Although many say the Yale University Art Gallery is home to a gold mine of art, a recent exhibition is, literally, a gold mine of art.
Friday marked the gallery’s inaugural exhibition from the Department of Indo-Pacific Art, a division of the museum founded in March 2009. The show, titled “Old Javanese Gold: The Hunter Thompson Collection,” displays 200 of the roughly 500 gold objects from Java that comprise one of the department’s three primary collections, said Ruth Barnes, the Thomas Jaffe Curator of Indo-Pacific Art at the gallery. In
addition to gold artifacts, the museum possesses an array of Indonesian textiles and wood sculptures.
“[The department furthers] the gallery’s efforts to expand the reach of its collection and research to represent more accurately the diversity and scope of world culture,” gallery Director Jock Reynolds said in a press release published when the department was founded.
Barnes said the strength of the gallery’s collection of Javanese gold pieces — one of the world’s most comprehensive, outside a collection in Jakarta, Indonesia — made it her top choice for the department’s first exhibition.
“The Met has some nice pieces, but it’s by no means as extensive as ours,” Barnes said. She added that for ancient Javanese gold work, 500 pieces is a lot at any institution.
As the Department of Indo-Pacific Art will not have its own gallery space until the reopening of the renovated wings of the gallery in fall 2012, the exhibition has been mounted in the Asian art exhibition space. Located on the second floor of the Louis Kahn-designed wing of the gallery, this area of the museum has remained open through the construction project. Benjamin Diebold, an assistant in the Indo-Pacific Art Department, said that when the rest of the gallery reopens, the African art collection will move out of the second floor of the Kahn building and the Indo-Pacific pieces will be installed in its place.
The gold pieces, most of which were found at archaeological sites in Java, date from between the eigth and 14th centuries C.E. and include jewelry, funerary masks and the handles of ceremonial daggers traditionally believed to have mystical protective powers.
Barnes divided the exhibition into six categories, ranging from pieces used at court to artifacts found in burial sites.
“I just want people to appreciate how wonderful this art form can be,” Barnes said. “It has a wonderful sparkle.”
Diebold said the exhibition should appeal to the public on the very basis of the pieces’ medium: gold.
“Gold is intrinsically appealing,” Diebold said. “It’s accessible to a wide range of people, including kids.”
Among the pieces that might appeal to children, Diebold added, are a number of gold hoops worn on the feet of pet birds, which Barnes arranged in a row along the front of a case — “decoration for the pets,” Diebold said.
Barnes noted that for the Indo-Pacific Art Department’s next exhibition, she would like to place the department’s collection of textiles on view.
“As soon as possible, I want to develop a textile exhibition,” she said. “That could be a couple of years down the road, because of planning and writing and research and conservation.”
The exhibition runs through August 14.