’s travelling to, get thee along.

NGA love

7 04 2013

While I admit to being a late-adaptor, I have been enjoying many of the art and jewellery related Facebook pages. As I mentioned recently, I do think that this kind of platform may be overtaking blogging… but as long as I know where to go to find interesting things, I’m okay.

If you’re not already reading the National Gallery of Australia page, it’s pretty great and I’d recommend it.

This was on their page recently – it’s a wonderful example of how simple it is to share knowledge; how great it is that art-lovers are being educated in things jewellery.

Behind-the-scenes | Object conservation

Oh the bling! Objects Conservation is currently sparkling with jewellery which is being prepared for entry into the Gallery showcases and for an upcoming traveling exhibition. Some of the silver pieces had tarnished over time in storage but are now getting special attention prior to display.

The book necklace, made from 18 carat gold, silver, titanium and a ruby was created by Robert Baines in 1976. These images show before and after tarnish removal.

from NGA facebook page; click on image for original source

from NGA facebook page; click on image for original source

And the words “upcoming traveling exhibition” together with “jewellery” is most exciting!

‘Renaissance’ @ National Gallery of Australia, part 2

24 01 2012

… continuing from yesterday’s post …. and the standout paintings:

4. ‘Madonna and Child with Saint Paul, Saint Agnes and the Cassotti donors‘ Andrea Previtali 1520 [gallery page]

sketch; image not to be reproduced without permission

5. ‘Portrait of a child of the house of Redetti‘ Goivan Moroni 1570 [gallery page]

sketch; image not to be reproduced without permission

exhibition media; click on image for original source

The picture above was my absolute favourite of the exhibition – the textiles are beautiful.

The more than 70 works are grouped into:

  • Gothic to Renaissance
  • Madonna & Child
  • Altarpieces & Portraits
  • High Renaissance
  • Late Renaissance
  • Northern Italy

There is a kind of cohesion to the exhibition actually … one you don’t usually find in a blockbuster. Perhaps the majority of the works were donated by the same collector, and as such have a kind of similar aesthetic or collection quality … I can’t put my finger on it, but it was more like visiting a private collection than a group of works from a vast public collection.

This period of art is certainly one that I appreciate, though I wouldn’t say that it lifts my heart in the way that the later German/Flemish art or Impressionism does. I think I prefer to imagine the intellectual development and scientific debate, and adore the drawing of this epoch.

That’s not to say I was disappointed, far from it. Though I wasn’t euphoric; my heart didn’t sing like it has done in the presence of incredible art that I connect with before. Though I am very glad I made the effort to go.

Renaissance‘ is at the National Gallery of Australia until 9th April 2012.


Update (24th January): I meant to mention in the original writing of the above, that the NGA website for the exhibition has exceptionally good documentation and images of all of the works. Therefore, if you want to see the whole exhibition from the comfort of your computer, you can. Of course it’s not the same as seeing them in person: the colour, the scale, the relationship with other works in the room, the ambience … though if you’re not sure if you want to go or not, you may use the gallery listing to determine if your favourite artists is there…