Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon

Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon               

Seattle Art Museum, until January 5, 2014

Closed Mondays and Tuesdays

Audio tours free–download app from website (, download podcast from website, audio guide wands available at SAM (also has extended visual descriptions)

Reviewed by Candace Fertile

The Seattle Art Museum is the only United States museum to have this exhibit, and with over 300 works, Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon is a delight for anyone interested in the history and art of Peru. The exhibit covers more than 3000 years of human activity and includes treasures of Macchu Picchu, royal tombs and modern folk art.

The lavish use of gold and silver for ornaments and utensils reveals the wealth of the Inca and other ancient civilzations, along with their attention to detailed beauty.  Animals feature widely as does the human body. A  gold forehead ornament from the Mochica culture, about 100-800 CE, has a cat’s head and octopus tentacles. The cat’s fangs are great. Sculptures of human genitals presumably celebrate fecundity and the wonder of conception and birth. The art works are both earthy and other worldly, a splendid combination of the known and the mysterious.

One of the most intriguing pieces is a quipo, an arrangement of knotted cords in order to keep records. It dates form 1450-1532, and is elegantly arranged in a fan display, although it was likely meant to be purely functional. It has 226 strings, and no one but the maker can decipher its meaning. Some communities still possess quipo, but their system of counting is lost. For a civilization with no written records, quipo were a valuable innovation.

Artists of the past were skilled in metals, ceramics and fabrics. Once the Spanish arrived, the art became Catholic and often seems gloomy to me. Attempts were made to blend cultures, but the dividing line is death. The ancient cultures had a different attitude, and that is seen in their art and artifacts. The pre-columbian works are the most interesting , I thought, along with photographs of people.  Hans Brüning’s late 19th century photos and Eduardo Calderón’s 21st century photos are arresting.

One disturbing display is a video of Chancay tomb raiders who call themselves “Pirates of the Huacas.” Once these raiders loot a tomb, any archeological knowledge is lost forever, but, because there’s money to be made, they don’t care.  There’s something mystical about their activities as drugs are involved, but the destruction is permanent. The black market in art works thrives  presumably because of poverty and the collectors’ greed. This display is an effort at educating people about the danger of raiding and stealing art.

The Seattle Art Museum once again delivers an informative and beautiful exhibit.

Candace Fertile is a Victoria reviewer.