BY ANNA MARSZALEK
Can silver imbue objects with a soul, with a life all their own? The ancient peoples of Peru believed it could. It’s hard not to share that belief when faced with the dazzling artifacts collected in Luminescence: the Silver of Peru, on now until March 9 at the University of Toronto Art Centre.
Curated by Anthony Shelton, director of the UBC’s Museum of Anthropology, the exhibition spans 2,000 years of Peruvian art and culture through the likes of pre-Columbian crowns, jewels and tunics, plus paintings and sculptures from the 16th century to today. All told, it’s the largest collection of silver relics currently residing in Canada. Most of the assembled artifacts have never before left Peru.
Silver’s “divine” qualities unite the 140 priceless examples of South American metallurgy; historically, the way the blazing desert sun reflected off the precious metal lent it an appearance of being inhabited by a godlike presence. By manipulating the museum’s lighting, Dr. Shelton recreates this deific reality.
Keenly aware of their ancestors’ silver-studded work, contemporary Peruvian artists have continued the tradition in their own pieces.
A worthy example: artist Jorge Alfredo Perez’s 2009 sculpture, An Angel’s Anatomy, references many of the silver angels portrayed in 17th- and 18th-century paintings, while simultaneously humanizing these spiritual beings to indicate more modern beliefs.
Located at the heart of Toronto’s museum district, with walking-distance neighbours including the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario, the U of T Art Centre is something of a hidden gem, tucked as it is within the historic halls of University College. Nonetheless, it is the third largest public fine-art gallery in the city, and frequently welcomes touring exhibitions of the highest quality—including, of course, its current offering of Peruvian art—while maintaining an impressive permanent collection of Medieval and Byzantine pieces, as well as 20th-century works by significant Canadian artists including the Group of Seven.
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