Visual Arts

Museum exhibit displays artwork from New Spain missions, 1600-1821
February 23rd, 2011
By Michele Jurich, The Catholic Voice


Artwork from missions in California, the southwestern U.S. and Mexico have been moved from their intended settings in places of worship to the Oakland Museum of California for the Feb. 26 opening of the exhibition “Splendors of Faith/Scars of Conquest: Art of the Missions of Northern New Spain, 1600-1821.”


This exhibit, which runs through May 29, originated at the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso in Mexico City. It features about 110 objects, including paintings, sculpture, furniture and liturgical objects and vestments, from collections in Mexico, the U.S. and Europe, shown together for the first time. The Oakland museum is the only California venue for this traveling exhibition.


Louise Pubols, the museum’s chief curator of history, said she feels “very fortunate to bring this exhibition here.”


The exhibition, she said, “works very well on both sides of the border. The region often falls through the cracks.”


For Mexico, it offers the opportunity to “recover the region as part of the Mexican story,” she said. Also critical is the understanding that “California is connected to the larger story of Mexico.”


The artwork itself is stunning, Pubols said, and “not many people have looked at the artwork of the missions, what it was intended to convey.”


The images themselves are “very powerful and very important,” she said.


The Academy of American Franciscan History is one of the sponsors of a panel discussion on Feb. 27, with curators Clara Bargellini and Michael Komanecky, on a panel discussion on contemporary reflections on the Spanish conquest.


Aside from the historical perspective, there is the stunning collection of art. Pubols points to the tabernacle from Mission Santa Barbara, which includes abalone inlay, and processional objects used during Holy Week, including a figure of Christ.


“These were not images designed for a museum, but for living, breathing culture,” Pubols said.


Other pieces that might be familiar to mission-goers are a sacristy cabinet from Mission San Juan Bautista and silver pieces from Mission San Francisco Solano.


There are also pieces of work by native people, including a Chumash basket, which might have been destined as a gift to be sent to Europe.


For Californians accustomed to visiting the state’s 21 missions, “This is something that is dear to our hearts.” Pubols said, “connecting us to our history, heritage and faith.”


Contemporary Coda, a companion show accompanying the traveling exhibition in Oakland, features 17 works by contemporary artists that address issues of immigration and regional connections across the current border; religion and Latino identity; and the cultural survival of the native peoples of California.


The show, which contains images aimed at an adult audience, will be separate from the main exhibition and clearly labeled, museum officials say.


As will some of the more challenging subjects – such as depictions of martyrdom – from the traveling show, which is also aimed at an adult audience, Pubols said. “We knew in California we’d get a lot of interest from schools.”


Viewers will be able to make their own decisions whether to view those parts of the exhibition after being informed of the nature of the images, she said.


The Oakland Museum of California is located at 1000 Oak St., Oakland; (510) 238-2200; www.museumca.org. Admission is $12 general; $9 seniors and students with ID; $6 ages 9-17; free for ages 8 and under.



From February 25, 2011 issue of Catholic San Francisco.