Cultures of the Sea: Art of the Ancient Americas
This lesson focuses on how placing contemporary artworks within historical collection galleries creates new exchanges, specifically within the Nasher Museum’s exhibition Cultures of the Sea: Art of the Ancient Americas (February 01, 2020 – June 05, 2021). Students will analyze objects from the ancient Americas, compare and contrast them with ones from the present day, and create their own contemporary intervention.
Curated by undergraduate students from the “Curatorial Practicum: Exhibition Development and Design” course, Cultures of the Sea: Art of the Ancient Americas brings together works from the Nasher’s permanent collection that illustrate how the ocean shaped the cultural legacies of civilizations from the Central and South American coasts. This lesson plan explores the exhibition through a virtual tour, created in partnership with Duke’s Wired! Lab for Digital Art History & Visual Culture.
First, we will virtually engage with the exhibition’s objects through various approaches, including their wall labels, 3D models, CT scans and curator testimony to consider how this information sheds light on art forms made over 1000 years ago.
Then, we will examine the placement of a 21st-century artwork within the exhibition, which serves as a contemporary intervention. Part of a larger strategy used throughout The Collection Galleries, the placement of contemporary artworks within the historical collection galleries disrupts traditional narratives and inspires new conversations for museum visitors.
Cultures of the Sea: Art of the Ancient Americas brings together works of art from 100 BCE to the present that illustrate how the ocean was both a source of livelihood and a way of life for cultures across the Americas. The majority of the objects were made over 1000 years ago by talented artists and artisans about whom very little information exists today.
For more on the Curatorial Practicum and the making of the exhibition, read this short article.
Let’s start by visiting the exhibition page on the Nasher’s website. Before opening the virtual tour, spend five minutes reading through the exhibition description, looking at the 360-degree views of objects, and inspecting the installation photographs.
Notice the different types of images on the website. There are pictures of single works from the exhibition, 360-degree views of objects, as well as images of the exhibition itself, showing how the pieces are installed in the room. One of the 360-degree views is a double vessel from the Chancay culture in present-day Peru. Click through the navigation buttons to move the double vessel around and to observe it from different angles.
- What can you tell about its construction?
- How would you describe it to your friends?
- What information about its purpose and original context can you determine from just looking at the object?
- What additional information do you wish you had?
Now open the virtual tour of the exhibition. Spend five minutes freely navigating through the space. Make sure to listen to at least two recordings of the student curators, who each made avatars with which to present their favorite objects in the exhibition.
Locate the Chancay double vessel again within the virtual tour. Listen to the recording of the object and/or read the transcript, which provides information from its wall label. Scroll down to compare the interactive 3D model with the 360-degree view on the website. Manipulate the model to view all surfaces of the object. Next open the CT scans. Using all of these resources, consider the following questions:
- What additional information does the 3D model provide?
- What can you learn about the construction of the object from the CT scans?
- What part of the object is most important? Are there symbols or figures that the resources helped identify or explain?
- What makes the object culturally significant for the Chancay people?
- How do you think this object would sound?
These double vessels are still made today. Watch the following video showing a demonstration of how they create sound.
- Does this vessel sound like how you envisioned?
- Did anything surprise you about the object, its sound, or how it’s played?
Continue your virtual exploration of Cultures of the Sea. Select a couple of works to focus on and consider the following:
- How does engaging with works virtually compare with in-person viewing?
- What are the benefits of visiting an exhibition virtually? What are the drawbacks?
- Was any work completely unlike the others?
You may have noticed one object, in the gallery’s front corner, which is far more contemporary than the other works: Darío Escobar’s metal surfboard.
Listen to the avatar of the student curator and consider the following questions:
- How does the surfboard relate to the objects in the cases on either side of it?
- Why is this contemporary artwork included in the exhibition?
- How does the practice of installing seemingly incongruous artworks in museum galleries spark dialogue, change the visitor experience, and revise or create new historical narratives?
- If you could choose any contemporary work in the Nasher’s collection to place within Cultures of the Sea, what would you select and why? Use the Nasher’s collection for inspiration.
Part of a larger strategy used throughout the The Collection Galleries, the placement of contemporary artworks within the historical collection galleries disrupts traditional narratives and creates new conversations. For more on previous contemporary interventions at the Nasher, read this short article.