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All that Glitters—Spark and Dazzle from the Permanent Collection
co-curated by Janine LeBlanc and Roger Manley
Through the ages, every human society has demonstrated a fascination with shiny objects. Necklaces made of glossy marine snail shells have been dated back nearly 135,000 years, while shiny crystals have been found in prehistoric burials, suggesting the allure they once held for their original owners. The pageantry of nearly every religion has long been enhanced by dazzling displays, from the gilded statues of Buddhist temples and the gleaming mosaics of Muslim mosques and Byzantine churches, to the bejeweled altarpieces and reliquaries of Gothic cathedrals. As both kings and gods, Hawaiian and Andean royalty alike donned garments entirely covered with brilliant feathers to proclaim their significance, while their counterparts in other cultures wore crowns of gold and gems. High status and desirability have always been signaled by the transformative effects of reflected light.
Recent research indicates that our brains may be hard-wired to associate glossy surfaces with water. If so, the impulse drawing us toward them may have evolved as a survival mechanism. There may also be subconscious associations with other survival necessities. Gold has been linked to fire or the sun, the source of heat, light, and plant growth. The glitter of beads or sequins may evoke nighttime stars needed for finding one’s way. The flash of jewels may recall an instinctive association with eyes. In jungles as well as open grasslands, both prey and predator can be so well camouflaged that only the glint of an eye might reveal a lurking presence. Survival would depend on instant detection and identification, since even a tiny sparkle could announce a matter of life or death. Delving into the Gregg Museum’s vast permanent collection, All that Glitters offers a sampling of dazzling objects to pose the question, What is it that makes them so attractive?