Wednesday, March 20, 2013

An exhibit nearly 40k years in making

‘Ice Age Art’ broadly denotes figurative art done in Europe as well as Central Asia between say 40,000 and 12,000 years ago. When Jill Cook, the British Museum curator, describes the truly amazing works on view ‘deep-history art’, she indeed means it. Well, how many shows have you seen that can claim to present the oldest possible figurative art? Have you ever heard of an exhibit label describing the the “oldest known ceramic figure’ or ‘oldest known portrait of a woman’?

This is an opportunity to discover some exquisite masterpieces from the last Ice Age. They have all been drawn from across Europe as part of a new show at the British Museum. The exceptional pieces are being presented alongside several modern works by Mondrian, Matisse and Henry Moore, which illustrate the fundamental human desire for communicating and making art as a way of knowing ourselves and our place in this world.

Pieces attributed to Ice are mostly made of mammoth ivory and reindeer antler. They exude skilful, highly practised artists keen to experiment with perspectives, volumes, light, movement and scale, apart from showing eagerness to seek knowledge through imagination, illusion and abstraction. One of the most exciting pieces in this exhibit is a 23,000-year-old sculpture of an amazing abstract figure from Lespugue in France. Picasso was so fascinated with the fabulous figure that it greatly influenced his own sculptural works in 1930s.

Though an astonishing era divides us from these creative Ice Age minds, such evocative works underline the fact that expression and creativity have remained remarkably similar and vibrat across thousands of years despite passage of time. Created by artists with modern minds like our own, this is a great opportunity to check some of the world's oldest known sculptures, drawings and portraits.

What is perhaps less obvious, is the underlining significance of the figure’s nudity. According to the UK Telegraph writer Richard Dorment We believe that art started with the Greeks, and we tend to take nude figure almost for granted. However, the Ice Age got its name for a reason. People then went around wrapped in skins and furs. This means the representation of nudity, like the exaggeration and stylization of the body parts, had some symbolic meaning or was either an artistic convention.

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