In 1967, Krannert Art Museum acquired a significant collection of ancient Andean art from Fred Olsen, an industrial chemist whose fascination with the nature of creativity and abstract design drew him to these highly expressive works of art. This extraordinary collection of over 600 objects represents a wide range of cultures and aesthetic styles that flourished throughout the coastal and highland regions of Peru from 1500 B.C.E. to the Spanish conquest of 1532, including Chavin, Paracas, Nazca, Moche, Wari, Huwara, Lambayeque, Chimu, Chancay, and Inka.
The artworks currently on view are grouped by the culture and period of their makers and feature an exquisite array of ceremonial vessels, textiles, metalwork, and jewelry associated with the burial sites and ritual centers of vast tributary states.
Whether painted on a surface, woven in cloth, or molded into their forms, the rich iconography of these works reveals how Andean artists visualized cosmological ideas relating to cycles of life and death and to the power that flowed between the social, natural, and spiritual worlds: mythological creatures merging animal with human imagery were associated with divine Moche, Wari and Inka rulers; stylized frogs symbolized the preciousness of water to Nasca inhabitants of the desert coast; and the proliferation of trophy head imagery spoke to the vital life force believed to be transferred to Paracas warriors from their slain enemies.
In fall 2016, KAM curators invited an interdisciplinary group of Andean studies scholars to the museum to review the collection and help lay the conceptual groundwork for a dynamic future installation. Together we envision an approach that will reveal the networks of communication and artistic exchange that informed the visual technologies, imagery, and ideologies of these diverse Andean societies.
With the new installation, we hope to alert visitors to the broader historiography of the region and ask how these ancient arts relate to contemporary politics of indigeneity, self-determination, and the protection of Andean cultural heritage.
Author: Allyson Purpura, Senior Curator and Curator of Global African Art