Copper in the Arts

December 2008

Ritual Beauty: Art of the Ancient Americas

Owl Owl effigy made of copper, shell and stone, Moche Culture, Peru, 100 A.D. to 300 A.D.

Photograph courtesy of The University of Arizona Museum of Art

The University of Arizona Museum of Art presents Ritual Beauty: Art of the Ancient Americas , featuring approximately 170 extraordinary objects of pre-Columbian origin made of copper, silver and stone. Artifacts include ancient vessels, effigy jars, textiles and adornments, clay figures, stone sculptures, and implements-all offering a window on the aesthetic worlds of Mesoamerica and the Andean region prior to European contact.

On view through February 8, Ritual Beauty: Art of the Ancient Americas aims to provide a better understanding of the aesthetic, social, political, and religious life of the pre-Columbian world in which these exceptional objects were created. With this exhibition, viewers can study, appreciate, and enjoy the artistic achievements of these rich cultures through their material past.

"As general, worldwide awareness shifts from the inward view to a greater, global understanding of our interconnectedness and commonality, appreciation for other cultures and the art they produce has expanded," notes Curator Joanne Stuhr. "Such awareness has fostered a passion for the art of Latin America, both present and past. Clearly, this includes the ancient arts of the Americas, prior to contact with Europeans in the early 1500s."

In his essay for the catalog published to accompany the exhibition, anthropologist Peter T. Furst notes that "what we call 'pre-Columbian art,' was to its creators- master sculptors, painters, weavers, and architects- not 'art' in the western sense but a function of religion, shamanism, ritual, ceremony, protection against personal or collective calamity, and the maintenance of the vital relationship between the living, the deceased, and the ancestors, real and mythological, all the way back to the beginning of time. Although clearly each society had its aesthetics and its sense of what was beautiful and perfect, to make art as decoration or [as] a mark of wealth and status would have been incomprehensible."

"The I. Michael Kasser Collection is remarkable," says Charles A. Guerin, Executive Director of The University of Arizona Museum of Art, because "the objects... allow us a glimpse into a unique period in the history of the Americas. They celebrate the enormous creativity of unknown artists who could never have imagined their creative efforts displayed in such an environment. The exhibition and the collection itself serve as an inspiration to all collectors, at every level, to persevere in their collecting and to pursue excellence in that endeavor."


The University of Arizona Museum of Art, Tucson, AZ, (520) 621-7567

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