Cold grey drizzle over London but in the British Museum’s El Dorado it was pitch black with case after case of gold artefacts shimmering under their spotlights- and security in every corner.
A big exhibition and really immersive given that so many of the objects were basically the same: chest plates, earrings, nose rings, head ornaments…
I managed to come away with a feeling of having been among these peoples for a while. Quotes from the 16th century helped – one described the women paddling canoes with their feet while knitting baskets and transporting fruit on their heads…I could hear the swish of the water….
Given the terrible indignities the indigenous people suffered at the hands of the Spanish because of the European greed and thirst for gold it was extrodinary to discover that the majority of the work is an alloy – 85% copper.
On top of that the people themselves valued the items for their spiritual and ritualistic worth: monetary value had no place in it at all.
Looking at the intricacy that they could achieve using lost wax castings was just humbling. We think ourselves so clever.
I went all the way round the exhibition and my previous life as a jewellry buyer marvelled at the skill and the craftsmanship, but my heart fell for a beautiful clay pot decorated with piercings.
I collect used clay domestic vessels from all over the world – and its shape, decoration, soft colour and smoked exterior just called to me.
Similarly a Jeff Koons in my house would do nothing for me whereas a Giacometti drawing I couldn’t pass without it being part of my day to look at it.
Size, texture, shape, colour, media, the past or the present, the personal story or the impersonal, the dark or the joyful – we artists are wrapped in our own cloaks of preferences and life experiences.
I think they just roll down our arms and into the work.