Gold and the Incas

I love going to the National Gallery of Australia on New Year’s Day. It’s not too crowded and I think that looking at art is a fine way to get the year off to a good start. This was my first visit to see the latest NGA ‘blockbuster’ show Gold and the Incas. The subtitle, the Lost Worlds of Peru, gives a far more accurate summary of what’s on display. Yes there is a lot of gold, not to mention silver and precious stones on display, but to my eye it is the masterpieces of ceramics and textiles that are the outstanding elements of the exhibition. And BTW there’s not much from the Incas because the conquistadores nicked or melted down most of the good stuff. What is on show are artefacts from a number of cultures that existed in what is present day Peru, most of whom none of us has ever heard of.

A Huari vessel in the shape of a llama, 67 cm high, 600-1,000AD.

A Huari vessel in the shape of a llama, 67 cm high, 600-1,000AD.

The lighting is kept very low in most of the rooms so doing drawings was a challenge. There  were also not many benches where you could sit to draw. Gallery rules allow for only the use of pencil and paper so most of my efforts were limited to quick sketches and taking notes for future reference. I subsequently decided to make a composite image of my drawings and then add colour to give some idea of what we saw.

Composite image of my sketches of 1 January 2014, with added watercolour and acrylic.

Composite image of my sketches of 1 January 2014, with added watercolour and acrylic.

Apart from the llama and the face mask most of the other sketches are just parts of larger objects. In case you were wondering about the strange grey and black blob on the left hand side it is actually a person silhouetted against a large cloak that is covered in squares of beaten silver. People, including myself, seemed to be quite transfixed by this piece and often stood still long enough for me to draw them. The burial mask illustrated above also has an interesting provenance as it is one of the items of ‘tribal art’ that was collected by the Surrealist artist Max Ernst. The NGA purchased Ernst’s collection in 1985.

Having made my initial sortie I plan to go back and try to selectively draw some of the other works on display. This exhibition runs until 21 April 2014.

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