Exhibition at San Antonio Museum of Art highlights recent acquisitions and rarely seen works

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Exhibition at San Antonio Museum of Art highlights recent acquisitions and rarely seen works
Cat Mummy, Egyptian, Roman period, 30 B.C.–395 A.D., Cat remains, linen, pigment, 20 × 7 in. (50.8 × 17.8 cm), Gift of Gilbert M. Denman, Jr., 91.80.206, Photography by Peggy Tenison.

SAN ANTONIO, TX.- Over the course of its 40-year history, the San Antonio Museum of Art has developed an expansive 30,000-object collection that represents human creation and experience from across thousands of years and from cultures spread across six continents. In its upcoming exhibition, 40 Years, 40 Stories: Treasures and New Discoveries from SAMA’s Collection, SAMA will present works from the collection that are currently held in storage and that have been selected by members of the Museum’s curatorial team as works of particular personal interest, inspiration, and fascination. Many of the 40 objects chosen for the show have been off view for numerous years, while others are being presented for the first time. In other instances, artworks capture little-known or under-studied artistic and cultural narratives. Together, the works engage audiences anew with SAMA’s broad-ranging holdings and highlight the depth, range, and dynamism of the collection. 40 Years, 40 Stories will be on view from October 16, 2021–January 2, 2022.

“All of the artworks featured in the exhibition have a story to tell about culture, community, and history. The exhibition provides an exciting range of creative and technical innovation through time and captures the ways in which material culture has always been and continues to be essential to both constructing and understanding the world in which we live,” said Jessica Powers, Interim Chief Curator and The Gilbert M. Denman, Jr. Curator of Art of the Ancient Mediterranean World. “At the same time, re-examining our collection felt like the perfect way to celebrate the Museum’s 40th anniversary. It’s an opportunity to explore how the collection has evolved and is also instructive as we continue to bring works into our holdings that capture the diversity of artistic production across time, geography, and media.”

Among the highlights in the exhibition is the reinstallation of the monumental painting Mary, Lady Arundell of Wardour (1767) by the famed English painter Sir Joshua Reynolds. The full-length portrait was acquired by SAMA in 1981 and held a prominent position in its European decorative arts gallery for many years. In 2016, the painting was sent to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston for a multi-year conservation project, which was completed this year. The newly conserved painting reveals a new depth of detail and color within Reynolds’ composition. The removal of old, discolored layers of retouching and varnish has given the portrait a fresher and more balanced look. Another work in the exhibition that is being presented following recent conservation is the late 17th- to early 18th-century Chinese handscroll, Peach Blossom Spring. The work depicts the tale of a fisherman who discovers a utopian community. Following a long period of storage, the handscroll was repaired and remounted so that it can be safely unrolled for viewing.

40 Years, 40 Stories also presents for the first time several new acquisitions, including an exquisitely carved Islamic amulet that was acquired in 2013. The amulet is inscribed with 63 Names of God and a verse from the Qur’an, and was intended to invoke divine protection. The exhibition will also feature a recently acquired petrosphere, a massive stone sphere that weighs more than 600 pounds and was produced by the ancient inhabitants of Costa Rica. Found in groups, these spheres demarcated features of the landscape for communities in the Diquís region, though their precise meaning is not yet understood. The exhibition will also be the first occasion to show Celia Eberle’s sculptural installation Moss Grotto (2016) at SAMA. Recently acquired in 2019, this monumental work invites contemplation of the inevitability of Nature and of human loss.

Other objects in the exhibition include embroidered textiles made by Salvadoran refugees who fled their country’s civil war in the 1980s that have never previously been shown; a mosaic depicting a Nereid that was thought to be an ancient Roman work but was later discovered to be a 20th-century copy after a floor in the Baths of the Seven Sages, Ostia; a richly carved Yoruba veranda post; and a painted portrait of Pola Negri, a femme fatale of 1920s and 30s Hollywood who retired to San Antonio and left her glamorous portrait to the Museum.

Works in 40 Years, 40 Stories will be organized loosely by subject, function, and aesthetic resonance, capturing the ways in which seemingly disparate objects relate to and connect in dialogue together. The exhibition is curated by Powers, with objects selected by members of SAMA’s curatorial, collections, and education teams.

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