ANCIENT BRONZES OF THE ASIAN GRASSLANDS
Runs until September 1
The Nickle Arts Museum
The mystery of Asia and the beauty of bronze meld together in The Nickle Arts Museums new exhibition, Ancient Bronzes of the Asian Grasslands, part of the collection of The Arthur M. Sackler Foundation.
Sackler, who died in 1987, was a psychiatrist, researcher, publisher and one of the founders of the pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma. But perhaps most of all he was a lover of ancient objects whose dedication to creating one of the largest collections of Asian art in the world continues to impress.
A travelling exhibition that was most recently on view in Salem, Oregon before arriving in Calgary, Ancient Bronzes is just one small part of a much larger collection that includes more than 1,000 works of art ranging from Buddhist stone sculptures, to the Chu Silk Manuscript, which dates to 475-221 BCE.
Ancient Bronzes is comprised of more than 80 pieces, including items used for personal adornment, in ritual and for survival. Before attending this exhibition, viewers might want to decide on how they want to interpret the event.
On one hand, these are striking pieces of art that stand on their own merit through the quality of their craftsmanship and beauty of design. From another perspective, Ancient Bronzes is an entry point into the daily lives of those who inhabited the expansive grasslands, or steppe, which extended from northern China to Mongolia, also known as the Eurasian Grasslands.
This is obviously how the curator, Trudy Kawami, an archeologist with an art history background, intended visitors to take in the exhibition. With text panels speaking to the background of the "steppe people" accompanied by large colour photographs of the geographical area, there is a strong educational component to this show.
In keeping with the curators vision, some of the most compelling pieces in this collection are the knives. Justly considered works of art, the implements were once practical everyday objects used by the people who populated northern China and Mongolia. One can easily imagine a tribesman in Inner Mongolia pulling the instrument from his leather case to cut a piece of meat from a recently fallen animal.
Yet in spite of all its anthropological underpinnings, this tidy exhibit works best when one moves in close to inspect some of its smallest pieces. The bronze cauldron and bronze bell are impressive, but what is most intriguing are the pendants, buckles and ornaments that tell us in rich fashion how the men and women of the steppes clans and tribes shared a complex life which included personal adornment and worship.
Look only at the pendant collected from Southwestern Inner Mongolia. On it is a depiction of a horse-like animal. The pendant is believed to have been hung from the belt of its owner in a fashion described in the exhibition catalogue as "a lucky charm."
Ancient Bronzes of the Asian Grasslands has much to offer to academics and students alike. And, for those interested in the beauty of bronze even more.