Review of “Machu Picchu and the Golden Empires of Peru”: Sparkling, but not without impurities

Boca Raton, Florida.

This exhibition at the Boca Raton Museum of Art – his first location on a world tour – is billed as a blockbuster. Prices for timed tickets are high ($29.95 for adults and $100 for “VIP Access”) and exclaimant slogans (“3,000 years in the making”; “192 priceless artifacts”; “one of the most impressive collections of gold to have ever visited the globe”). The show is called an “immersive journey” and offers (for an additional $18) a virtual reality tour of Machu Picchu in Peru. For an additional $15, you get a photo that makes it look like you’ve really traveled to the cloud forests to see these Aztec ruins, such are the golden attractions of “Machu Picchu and the Golden Empires of Peru”.

Machu Picchu and the Golden Empires of Peru

Boca Raton Art Museum

Until March 6

This packaging is misleading, as the exhibit itself—created by World Heritage Exhibits in cooperation with the Peruvian government and two Peruvian museums—has little to do with Machu Picchu (a topic we’ll come to later). But it would be a mistake to judge this show by its cover. Unless you plan to visit the extraordinary Museo Larco in Lima – the museum of which almost everything here has been selected by Larco’s curator, Ulla Holmquist Pashas – this exhibition offers a unique opportunity to get a large-scale interpretation of Peruvian pre-Inca art. cultures.

We see ferocious and demonic creatures, their threat retaining its power after two millennia. There are ocher owls and meandering snakes, decapitated heads and ceremonial processions, contemplative musicians and otherworldly figures engaged in sexual activity. They appear on ceramic vessels, almost all less than a foot high. Sculpted figures form the body of most containers; the surfaces of others are baked with images.

Sculptural bottle with stirrup spout (AD 1-800)


World Heritage Exhibitions

As we learn, for these cultures the decorated vessel was a central form of religious and artistic expression. It can be so surprising to Western eyes because of our long tradition of reflecting religious belief in paintings or narrative allegory. Here, the expressive form seems almost banal. Until we learn to think otherwise.

The galleries are organized by theme, dealing for example with the Andean universe, the meanings of sexual behavior, a mythological tale of a hero, staged combat and human sacrifice. And we discover three realms: the upper world of the heavens and the sun, the terrestrial world of agriculture and human life, and the subterranean world, under the feet and under the water, associated with the dead, with night and to the ancestors. Each kingdom is also associated with animals: birds in the upper world, cats and feline predators in the terrestrial world, and snakes in the underworld.

The text notes that these vessels, which represent aspects of these realms, are “animated by the flow of liquids and air through their hollow interiors”. This stream is part of the point. Ships use symbols to represent movement between worlds. Their use in ceremonies was also intended to enact such passages associated with crucial aspects of human life.

One problem is that most of the artifacts here are from the Moche culture (AD 100-800); although there are just enough examples to suggest that other Peruvian cultures shared beliefs, this reading of Andean life ignores the distinctions and differences in belief and region over 2,000 years. This question, however, is complicated, because just as we refer to Western civilization to embrace ancient Greece, medieval Europe and contemporary America due to shared ideas and beliefs, certain consistencies in Andean cultures in the over time and space have been pointed out by Yale anthropologists Richard L. Burger and Lucy Salazar-Burger.

But here we can go a little too far, especially in a gallery devoted to gold ornaments. Mannequins representing warriors or priests or rulers are posed, wearing, for example, a crown from the Chimu culture (1100-1470) or the Chavin culture (inconsistently dated here, but for about a millennium after 1200 BC). JC) or a gold nose ornament used by the chief shamans of the Vicus culture (100 BC-AD 300). Such artifacts are rare because the Spaniards, after conquering the Inca Empire from 1532, melted down as much gold as they could find. This gallery may give a slight hint of “golden empires”, but it is so committed to the show that it also strips the objects of particular cultural distinctions.

And finally, there is the problem of Machu Picchu. Most of the artifacts here would, at first glance, barely make a blockbuster. What better way to amp up the appeal than by framing the exhibit with this awe-inspiring set of ruins on a mountain so inaccessible it escaped Spanish destruction and remained little known to the outside world for centuries after the fall. of the Inca Empire? We are therefore offered a dizzying “ride” on and through this site using vibrating seats and virtual reality helmets. And a single gallery at the end, mostly made up of text panels and photographs, shows a few less interesting artifacts than many others here.

If Machu Picchu was really a point of interest, we might have seen how the Inca Empire was born at the beginning of the 15th century, adapting the beliefs already described. Some believe that Machu Picchu itself was shaped to represent a condor. And we might have learned that the now accepted hypothesis – established by the Yale scholars mentioned above – is that it was an Inca royal retreat, not a religious site. One of the reasons for the scarcity of grave goods is that workers – not royalty – were buried there.

Instead, the series’ overly superficial text feels like an afterthought. But with less flashy standards, this exhibition succeeds. It could be seen as a contemporary version of the Andean ship – one that ceremoniously and theatrically transports us, temporarily, from our familiar earthly realm to another, with very different perceptions of the cosmos.

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