Review: Golden oldies at the Gallery

visual art
“Gold and the Incas: The Lost Worlds of Peru”,
National Gallery until April 21
Reviewed by John Milner

WHAT is it about the Incas that captivates the imagination of the public and has done so since the early explorations of the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pissarro – is it the gold, the mystery, the expanse of the empire, the culture?

“Gold and the Incas” goes some way to answering these questions and allows one to experience ideas around the ancient Peruvian ritual, warfare, daily life and sense of dualism.

On display are 200 artifacts, including ceramics, stone carvings, textiles, silver and gold. The loans come “from 10 private and public museums in Peru”, says NGA director Ron Radford. However, it is not only the Incan empire of the 15th century that features, but also more than two millennia of preceding ancient cultures – cultures that spanned the high plains of the Andean ranges in southern Chile to the coastal shores of Ecuador in the north and the Amazonian basin to the east.

Standout pieces include the 3000 year-old stone effigy of a winged deity carrying a severed head, and the ceramic piece “Stirrup vessel in the form of a Cormorant” from the Moche tradition. This work depicts a long-necked sea bird curled around a tubular spout – its free-flowing rhythm and expressive depth demonstrate the extraordinary craftsmanship of its maker. Discovered in burial sites, many of the exquisite ornaments and jewelry such as the golden Llama figurines are believed to be offerings to the afterlife.

After recent exhibitions such as Lautrec and Turner, it is refreshing to see NGA look beyond the shores of Europe for this summer’s blockbuster. The exhibition marks 50 years of diplomatic relations between Australia and Peru and is the first major pre-Colombian collection to feature in an Australian gallery.

 

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