Art Gallery of WA welcomes Treasure Ships: Art in the Age of Spices

Art Gallery of SA Asian art assistant curator Russell Kelty and Art Gallery of WA historical and modern art curator Melissa Harpley in the exhibition space. Picture: Andrew Ritchie d444635
Art Gallery of SA Asian art assistant curator Russell Kelty and Art Gallery of WA historical and modern art curator Melissa Harpley in the exhibition space. Picture: Andrew Ritchie d444635

IT has taken five years of hard work between teams at Art Gallery of WA (AGWA) and Art Gallery of SA, but Treasure Ships: Art in the Age of Spices has finally opened at AGWA.

“It’s a massively complex undertaking with many different threads and stories to tell about this wonderful art in the age of spices,” Art Gallery of SA Asian art assistant curator Russell Kelty said.

“The exhibition includes over 260 objects from Portugal, India, Singapore, America and largely from Australian public and private collections.

“It’s only with the support of AGWA that we were able to bring this exhibition to both venues. I think they’ve done it quite beautifully .”

After exhibiting Treasure Ships in SA, Kelty spent several weeks in Perth installing the show with AGWA historical and modern art curator Melissa Harpley.

He said the exhibition showed the cultural, spiritual and artistic exchange during the era from 1500 to 1800 at major ports Goa, Malacca, Macau, Nagasaki and Batavia, which were set up by the Portuguese, Dutch and English.

Although these inter-Asian trade routes, from the Indian Ocean stretching from India through Indonesia all the way to Nagasaki, had been formed long before Europeans arrived.

“It portrays the opulence of this era that was really fostered because of the interest in spices in Europe as luxury condiments,” Kelty said.

“Up until this point, Europeans hadn’t seen anything quite like the porcelain, lacquer and textiles from China, India and Japan.

“They were quite astonished by the beauty of them and didn’t produce something of similar quality in Europe until the 18th century.”

Kelty said one of the highlights was the wealth of Christian art created primarily in India and Nagasaki, showing the interaction with local artists portraying the spiritual fervour of post-Protestant reformation Catholicism in Asia.

“The relevance to WA audiences is very much played out in this exhibition as Australia is really the last place this discovery and excitement of the age washes up on the shores,” he said.

“One of the key components is the enduring relationship between Northern Australia Aboriginal communities and Makassan Indonesian traders.

“We may live in the Asian century but in fact we’ve had a relationship with Asian long before the past 10 to 20 years.”

The exhibition is on until January 31, 2016, tickets at www.treasureships.com.au.

Visitors can download the Treasure Ships app featuring an interactive map, exclusive artefact information and in-exhibit augmented reality activations.