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The Nasher Museum of Art and the Wired Lab for Digital Art History & Visual Culture are teaming up this fall to re-imagine the exhibition of the Nasher’s collection of ancient American Art, one of the best university art museum collections of work by Maya, Aztec, and Inca cultures.

For over 25 years, this collection has sat largely untouched in museum storage. In the past year, the museum has begun studying and preparing this collection for display. Two exhibitions are currently in progress: the first, an exhibition on the relationship of ancient Americans to the ocean, featuring ceramics, textiles, and bone and wood carvings of crabs, lobsters, sting rays, sea birds, shells, and other sea creatures; and the second, a reinstallation of the Art of the Americas gallery to feature artwork from South America.

A crucial component of both of these exhibitions is the production of digital 3D models of pieces in our collection for both research and teaching purposes. We aim to use this technology and other digital means to move beyond the realm of vision to capture the full sensory experience of the ancient Americas, including the sounds, bodily sensations, and textures generated by artworks. The creation of a model of an Inca ceramic vessel, for example, leads to critical discoveries about artistic process and original function: How does the study of its texture reveal the technique of ancient Peruvian ceramic artists? How does a replica allow us to study its performative use and the way it held liquid and emitted sound when poured? We plan to use these models within the exhibition galleries and as an educational tool for students at Duke and in the greater Durham community.