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Curator's Choice: Ancient Sculptures in Clay

DATES December 11, 1985 through March 24, 1986
  • December 10, 1985 Ancient Sculptures in Clay, an exhibition of more than 50 pieces selected from the permanent collection, illustrating how clay was used as a sculpture medium in the Old and New Worlds, will open at The Brooklyn Museum on December 11 and will be on view through March 24, 1986.

    Complementing this season’s major special exhibition, From Indian Earth: 4,000 Years of Terracotta Art, which opens January 17, Ancient Sculptures in Clay will provide a broad comparative view of artistry in clay from about 3500 B.C. to 1300 A.D.

    Ancient Sculptures in Clay examines the most striking ways in which sculptors of the distant past have worked in clay to capture aspects of the real and imaginary worlds. Because it is the most malleable and immediate of all the sculpting media, clay can be modeled, molded, carved, or applied to produce a variety of sculptural effects. By focusing on these diverse techniques in such a wide range of objects, the exhibition illustrates the artists’ exploration of the essential nature of clay.

    One section of the exhibition will explore how ancient artists made functional clay vessels that incorporated sculptural forms. Included are an Egyptian bottle that is also an elegant standing figure, and an Iranian rhyton, or pouring vessel, from the ninth century B.C. that captures the graceful form of an ibex by using its slender attenuated neck for a spout. Clay was also frequently used for musical instruments, tools, and household utensils, as demonstrated by a trumpet that sounds through a jaguar head, a menagerie of small animals whose hollow bodies are in fact whistles, and a grater from Ecuador that is charmingly worked into the shape of a bird.

    Death and burial were consistent contexts for the use of terracotta objects in many ancient civilizations. In China, for example, the deceased was often interred with clay representations of objects and individuals that formed a part of his or her daily life. Accordingly, the exhibition includes such tomb objects as a model of a house and figures of a horse, traders, and officials intended to serve in the afterlife. Similarly, the ancient Maya gave visual expression to their complex mythology of the hereafter in terracotta sculpture. Among the pieces on display is a superb Mayan figurine representing a youthful deity emerging from a water lily, a symbol of the cycle of death and rebirth. Other objects indicate that in E.gypt, where stone was the preferred material, clay was nevertheless often used to make funerary furnishings and burial goods as well as sarcophagi and coffins.

    This exhibition is the eighth in a continuing series that has been made possible, in part, by a grant from A & S. It has been organized by the curatorial staffs of the departments of Egyptian, Classical, and Ancient Middle Eastern Art; Oriental Art; and African, Oceanic, and New World Art.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1971 - 1988. 1985, 059.
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