THIS AINT YOUR ITALIAN LAST SUPPER While I was looking at this fabulously Peruvian version of the Last Supper last week, a man came up to me who was absolutely giddy. Thats guinea pig! he said. Those are fruits you only get in Peru! He was laughing. He said he was from Peru, and he was extremely proud, and he also found a guinea pig Last Supper just funny. He was pretty great.
  • JG
  • THIS AIN'T YOUR ITALIAN LAST SUPPER While I was looking at this fabulously Peruvian version of the Last Supper last week, a man came up to me who was absolutely giddy. "That's guinea pig!" he said. "Those are fruits you only get in Peru!" He was laughing. He said he was from Peru, and he was extremely proud, and he also found a guinea pig Last Supper just funny. He was pretty great.

Thursday night at Seattle Art Museum, the galleries containing Peru: Kingdoms of the Sun and the Moon, were packed with people. The exhibition just opened on October 19, and closes tomorrow, which seems such a short time given the crush of holidays.

At first, I had mixed feelings about wholeheartedly recommending the big show. It tries to take on 3,000 years of Peruvian history, telling the history of the Andean region from ancient civilizations to indigenous 20th-century hybridities, from gold dug up at Macchu Picchu to "indigenismo" folk paintings from the 1930s, in the Mexican muralist style.

ARMED ARCHANGEL Plaster, cloth, lace, metal, the neck of a giraffe, and, you know, a firearm. This sculpture from the second half of the 20th century mixes the sacred and the secular. It was made by Juana Mendivil Duenas De Olarte.
  • JG
  • ARMED ARCHANGEL Plaster, cloth, lace, metal, the neck of a giraffe, and, you know, a firearm. This sculpture from the second half of the 20th century mixes the sacred and the secular. It was made by Juana Mendivil Duenas De Olarte.
The flaws are like this: In emphasizing the Spanish colonial story, Peru leaves out lots of other flavors of influx that have formed Peruvian culture, from Chinese to African and far beyond. At the start, there is a rather boring emphasis on Hiram Bingham, the Yale-educated missionary "discoverer" of Macchu Picchu in 1911. And throughout, the storytelling is murky and officious. The heavy reliance on chronology feels to me like it obscures what's most interesting, especially since the central tension of the story is between times rather than peoples, exactly, between ideas and artifacts associated with the past and ideas and artifacts associated with the present and projected future. Those two never meet here. They're separated by rooms, almost like individual shows. I just wanted more linkage. (There's more in the catalog, but it is enormous, and I imagine few but diehards will make it through.)

The best moments are the ones where those links become strongly hinted at. The period in which Spanish rulers allied themselves symbolically with Inca royals is fascinating, and produced some seriously weird paintings and sculptures. A certain blandness in tone and unspecificity with details might be partly caused by the fact that this exhibition is almost as much an art show as a piece of cultural PR for a recently elected government in Peru (2011) that wants to do business abroad. The official who presided over the opening actually announced, essentially, "Now let's do business!" Seattle is the only showplace for the exhibition in the United States. (It was organized in Montreal.)

All that said, I've come to the conclusion that there's just too much great stuff in there for me to do anything except say: GO.

ROSE OF LIMA She was the first person born in the Americas to be canonized by the Catholic Church. Please note the suspicious creature in the bottom left corner.
  • JG
  • ROSE OF LIMA She was the first person born in the Americas to be canonized by the Catholic Church. Please note the suspicious creature in the bottom left corner.

NOT THE VIRGIN, BUT A GIANT EFFIGY OF THE VIRGIN Are you looking closely at these paintings? You really should. They are WILD. This one depicts a giant effigy erected above a Peruvian town. You can see the townspeople going about their business in the foreground and at the sides of the towering statue. And dont miss the trio of chubby decapitated baby heads.
  • JG
  • NOT THE VIRGIN, BUT A GIANT EFFIGY OF THE VIRGIN Are you looking closely at these paintings? You really should. They are WILD. This one depicts a giant effigy erected above a Peruvian town. You can see the townspeople going about their business in the foreground and at the sides of the towering statue. And don't miss the trio of chubby decapitated baby heads.

Now here's an ancient sculpture of a giddy man receiving a sexual favor. Brueghel would have loved it.

GIDDY! Dated 200 B.C.-100 A.D., from Salinar. Its a bottle.
  • JG
  • GIDDY! Dated 200 B.C.-100 A.D., from Salinar. It's a bottle.