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Indepth Arts News:

"Odyssey Into World Art Spans Time, Place, and Culture"
1999-10-16 until 0000-00-00
Peabody Essex Museum
Salem, MA, USA United States of America

Can you see the world differentlyNULL Take the Peabody Essex Museum’s Odyssey, and you may not see it the same way again. Odyssey: A Journey Into World Art features a marvelous ensemble of more than 300 artworks designed to take visitors on a voyage through people, landscapes, and the natural and spiritual worlds. This one-of-a-kind exhibition will excite museum audiences by intermingling an amazingly diverse group of objects in ways that transcend traditional notions of culture, place, and time.

Odyssey: A Journey Into World Art opens to the public October 16 and will run through the fall of 2001.

We want to push the boundaries, says Paula Richter, co-curator for the exhibition. There will be objects in Odyssey that people will be comfortable with, juxtaposed with those that are less familiar. We hope that visitors will make connections they’ve never made before.

The exhibition will recreate the spirit of the Peabody Essex Museum’s founders — a group of bold, seafaring entrepreneurs who forged new international trade routes and established ties with cultures around the globe. As such, the exhibition will kick off the museum’s bicentennial year by celebrating the best of its diverse collections of international art, architecture, and culture. But Odyssey is no history field trip. Stunning contemporary works, combined with an audio tour and interactive computer kiosks, promise a fascinating museum experience for the visitors who take this trip.

Odyssey celebrates the cross-cultural conversation taking place on the Internet and on trading floors all over the world, says exhibition co-curator John Grimes. It presents older and contemporary works of art that allow people to look at our world in new ways.

Odyssey will combine works by American masters John James Audubon, John Singleton Copley, Fitz Hugh Lane, and John Singer Sargent, with scores of others from India, China, Japan, Zaire, and many more countries. Each section of the exhibition — encountering people, places, and the natural and spiritual worlds — is designed to encourage visitors to see artistic expression in a new light.

One group of portraits, for example, is comprised of Copley’s 1765 portrait Sarah Irving Waldo, a late-nineteenth-century Japanese iron mask, and a contemporary photograph by Mexican photographer Graciele Iturbide.

These works can be seen as the ideal non-traditional family — man, woman, and child from diverse worlds and times. Or each can be viewed as attempts at consciously created identity. Sarah Irving Waldo’s clothing, posture, and setting are carefully crafted to radiate affluence and status. The iron mask from Japan is designed to disguise the warrior’s identity and give him an aggressive and taunting character. And the young girl whom Iturbide photographed wears an angel costume to heighten the portrayal of innocence. Another group of objects presents startling visions of death, ancestry, and immortality. One section includes famed maritime artist Michele Felice Corne’s 1807 Death of William, and two early nineteenth century artworks — Apotheosis of Captain Cook and Apotheosis of Washington. Nearby sits an early-nineteenth-century death mask crafted to preserve the face of a New England woman whose identity is now lost. And there are the hollow eyes of an ancient Japanese tomb guardian figure who once stood watch over a noble’s grave. Yet another section takes visitors face to face with powerful spiritual art. The awesome giant Hawaiian war god, Kuka’ilimoku, will stand near a pocket-sized Japanese Bodhisattva from the fourteenth century. The rock crystal Christ Child as Savior of the World, from sixteenth- or seventeenth-century India or Sri Lanka, is adorned with rubies and sapphires for the wealthy European customers who sought images of their Lord in the East. And the vibrant colors of contemporary Hopi painter Dan Lomahaftewa’s works convey the energy and power of humankind’s journey between spiritual worlds.

The Peabody Essex has refurbished its East India Marine Hall, a National Historic Landmark, and redesigned two other major galleries for Odyssey. Within the galleries, a wide range of new media will heighten the journey through the exhibition. An audio tour will include dramatic narrative, sounds, and music to accompany the objects. Computer kiosks will offer additional information about the works. Visitors can create their own portraits by digital video camera and add them to the wall of portraits. And at Odyssey’s end, they can use the Internet to send an e-mail postcard about their own journey to friends and family.

This will be a completely new kind of museum experience for many of our visitors, says Grimes. They will see some of the museum’s finest treasures from throughout the world, encompassing hundreds of years of human creativity right up to the present day.

The museum will hold a series of related programs and community events together with Odyssey and the museum’s bicentennial, including:

* An October 2 Gala Ball.

* A Family Fest birthday party October 17.

* The Parker Lecture Series, featuring internationally known speakers on art, architecture, history, and culture. Speakers include author and historian David McCollough, and maritime explorer Robert Ballard.

* The Bicentennial Community Celebration, including a day of festivities in the spring of 2000.

* The Global Treasure Hunt. The Peabody Essex Museum will fly up to ten adventure seekers to points around the globe next spring in search for works of art and culture to celebrate the spirit of entrepreneurs who founded the museum as the East India Marine Society in 1799.

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