June 12, 1997
Vol. 16, No. 19

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    'In the Presence of Gods' opens July 1 at Smart

    A rare collection of ancient Sumerian statues, relief carvings, elaborate stone vessels and precious inlays from the temples of ancient Mesopotamia 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 oldest in the world, flourishing from about 3000 to 2000 B.C. From their homeland in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq), the Sumerian people contributed some of the earliest advances in writing, agriculture and urban life.

    "In the Presence of the Gods" will exhibit a variety of the objects that the Sumerian people dedicated to the gods and goddesses they believed dwelled within their temples, including 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 temple sanctuaries.

    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 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 open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free.

    The exhibition is the second showing of Oriental Institute Museum treasures at the Smart Museum. The Oriental Institute Museum galleries are closed until late 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.