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New exhibits show DUMA's diversity

After one glance around the Duke University Museum of Art, anyone with even an inkling of appreciation for human creativity is instantly awed by the breadth and quality of the work housed there.

As three new exhibits open today, DUMA reminds the Duke and Durham communities what die-hard visual arts fans already know. Far from the cosmopolitan arts culture of large cities, DUMA boasts an impressively diverse collection. These three exhibits, ranging from ancient Egypt to present-day Russia, perfectly illustrate this diversity.

"A Generation of Antiquities: the Duke Classical Collection 1964-1994" contains an amazing group of ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian art. "Designing Women: Textiles from Ancient Peru" shows works from a civilization an ocean--and centuries--away. "Colored Engravings Based on the Aphorisms of Kozma Prutkov, `The Greatest Russian Writer Who Never Lived"' brings to the museum a more modern and unusual collection.

"A Generation of Antiquities," curated by classics professor Keith Stanley, brings together the ever growing collection of ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian artifacts held by the classical studies department. In previous years these antiquities have been used as a teaching tool for classical studies students. Put together as an art exhibit, the works rival similar specimens shown in any international museum. In fact, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York loaned the Duke Classical Collection some of the works.

Across the world, both during the reign of the Greeks and Romans and beyond, the native inhabitants of Peru were expressing their creativity in cloth rather than clay or stone. "Designing Women: The Weavers of Pre-Colombian Peru," is a small exhibit of woven textiles emphasizing the artistic skills of pre-Columbian South American women.

Textiles were the primary form of money in ancient Peru and thus highly valued by the society. The ornate and detailed mantles, panels and tapestries now only exist as fragments, yet the pieces are so carefully woven that the viewer can easily understand their worth both yesterday and today.

The centerpiece of the exhibit, a fragment from a turban, was fashioned in the "eccentric tapestry weave" style, with uniform images of fish covering the earth-toned garment. The symmetry of the fish design lends the piece an Escher-like quality, giving it an interesting aura of modernity despite its obvious time-worn state.

By far the most unusual of the three exhibits is the series entitled "Colored Engravings based on the Aphorisms of Kozma Prutkov, `The Greatest Russian Writer who Never Lived.'" The collection focuses on the aphorisms, or concise witticisms, of Kozma Prutkov, a fictional Russian writer.

Prutkov was the invention of two poets who published various plays, parodies and aphorisms under his name that are still popular in Russia. In celebration of Prutkov's literature, the Russian artists Alla Ozrevskaia and Anatoly Yakovlev designed etchings based on some of the most striking aphorisms.

The exhibit presents a series of proverbs coupled with small engravings, providing the viewer with both the intellectual and the aesthetic. In one engraving, a well stands surrounded by barbed wire and speakers in a desolate and forbidding scene. The piece is accompanied by the saying "an egoist is like one who has been sitting in a well for a long time."

The antiquities exhibit, the display of Peruvian textiles and the Russian engravings are each well worth a trip to DUMA. But the trip is not complete without a visit to all the galleries. Viewing DUMA's three new exhibits together offers a stunning panorama of human creativity expressed through artwork.

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