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Indepth Arts News:

"Dress Codes: Abstraction in Wari Textiles of Peru"
2001-07-27 until 2001-10-15
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Los Angeles, CA, USA

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art - LACMA - opens Dress Codes: Abstraction in Wari Textiles of Peru Thursday, July 26. The masterpiece upon which the exhibition will focus is an ancient Peruvian tunic -- recently purchased with funds provided by Camilla Chandler Frost and Robert and Mary Looker through LACMA’s 2000 Collectors Committee -- woven about 1200 years ago. The tunic is an excellent example of the artistry and technical virtuosity of early Andean weavers and serves to highlight LACMA's important collection of textiles from this area of South America. The exhibition will display two additional tunics, several large tunic fragments of similar design, as well as examples of headwear and bags.

Textiles in the exhibition were woven by artists of the Wari civilization; people from the high Andes of central Peru who created an empire that encompassed much of the territory from Ecuador to the border of Chile. The period from 600–900 was particularly rich in the textile history of that Andean region. Garments produced in the labor-intensive weave of tapestry demanded an extraordinary amount of material and human resources, and the complexity of patterns, colors, and images that characterize textile design suggests that weavers were allowed wide latitude for independent thinking and creativity. LACMA’s newly acquired Peruvian tunic’s grid format, serial imagery, and regular pattern permutations reveal an intense and sophisticated exploration of abstraction—an aesthetic inquiry usually associated only with the fine arts of the 20th century.

Dress Codes provides a unique opportunity to view the museum’s collection of Wari textiles that illustrate the weavers' manipulation of natural forms and iconic images in a spectrum from simple stylization to nearly illegible abstraction. Since a written language from that region has yet to be discovered, it is believed that much information was encoded in the design and imagery on textiles. Extensive research suggests that varying combinations of patterns with meanings and associations universally understood by the culture may have acted in the same way as a language, and therefore that levels of literacy may have been dependent upon knowledge of reciprocal relationships between abstract patterns.

Chromatic relationships were also essential to the fragmentation and reconstruction of form; pattern analysis of textiles from this period indicates that color almost certainly had symbolic as well as formal significance, although no written record exists to explain its complex system of consistence and anomaly. Considering the antiquity of LACMA's textiles, the intensity and vibrancy of their colors are remarkable, attesting to the skill of the dyers as well as to the artistry of the weavers.

The exhibition will include some graphic material used as an aid in deciphering the iconographic elements on textiles with intricate abstract patterning.

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