Sacred Stories, Timeless Tales:

Mythic Traditions in World Art

from the Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami
On view through October 23, 2011

Sacred Stories, Timeless Tales addresses multi-cultural mythic traditions in art, drawn exclusively from the permanent collection of the Lowe Art Museum, which distinguishes itself among South Florida art museums by the depth and breadth of its holdings, which span 5,000 years and represent the art of Europe, the Americas, pan-Asia, and Africa. Concepts of creation, love, morality, mortality, seasonal regeneration, the cosmos, beauty, divinity, heroes, and war are explored in some 100 examples of ceramics, paintings, works on paper, sculpture, and textiles.

Mythic traditions are rooted in fictitious, symbolic narratives developed by cultures through time, which address the relationship between the inexplicable and the explicable, between the powers and forces that control the world and the human beings who occupy that world. Frequently reflecting regional differences, these sacred stories helped, and in some present-day cultures continue to help elucidate a people’s religion, history, value systems, rituals, and concepts of self. As myths exist apart from, and are not dependent upon, verifiable facts or scientific objectivity for their impact on society, they typically involve deities, heroes, wondrous creatures, and fantastic events. Some renderings faithfully adhere to time-honored visual conventions. Others reflect more personal interpretations of traditional subject matter.

Among the featured objects are a 6th century BCE Greek, black-figure hydria, which describes a myth about the goddess Athena in the presence of Ajax and Achilles; Jacob Jordaen’s The Judgment of Paris, painted around 1620;  storyteller figure by Native American artist Mary Trujillo; an African Kuba mask known as Moshambwooy that represents the myth of the ancestral figure Woot;  a 19th century Japanese wood-block print that relates a ghost story; Richard Stankiewicz’s scrap metal sculpture, The River Styx, from 1953; St. George by Moises Finale; Theodoros Stamos’ Persephone from 1945; a contemporary metal cutout of a siren by Haitian artist Serge Jolimeau; and a 10th century sandstone sculpture of Ganesha Breaking His Tusk to Throw at the Moon.

Mythological narratives were originally transmitted and preserved orally, during eras when people could neither read nor write, and paper was not available. Written traditions did not develop until a later moment on mankind’s cultural time line, as scribes and poets sought to formally preserve stories in writing, lest they disappear. Artistic expression dramatically bridges both word-based systems, transforming into vivid pictorial or sculptural forms, concepts that spoken and textual forms of communication can only convey through mental images. Regardless of cultural derivation or individual inspiration, all the works on the exhibition represent an artistic urge to visually address those universal questions to which mythologies respond, and which unite humankind through time.

Funding for this exhibition and catalog was made possible through the Linnie E. Dalbeck Memorial Endowment Fund. Additional programmatic support is provided through the Department of Cultural Affairs, the Miami-Dade Mayor and Board of County Commissioners, Beaux Arts, Friends of Art, and the general membership of the Lowe Art Museum.

Above Image Captions:

(top) Paul Sierra, United States (born Cuba), b. 1944, Graces, 1996, oil on canvas, 60 x 120", Gift of the Artist, 2001.08 ©1996 Paul Sierra

(bottom) Mary Trujillo, Cochiti Pueblo (New Mexico, United States), b. 1937, Male Storyteller, 2005, pottery and paint, 12 7/8 x 8 1/2 x 10 3/4", Museum purchase through funds from Beaux Arts, 2005.17 © Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami

China, Qing Dynasty, 1644-1911
Empress' Twelve Symbol Robe, 1830s
silk, dye, metallic thread and copper alloy, 59 x 69 1/4"
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. C. Ruxton Love, 58.304.000

Ann McCoy, United States, b. 1946
Underworld, 1980

lithograph, 42 x 30"
Gift of Nancy Radin, 83.0192.02
© 1980 Ann McCoy

Beau Dick, Kwakwaka'wakw (Canada), b. 1955
Button Robe, 1988

wool, cashmere, cotton, dye, beads and haliotis buttons and plaques, 59 3/4 x 71"
Museum purchase through funds from Beaux Arts in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Lowe Art Museum, 2002.29.1
©1988 Beau Dick

Japan, Edo Period, 1615-1868
Shoki and Oni
, 18th century

ivory and stain, 2 1/4 x 1 5/8 x 7/8"
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Joseph Kurstin, 2002.46.13

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