Blanton Exhibition Highlights Art of Ancient Andes, Explores Relationship Between Art and Environment

AUSTIN, Texas  The Blanton Museum of Art, in partnership with the Department of Art and Art History at The University of Texas at Austin, will present a special selection of objects that illuminate the lifestyle, technological achievements and ideology of pre-Inka (also known as "Inca") cultures among the coastal Andes of South America. "Between Mountains and Sea: Arts of the Ancient Andes," on view Feb. 1 through June 22, 2014, features 80 extraordinary works from the university's collections, ranging from intricately woven textiles to painted ceramic vessels and modeled effigies.

Through a dynamic presentation that integrates historical and anthropological contexts of art, the exhibition traces the artistic development of the ancient Paracas, Nasca, Wari, Moche, Chancay, Sicán and Chimú cultures from the Early Horizon (900200 B.C.) through the Late Horizon (14701532 A.D.) periods.

The exhibition was conceived by the Blanton and guest-curator Kimberly L. Jones, while she served as a UT Austin lecturer and curator of the university's Art and Art History Collection and before her recent appointment as the Ellen and Harry S. Parker III Assistant Curator of the Arts of the Americas at the Dallas Museum of Art. This collaboration continues the Blanton's tradition of working with experts across disciplines to present material outside the scope of its permanent collection, and furthers the museum's mission to provide experiences with art that allow visitors to see beyond their world.

"We are delighted to partner with UT's Department of Art and Art History and Dr. Kimberly Jones to present this important material to our audiences," said Blanton Director Simone Wicha. "The exhibition will serve as a wonderful resource for students and the greater community, and provide a unique opportunity to see these beautiful and culturally significant works in a new context."

As the title suggests, the exhibition "Between Mountains and Sea" speaks to the achievements of coastal Andean cultures in their vital position between the western Pacific Ocean and eastern Andes mountain range. The Pacific coast of South America is home to environmental extremes, where the narrow but stark desert coastline is striped by fertile river valleys, whose abundance depends on the towering highland peaks for rains, springs and runoff. Mountains and sea thus frame the desert coast, marking environmental, ecological and economic contrasts that have prompted complex networks of trade throughout Andean history.

"Undoubtedly, popular imagination about ancient Andean cultures is most often captured by the highland Andes, through elite Inka sites such as Machu Picchu," Jones said. "The coastal resources and societies, however, were foundational to the rise of Andean civilization."

The coastal Andean societies devised both technological and ideological means to tackle their precarious dependence on water for agricultural production. Perhaps one of the most well known, the Nasca culture (100 B.C. 600 A.D.) created vast geoglyphs in the desert pampa known as "Nazca lines." Among various possible functions, these immense earthworks may have indicated regions possessing or void of underground water channels. Historical photographs of these expansive figural and geometric designs will be included in the exhibition. They bear close connection to the images decorating vibrant polychrome Nasca ceramic vessels, which retain their remarkable brilliance after 1,500 years.

Arguably the most prolific of Andean visual cultures, the Moche (100800 A.D.) on the north coast of Peru excelled in ceramic arts, using the medium to portray ritual, regalia, performance and power. Moche ceramicists blended modeling and mold-making, painting and relief to illustrate dramatic scenes of warfare and sacrifice, agricultural production and fertility. The Moche approached stark realism in portraiture of male warriors, as well as in animal and plant representations. While many floral and faunal scenes recall the ecology of the desert north coast, others reference the dramatic changes brought by the weather system El Niño during its decadelong cycle of abundance and destruction. It is perhaps from this reality that the Moche conceived of beings with attributes combining the human and nonhuman, envisioning "supernatural" figures such as the "Crab-Being" featured in the exhibition.

"Between Mountains and Sea" champions the unique opportunity to highlight exceptional works of art from The University of Texas at Austin's collections and to engage public audiences in scholarship on the pre-Hispanic Andes. It builds on recent opportunities that have allowed the Blanton to bring to Austin ancient objects from many cultures, including Tibetan thangkas and mandalas, Japanese masks, Egyptian statuary, Mayan eccentric flints, and more.

"Between Mountains and Sea: Arts of the Ancient Andes" is organized by the Blanton Museum of Art, with support from the Department of Art and Art History, The University of Texas at Austin.