There are few things I find more relaxing than getting lost in a museum for an afternoon. Naturally, I was thrilled to have an opportunity to get a sneak preview of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art’s new exhibition, “Breath of Heaven, Breath of Earth: Ancient Near Eastern Art from American Collections”. Dating back as far as 6000 BCE, these exquisite works of art help weave a story of people and cultures from some of the world’s oldest civilizations including the Babylonians, Israelites and Persians.
The exhibit is organized into three main categories: the Divine, Human and Animal Realms. I first explored the Divine Realm of ancient gods and goddesses, taking time to marvel at the ways these ancient people depicted their deities. I then moved to the Human Realm, which featured royalty and the highly affluent. Some of the humans who paid to be immortalized artistically believed themselves to be godlike, while others commissioned works for religious purposes. I finished my exploration of the exhibit in the Animal Realm, where real and supernatural creatures roam. Artists were able to practice more creative freedom in the depiction of animals as there was not the same fear of offending a human or a god.
As I walked through the three Realms in the exhibit, I found myself trying to picture life as it was in the ancient Near East. Who were these people? What was life like for them thousands of years ago? The art that’s been preserved over the years allows us a rare glimpse into that world.
Different cultures, especially those separated by thousands of years, can seem so vastly different from our own, there couldn’t possibly be any commonalities. However, art is a universal method of expression that transcends written and spoken language, customs, and religion, and allows for a deeper understanding of those cultures without focusing on difference and war. I find that regardless of the level of passion one has for ancient art, unraveling the mysteries of history through the lens of art is powerful and compelling.
The “Breath of Heaven, Breath of Earth” exhibit has taken ten years to bring to fruition and brings together items from over 20 different institutions and private collectors. This represents a rare opportunity to museum visitors as these are items that are not normally accessible to audiences in the Western United States. The exhibit opened August 31st and runs through December 22nd and includes a variety of special activities including a lecture series, a film series, storytelling sessions, and a family activity day. There will also be gallery tours offered every Tuesday and several Saturdays.
Located in downtown Salem, The Hallie Ford Museum of Art is the third largest art museum in Oregon. In addition to special exhibitions, the museum also boasts permanent galleries featuring a diverse collection of Native American, Ancient European, American and Asian art.