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Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom at the Met

October 14, 2015. An exhibition of Egyptian art from the Middle Kingdom, Ancient Egypt Transformed, opened this week at the Metropolitan Museum’s Tisch second floor galleries. The collection of works from 37 museums and collections in North America and Europe is the first comprehensive presentation of Middle Kingdom (around 2030–1650 B.C.E.) art in the US.

The exhibition materials represent a 400-year long cultural flowering that began in the reign of Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II, first pharaoh of the Middle Kingdom. Adela Oppenheim, Curator of Egyptian Art, described the ebb and flow of artistic ideas during the Middle Kingdom in a Metropolitan press release: “The astonishing continuity of ancient Egyptian culture, with certain basic principles lasting for thousands of years, gives the impression of changelessness. But the works of art in the exhibition show that ancient Egypt constantly evolved, and was remarkably flexible within a consistent framework. New ideas did not simply replace earlier notions; they were added to what had come before, creating a fascinating society of ever-increasing complexity.”

The exhibition is grounded with a series of pharaonic statues and busts, with other objects grouped both chronologically and thematically. One theme is that of women, with royal jewelry and ornament, talismanic objects for pregnant women and children, and humbler objects from domestic settings. A detailed model of the pyramid complex at Dashur, and elements from temples and commemorative chapels form another theme.

The exhibition was made possible through the support of Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Diane Carol Brandt, and The Daniel P. Davison Fund, and supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. The Arts and Artifact Indemnity Program was created by Congress in 1975 for the purpose of minimizing the costs of insuring international exhibitions. In 2007 Congress expanded eligibility under the Program to include coverage for works of art owned by U.S. entities while on exhibition in the United States.

Image from the exhibition: Relief with Senwosret I Running toward Min (detail), Dynasty 12, reign of Senwosret I (ca. 1961-1917 B.C.). Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, London (UC14786)

Exhibition: Celts at the British Museum

September 24, 2015.  Celts, Art and Identity is the first major British exhibition in 40 years to tell the story of the Celts. The British Museum exhibition reaches from Celtic prehistory up to contemporary times, exploring the many ways in which the Celts have seduced the romantic imagination. The exhibition is rich in materials from a more widely dispersed geographical area than the traditional heartlands of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, and includes major loans from sixteen UK and ten international institutions.

The term Celts, originating in the ancient Greek word Keltoi, was a catch-all label for barbarian tribes to the west. The exhibition reflects how generalized the term “Celtic” has become, referring to Pictish symbol stones, a two-meter tall double-faced horned sandstone statue from southern Germany, Viking ring-brooches from Orkney, Scandinavian silverware, Irish harps and the magnificent Gundestrup silver cauldron found in Himmerland, Denmark in 1891, which is the largest surviving piece of European Iron Age silver work.

One unusual inclusion in the exhibition is a hoard of gold torques discovered at Blair Drummond in Stirling, Scotland by a treasure hunter who found them on his very first time out with a metal detector. The exhibition includes objects showing the fascination with Celtic and Druidical culture, as it was re-imagined in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the creative endeavors this fascination inspired.

From 24 September 2015 – 31 January 2016, Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery (Room 30), British Museum, London.

Image: Gundestrup silver cauldron, Copenhagen, Denmark, Nationalmuseet.

Exhibition: Spirit and Matter, Masterpieces from the Keir Collection at Dallas

September 18, 2015.  Earlier this year, the Dallas Museum of Art announced that it would receive a long-term loan of the Keir Collection, one of the world’s finest private collections of Islamic art. The collection was built by Edmund de Unger (1918–2011) and is named after the 18th century British mansion where it was once housed. With the exception of an exhibition of some 100 works shown at the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin in 2007–08, this is the first time that examples from the collection have been displayed in a museum setting.

The first exhibition to be drawn from the Keir Collection is Spirit and Matter: Masterpieces from the Keir Collection of Islamic Art, which presents fifty exceptional work from the collection of almost 2000 objects. It will be on view at Dallas until July 31, 2016.

Spirit and Matter was organized and developed by Dr. Sabiha Al Khemir, the DMA’s Senior Advisor for Islamic Art, whose work was instrumental in bringing the Keir Collection to Dallas.

Highlights from the exhibition include superb examples of rock crystal vessels and objects and early luster-ware ceramics, silk textiles from the imperial workshops of 16th- and 17th-century Safavid Iran, and examples of illuminated figurative manuscripts from the 14th to 17th century.

Major Exhibition at Getty – Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World

July 31, 2015. From July 28 to November 1, 2015, the J. Paul Getty Museum presents Power and Pathos, an exhibition of outstanding examples of Hellenistic sculpture in bronze. The sculptures span the period from the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC to the defeat of Cleopatra and Mark Antony in 31 BC by Octavian (later Emperor Augustus). The art of this period greatly influenced later sculptural development through its detail, grace, and dramatic and expressive power. The exhibition Power and Pathos brings together approximately one quarter of the known sculptural works of this 300 year period. Getty director Timothy Potts described the bronze sculptures in the exhibition as “the finest of these spectacular and extremely rare works that survive,” and called the exhibition, “one of the most important exhibitions of ancient classical sculpture ever mounted.”

Reviewers note again and again that the exhibition is not to be missed. Christopher Knight, writing about a larger-than-life figure of an athlete engaged in a “mundane cleansing routine”  in which he scrapes oil and sweat from his body after exercise, describes viewing the the sculpture as a transcendent experience, “this is an immortal divinity stepping down to become fully human, anticipating the conception of god-as-man that would soon emerge in the post-pagan Christian world.”

Mike Boehm, also writing in the Los Angeles Times, notes that bronze was such a valuable material in the ancient world, it was recycled into other sculptures, objects, or armaments, and for political and religious reasons, most ancient bronzes of the period were destroyed. Accidents of seaborne travel and natural disasters such as the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius buried these examples in ash or the sea, and almost all are relatively recent discoveries. Curator Jens Daehner described the preservation of these objects through disasters that befell them early on: “You could call it the paradox of archaeology in general, but for bronze it’s particularly true and poignant.”

Contributing institutions include the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, Washington, DC’s National Gallery of Art, London’s British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Galleria degli Uffizi and the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Florence, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples, the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, the Georgian National Museum, the Musée du Louvre in Paris and the Vatican Museums.

The book accompanying the exhibition, edited by exhibition curators Jens Daehner and Kenneth Lapatin, both of the Getty, includes archaeological, art-historical, and scientific essays, and is intended to be a standard reference on Hellenistic bronze sculpture. The Getty will host the 19th International Congress on Ancient Bronzes
October 13-17, 2015. Program here.

After its Getty Museum venue, the show travels to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. December 13, 2015 – March 20, 2016

Images: J. Paul Getty Museum.


Exhibition: The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire

June 29, 2015. The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian will delve deep into the political and spiritual meaning of the 24,000 mile pathway constructed 500 years ago. The Inka Road enabled long distance communication, transportation of goods, and political administration by the Inca Empire throughout what are now the modern countries of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. The exhibition, which runs from June 26, 2015 through June 1, 2018, is the first major bilingual exhibition on the Inca or “Inka” empire. (The exhibition uses the word Inka to be consistent with the original Quechua language usage.)

The exhibition includes 140 objects, from ceramics to gold ornaments, stone carvings, silver and gold figurines, and textiles. It opens with the historic foundations and spiritual grounding of the empire, the exhibition explores the ancient city of Cusco, the 11,000 ft. elevation capital of the empire from the 13th to the 16th century. There were four major regions of the empire, each including many ethnicities and ecosystems; Chinchaysuyu, where the exhibition highlights the construction of suspension bridges across massive mountain chasms; Antisuyu, which features Amazonian forest terrain, feathered artifacts and the Machu Picchu site; Collasuyu, land suited for llama and alpaca breeding, and where gold, silver and copper were mined; and Contisuyu, where the road led to the sea, the source of fish and guano fertilizer. The exhibition ends at the Spanish invasion, the destruction of the Inca empire and the introduction of new animals, plants, religious beliefs, laws and social structures, in many cases including the virtual enslavement of the indigenous peoples.

The exhibition was co-curated by distinguished archeologist Ramiro Matos and José Barreiro.

Image: Illustration of Hawkay Kuski, the rest from harvest, showing an Inka woman pouring a’qa (maize beer) from an arybalo into qeros (cups). Pen and ink drawing by Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala (Quechua, ca. 1535–1616). From El primer nueva corónica y buen gobierno (The First New Chronicle and Good Government, 1615). Royal Library, Copenhagen GKS 2232 4º.


Exhibition: Mayas, Revelation of an Endless Time

June 25, 2015.  The World Museum in Liverpool, England is the only British venue for a traveling exhibition of 385 exceptional objects from museums and Maya sites in Mexico, entitled “Mayas: revelation of an endless time” produced by the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH) in Mexico. The exhibition, which runs from June 19 to October 15, 2015, is part of the 2015 ‘Year of Mexico in the United Kingdom,’ which includes exhibitions of contemporary art, dance, music, poetry, masked wrestling, symposia and even a celebration of Mexican cuisine.

Writing in an introduction to the Paris exhibition, Rafael Tovar y de Teresa points out that Mayan culture is still living, and Mayan language still spoken in regions of southern Mexico and Central America, and that this living culture still can provide insight into the thinking of the ancient Mayan peoples: “Mayan culture unites all of time in a single moment; with its long history supported by its past, it presents itself with pride in the present, making this a promise for its future.”

The exhibition, which first opened in Mexico City, then traveled to Sao Paolo, Brazil and the Musee de Quai Branly in Paris, contains an extraordinary collection of objects from seven INAH museums, five Mexican state and university museums and from six archaeological site museums: the National Museum of Anthropology and History in Mexico City, and museums located in Palenque, Chiapas; Comalcalco, Tabasco; and the Maya Museum in Cancún, Quintana Roo. Outstanding objects from the exhibition include ceramic figurines from Jaina that provide portraits of the nobility, steles and lintels illustrating the activities of the ruling elites and religious rituals, jade funeral masks and two burials with their offerings, as well as textiles and other objects from the colonial period to the contemporary.

The Maya believed that mankind was created to venerate and nourish the deities who, although tremendously powerful, were also flawed. The continuing existence of the entire universe was dependent upon the proper repetition of necessary rituals. Cities therefore contained large ritual spaces. Among the rituals illustrated by objects in the exhibition are the Mayan concerns with the holy calendar, the sacred ball game, and human sacrifice. The Maya believed that animals, like mankind, possessed souls, and many lively animal sculptures in the exhibit are imbued with great personality and spirit. Funerary objects such as jade tesserae masks and elaborate grave goods illustrate the Mayan perspective on death and afterlife. The exhibition is structured to show the daily life of the Maya of different social castes, their working life, their political organization and religion, and rituals of life and of death.
The Liverpool venue will be free to the public.

Image: Small belt mask, jade hematite shell. Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes – Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia. Fotógrafo Ignacio Guevara.

mayas-headImage: Queen of Uxmal limestone sculpture. © Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes – Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia. Fotógrafo Ignacio Guevara.