When Maxwell L. Anderson, the director of the Dallas Museum of Art, opened the institution’s most recent exhibit, “Inca: Conquests of the Andes/Los Incas y las Conquistas de los Andes,” he made it very clear that one of the compelling reasons for its inclusion in the exhibition calendar was the increased patronage of Latino visitors to the museum.
Since the museum discontinued admittance fees to the permanent collection, the DMA has seen that demographic increase by 22 percent, it reports.
Turning to the Americas is the focus of many museums, especially those that border Mexico. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston has been extremely aggressive in this area. It is time museums in this area do the same, where it is appropriate to their mission and permanent collection.
The DMA has stepped up to do that. The title of the exhibit is bilingual, as is the gallery signage. It is also the first exhibit organized by the DMA dedicated exclusively to Andean art.
There are more than 120 objects on display, most of them from the permanent collection, due to the generosity of the John and Nora Wise family. In the 1970s, they left the museum their personal collection of Andean artifacts. Many of them are on display for the first time.
However impressive the number of objects, the exhibition covers a span of 1,000 years that encompasses the short-lived Inca empire (1400-1532) as well as the cultures that came before and after. So a great deal of history is covered by a few objects that exemplify the cultural convergence of the various South American peoples.
It was organized by the DMA’s curator of the Arts of the America, Kimberly L. Jones, who spread her history net wide, and the results are shallow in scope.
The Kimbell Art Museum’s “Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes” in 2013 was much more succinct and focused on one of the Andean cultures with more objects, a more varied collection and extremely informative signage.
This DMA exhibit is dependent on the artworks gathered by the Wises, who were avid collectors of textiles, and so there are numerous examples of four-cornered hats, ponchos and bags used by men for carrying cocoa leaves.
Many of the items look so contemporary, with their patterns and decorative twists, that they look like they were stripped from the display windows at Anthropologie.
The highlight of the exhibit is a tunic made for an elite Inca male with a black-and-white checkerboard pattern that stair-steps down from a red neckline. The DMA is justifiably proud of the many textiles in its collection of art from the Americas; the pieces are in exemplary condition and the dyes are still vivid.
What visitors expect to see is not the high thread content of the fashions of ancient civilizations, but the dazzle of their accessories. There are a few gold objects, drinking cups primarily, used for the corn beer.
There are also tiny figures used in the capacocha rituals. Not much is mentioned about the purpose for these little guys and gals, as many of the cultures practiced the sacrifice of children to appease the gods.
And this is the problem with exhibits of pre-Columbian cultures: The religious practices that seem repugnant now are dodged, and the epicurean fascination with the eating and drinking of chocolate and corn-based substances is beneath discussion.
The exhibit ends with a marvelous tapestry that is a cross-cultural mashup of Day of the Dead imagery and the Crucifixion. It sort of sums up the whole timeline for these cultures: They had an abundant and rich artistic heritage; then the Spanish arrived and everything changed.
Gaile Robinson, 817-390-7113
Inca: Conquests of the Andes/Los Incas y las Conquistas de los Andes
▪ Through Nov. 15
▪ Dallas Museum of Art
1717 N. Harwood St., Dallas
▪ $16, $14 seniors and military personnel, $12 students; free to DMA partners and children 11 and under
▪ 214-922-1200, www.dma.org