The University of Chicago News Office
June 3, 1997 Press Contact: William Harms
(773) 702-8356

Smart Museum to host special exhibition of Sumerian temple treasures from the Oriental Institute Museum

In the Presence of the Gods: Art from Ancient Sumer
July 1, 1997 - March 8, 1998

A rare collection of ancient Sumerian statues, relief carvings, elaborate stone vessels, and precious inlays from the temples of ancient Mesopotamia (the home of the civilization in modern-day Iraq) will be exhibited at the Smart Museum of Art beginning Tuesday, July 1.

The exhibition “In the Presence of the Gods: Art from Ancient Sumer in the Collection of the Oriental Institute Museum” will continue through March 8, 1998.

The Sumerian civilization is thought to be one of the oldestin the world, flourishing from about 3000 to 2000 B.C. From their homeland in what is now southern Iraq, they contributed the earliest advances in writing, sailing, agriculture and urban life.

“We welcome this opportunity for the University of Chicago’s two museums to collaborate on such an unusual exhibition and to make some of the premier holdings of the Oriental Institute Museum available while their own facility is closed for renovation,” said Smart Museum Curator Richard Born. “In addition, we are delighted to have this special exhibition of Sumerian temple treasures on view in conjunction with our own collections, giving visitors the opportunity to compare different cultural approaches to works of art created in response to mankind’s experience of the divine.”

Oriental Institute Museum Director Karen Wilson said, “We are thrilled to see the masterpieces from our Sumerian collection exhibited at the Smart Museum of Art. These pieces, now more than 5,000 years old, are wonderfully expressive individual works of art that will have a profound impact upon all who see them.”

“In the Presence of the Gods” exhibits objects of many types that the peoples of Sumer dedicated to the gods and goddesses they believed dwelled within the temples. It includes dramatic stone statues of worshippers clad in characteristic tufted garments. These statues, shown with their hands clasped in prayer and their eyes fixed upon the deity, once stood in the temple sanctuary.

Other statues, cast in a copper alloy, were buried in foundation boxes much like contemporary cornerstones. Elaborate ritual vessels in the exhibition were used to feed the deities their daily meals, and the relief carvings showing scenes of musical celebration and feasting were dedicated for use as part of elaborate temple door-locking devices.

Most of the 43 objects in the exhibition were excavated by Oriental Institute archaeologists. The collection of Sumerian artifacts at the Oriental Institute Museum is considered to be among the best in the world.

The Smart Museum is located in Hyde Park at 5550 S. Greenwood Ave., on the campus of the University of Chicago. Free parking is available in the University lot on the corner of 55th Street and Greenwood Avenue after 4 p.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The Museum Cafe and Gift Shop are open daily. Admission is free.

A portion of the Museum’s general operating funds for this fiscal year has been provided through a grant from the Institute of Museum Services, a federal agency offering general operating support to the nation’s museums. Funding for programs is also provided by the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.

The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago is one of the world’s foremost research and teaching centers for the history and culture of the ancient Near East (Mesopotamia, Egypt, Iran, Syria, Palestine, Israel and Turkey). The Oriental Institute Museum galleries are closed until winter of 1998 as part of a renovation and expansion project designed to provide a climate-controlled environment for all areas where objects from the collection are exhibited, stored or studied.
Last modified at 03:50 PM CST on Wednesday, June 14, 2000.

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