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No Arachnophobia Here

POSTED BY , ON June 08, 2011, Comments Off

With the opening of the new galleries of African art and Indian art of the Americas, we’ve been able to showcase not only many pieces from our permanent collection that have never been on view, but also several spectacular loans. And one of the most spectacular—and one that required the work of 80 people and over a million spiders—is the spider-silk textile in the African art galleries. This Malagasy textile is made from the silk of the native Golden Orb Spider, a material that is extremely elastic and stronger than kevlar. Textiles like this are incredibly rare because the process is incredibly time-consuming (over five years, in our case) and these spiders are nearly impossible to domesticate.

Check out the video above to hear interesting commentary from curator Kathleen Bickford Berzock and conservator Lauren Chang, as well as see images of these palm-sized spiders in the wild. Proving once again that the creation process is not for the faint of heart.

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Grand Opening: African Art and Indian Art of the Americas

POSTED BY , ON June 03, 2011, 1 COMMENTS

After four years of extensive planning and construction, the new galleries of African art and Indian art of the Americas are now open in the Art Institute’s lower Morton Wing. Working with the California-based architectural firm wHY (Workshop Hakomori Yantrasast), our curators have created a dynamic space that showcases for the first time the museum’s full range of culturally diverse artworks and artifacts from Africa and the Americas. Colorful wall graphics provide maps and a comparative timeline and original videos by filmmaker Susan Vogel bring these artworks to life by presenting them in their cultural context.

The ritual cache figure featured above comes from the Salado culture, which flourished in the mountains of west-central New Mexico five hundred years ago. The object, discovered wrapped and hidden in a remote cave, formed part of an altar for people to commune with the spirits of the earth. The large wooden male figure personifies the sky, as can be seen in his bold zig-zag turquoise pattern and feather necklace.

When the Yoruba people of West Africa greet a king, they say, “May the crown rest long on your head and may shoes remain long on your feet.” For special occasions, a Yoruba king is dressed from his head to feet in elaborate beaded and cloth garments. These fantastic beaded slippers probably became part of the king’s regalia some time in the 18th or early 19th-century, as European fashion gained prestige in the region.

Simple photographs do not do many of these objects justice. The new space allows for large textiles and other impressive figures to be displayed for the first time. As part of the inaugural installation of the new galleries, a remarkable selection of special loans will be on display throughout the year. Be sure to check out these state-of-the-art installations on your next visit to the Art Institute.

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