Upside Down Arctic Realities

Apr 15 – Jul 17, 2011
Main Building

Upside Down Arctic Realities is an ambitious project that presents rare and significant artifacts from the Arctic region. These works, from ancient periods ranging from 1000 BCE to 1400 CE, and from major sites including Ekven in Russia, Ipiutak in Alaska, and Old Bering Sea cultures, explore the relationship of the aesthetics of native cultures to their remote environment. Selected from private and public collections in several countries, the objects illustrate the culture’s sensory perceptions of the landscape, spiritual and physical orientations, and perspectives on the living and imagined universe. As there is no formal distinction between utilitarian and decorative objects in Eskimo art, this show is comprised of a range of works, including everyday objects, amulets, masks, and funerary offerings. In addition, there will be a selection of ceremonial masks from the modern Yup'ik, demonstrating the persistence of ancient traditions in modern times.

This exhibition is based on the groundbreaking scholarship of Dr. Edmund Carpenter, who in the 1973 publication Eskimo Realities distinguished Eskimo concepts of art from those of the West. He showed that Eskimo concepts of art are rooted in the creative process itself, focusing on the interaction between artist and material more than the finished product as such.

To present these works in an appropriate sensory and experiential context, visual artist Doug Wheeler was invited to create an environment within the exhibition space. A pioneer of the Light and Space movement in Southern California in the 1960s, he manipulated the exhibition’s atmospheric qualities, eliciting the vast Arctic’s extreme conditions of brightness and darkness.

Curated by Edmund Carpenter and originally organized by the Musée du quai Branly, Paris,Upside Down Arctic Realities is presented only at the Menil Collection in North America.

This exhibition is generously supported by the Rock Foundation, Edmund Carpenter and Adelaide de Menil, and the City of Houston.

Photos: Paul Hester