Peru at SAM: The Seattle Art MuseumPosted: January 10, 2014
Going, Going, Gone…
The Peru exhibit is over now and I wanted to share a little of what we saw there with you. According to Seattle Magazine, ‘Seattle is the only U.S. venue to host Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon, a rare and astonishing collection of sculpture, metalwork, paintings and textiles spanning a whopping 3,000 years and several cultures.’ – Brangien Davis, Seattle Magazine
Did you catch that? Seattle is the only place this in the US where the collection will be shown, pretty cool, eh? Some of the pieces in the collection were from Machu Pichu and were discovered by Hiram Bingham III. He took over 46,000 of them back to Yale with him where they lived until 2012 when they were finally returned to Peru. Seeing how Peru just got them back, one can understand why they are loathe to let them out again. I have a picture of Bingham in the gallery below, if he reminds you of Indiana Jones, there is a good reason for that, Indie was actually modeled after the Yale Historian and tomb raider.
Why is Peru significant?
K, Peru is a South American country that, alone with Meso America in this hemisphere, holds cradle of civilization status. This means that it attained a culture with a level of complexity and advancement, with or without writing, that places it in the same club as ancient Egypt, China and Mesopotamia.
What did we see?
We took a few photos before we saw the NO PHOTOGRAPHY sign and the rest in my slideshow are from the SAM website. The exhibit was a good combination of history and art and this is something SAM seems to do particularly well based on other shows we have seen here. I would have liked more textiles but just because that is my thing. There was a beautiful blue and yellow hanging that I waited in line for specifically to read what dyes could have given those colors only to find that the “dyes” were in fact macaw feathers traded with the Amazonian tribes, still bright after 700 years. Another complicated textile design turned out on closer inspection to be eight strips woven in two long narrow strips, each in two colors on a backstrap loom no doubt, then pieced together in alternating sequence, with a border in a narrower pattern. Clever, but not complicated.
There was a jug found in a temple that had obviously Lunar symbolism on it. I can’t find a picture of it online to share with you but it had 4 little guys each depicted at different angles, one facing front, one facing left, etc., which I figure have to represent the phases of the moon, below was a dragon with heads at each end with each head swallowing a black stone (even now our symbol for a new moon in the calendar or almanac is a black circle) and along its back were 29 glyphs (because there are 29 days between New Moons). Unfortunately there wasn’t any placard explaining any of it so no one would know about it all unless they knew what to look for.
There was a small bowl that was half silver and half gold to represent the combined energy of the Sun and Moon. I also found it intriguing that Aztec Mummies were buried with gold trinkets on their right side and silver on their left side as those are the same sides of the body said to correspond to solar and lunar energies in Western tradition. There were several examples of turquoise that were interesting because they were much more blue than the color we associate with turquoise, really almost a royal blue. Quite different from the aqua or sky-blue colors of Kingman or Sleeping Beauty mine turquoise from the American Southwest that we are accustomed to.
In spite of the lack of a written “language” they did have pictograms and a way of keeping historical data by tying knots in different colored cords. There was a beautiful example of knotted cords in a case showing the different colors of fiber and different complicated knots. Unfortunately each “scribe” had their own system of knots and colors so while it was useful for the keeping of records, it was was not transferable for the sharing of information. You can see my bad sketch of it below.
There were two more rooms about the Spaniard’s encounter with Peru which had all the amazing European-style silver and gold work you would expect and then another about the post Colonial era but we were mostly interested in the PreColumbian era so we went back that direction again.
Many items had stories, for instance the ornament pictured above:
This spectacular Mochica gold forehead ornament from the fourth or fifth century A.D.—a representation of a terrifying sea god surrounded by eight tentacles—was intercepted in a London gallery by Scotland Yard, subsequent to a 2004 tip from an individual informant. Instantly dubbed by some newspapers the “Peruvian Mona Lisa,” the famous Mochica octopus was recovered in 2006 by the Peruvian authorities and returned to the Museo de la Nación in Lima. It had, according to archeaologist Walter Alva, been discovered during the illegal excavation of a tomb at La Mina in the Jequetepeque Valley, which had been extensively looted in 1988. The present exhibition of this masterpiece of Mochica goldsmithery, which quickly became a symbol of the war on art trafficking, is its first showing outside Peru since its incredible recovery.
We followed our tour of Peru with a stop at the Pike Brewpub at the Pike Place Market, We haven’t been down here in years and the brewpub has really grown but it winds around so many levels that it is hard to really tell. The pub has turned into kind of a museum as well with copies of early Kent Valley settler Meeker’s pamphlet on Hop growing and various ephemera about the history of beer making in the Washington territory.