Approximately 50 shields - few of which have ever been seen publicly - comprise the exhibition, loaned by the University of Pennsylvania Museum, the Field Museum in Chicago, the Peabody Museums in Cambridge and Salem, and the Smithsonian Institution, in addition to a number of shields from private collections.
Exhibition organizers say the multicultural, interdisciplinary approach of "Protection, Power and Display," and the depiction of shields as sculptural works of art rather than anthropological artifacts, make for an enormous visual presence that is integrated with the visual traditions of their makers.
"The exhibition seeks to incorporate the shield form into an expanded canon of art historical investigation," explained Museum Director Nancy Netzer. "It creates a dialogue between the art historian and the anthropologist. When exhibited in the West, shields have traditionally been treated as weapons, despite the fact that their makers placed great emphasis on their aesthetics, craft and symbolism."
"'Protection, Power and Display' will be the first exhibition to explore the shield as a significant artistic form as well as a source of ethnographic information," noted guest curator Adj. Asst. Prof. Andrew Tavarelli (Fine Arts), and will demonstrate that shields incorporate and reflect a combination of social, spiritual, ceremonial and aesthetic aspects of the cultures in which they were made.
"The shields will be shown to offer an irregular keyhole through which to view the rich and varied societies that produced them," Tavarelli added.
An additional exhibition, "John Moore: Urban Landscapes," also will be on display from Oct. 6 through Dec. 10.
The museum has also organized a series of talks this fall to highlight different aspects of the exhibitions, presented by Tavarelli and five experts in various disciplines who contributed essays to an accompanying catalogue. The catalogue is intended for a wide audience, including scholars, artists and the general public, Netzer said, and reproduces all the exhibited shields - most published for the first time - in either black-and-white or color.
The lecture series begins Tuesday, Oct. 10, with Susan Rodgers, a professor of anthropology at the College of the Holy Cross, speaking on "Beyond Shields: The Indonesian Arts of Protection in Transition." Michael O'Hanlon, assistant keeper of ethnography for the British Museum, will present "Medusa's Art: Interpreting Melanesian Shields" on Oct. 17 as part of the Lowell Lecture Humanities Series. Research scholar, collector and curator Steven Alpert will speak on "Indonesian Shields" on Oct. 25, and Tavarelli will present "Indonesian Shields in a Broader Context" on Nov. 14. All events will be held in Devlin 101 at 7 p.m.
In addition, the Lowell Lecture Humanities Series will feature John Moore discussing his work on Oct. 22 at 4 p.m. in Devlin 101, and Tavarelli will present a gallery talk on Nov. 2 at noon in the museum.
The museum will be open Monday through Friday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and weekends from noon to 5 p.m. The museum will be closed holidays and Oct. 7, 14 and 21, and Nov. 11 and 23.
Organized by the Museum of Art, the exhibition is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, Saiman Eranawan and Camerindo Sakti International, Inc.
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