Inca Gold at the NGA

Review: Visual Arts

Inca Gold at the National Gallery of Australia.

This exhibition is an intriguing one. There is no doubt that the visitor gets a bang for their buck, in that there is lots of gold and many glittering objects in this exhibition.

This is not one of those where the marketing has talked about all that glitters, and you are disappointed to find the odd gold item and lots of other stuff. In this exhibition of 200 objects there are gold objects in abundance plus lots of other wonders.

Here’s a review of the Incas by Sasha Grishin (click here). He has provided an overview of what you will see. I think he enjoyed the exhibition, but he is not be clear as to whether he did or not.

Also check out the NGA listing of the images (click here)  under ‘galleries’ on this special website. For a smaller list of images, have a look at this page from Crikey.

There are lots of things I could mention. One series I returned to, was a series of portrait head stirrup vessels. See one to the right.

For me one of the surprises in the exhibition, Inca Gold, was the number and the calibre of the textiles. I had not become aware of these from any of the marketing. Admittedly they are not gold. But allow me to impress on you that they are really precious and if you are interested in textiles, definitely worth the visit as otherwise you will have to be off to Peru.

I found it curious that not much was made of the textiles in the review by Sacha Grishin and in other publicity materials.




I strongly encourage you to first take in the whole exhibition and then turn around and return to the textiles one by one so as to treat the textiles as an exhibition within the main exhibition. That these textiles survived in the condition that they are in, was definitely a surprise. The wall labels reveal the circumstances as to how this happened.

While I am aware that there has not been much of an emphasis on South America within Australia’s museums and galleries, neither has there been much to prepare the audience to get their heads around a museum show of so many precious cultural objects in the one exhibition. I wonder what will motivate many interstate people to pack the car or purchase that air ticket to ravel to Canberra to see this exhibition.

To these doubters, I suggest that besides the Inca Gold, there is much more.

There is the unique exhibition on at the National Library, Mapping Our World: Terra Incognita to Australia, that should be included in any itinerary. Then within the NGA there are many blockbuster equivalent exhibitions of the gallery’s permanent collection. These are not advertised well. But visitors going to the NGA to see Inca Gold should allow the time, or return the next day to wander amongst the Asian art, the Indian art, the photography, the great collections of contemporary and historic Indigenous art, as well as the sculpture inside and outside in the garden. There’s more than this intriguing exhibition of Gold and the Incas to see and enjoy at the NGA over this summer.

A final word. The exhibition is dark and uses very direct spotlights to light both objects as well as the labels. This adds to the drama but also means that at times it can be difficult to see as people stand close to the objects to read and to look at the fine work. If you can avoid the crowds, do so, as this will be important for your visit to this particular exhibition.



Paul Costigan, 30 December 2013

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