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Underwater Egyptian sculptures, paintings part of SLAM's 2018 season

An ancient stature lies half exposed from the ocean bed, it's face and shoulders exposed to water.
Provided by St. Louis Art Museum
Bronze statuette of a pharaoh, Thonis-Heracleion, Aboukir Bay, Egypt; 30th–26th dynasty; height: 8 1/16 inches; (SCA 1305); IEASM Excavations Photo: Christoph Gerigk c. Franck Goddio and Hilti Foundation";

Sixteen-foot sculptures depicting humans and gods will live among the St. Louis Art Museum’s collection this spring.

Museum officials are calling it “the most significant exhibition of ancient Egyptian art undertaking in St. Louis in more than 50 years.” The show, titled “Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds,” will feature massive sculptures and antiquities from ancient cities Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus. 

“The museum is pleased to bring this groundbreaking, visually stunning exhibition to St. Louis for its first viewing in America,” Executive Director Brent Benjamin said in a news release.

The objects on display were discovered during a 7-year, underwater excavation lead by Franck Goddio,  president of the European Institute for Underwater Archeology, .

Benjamin described Goddio as “part Jacques Cousteau, part Indiana Jones,” while announcing the exhibit Tuesday.  Some objects recovered from the sea include 17-foot-tall stone sculptures of men, women, and gods.  The exhibit, which opens in March, is part of St. Louis Art Museum’s 2018 exhibitions.

The museum also announced a 2018 exhibit of work by the artist Kehinde Wiley, recently selected as one of two painters to create an official portrait of former President Barack Obama.

To prepare, Wiley visited St. Louis, where his team photographed area residents. Wiley intends those images to be the inspiration for paintings and sculpture he will exhibit as part of his show, which launches in October 2018.

Credit Provided by St. Louis Art Museum

At the exhibition unveiling, Benjamin and his staff also announced the $2.2 million acquisition of foundational American portrait artist John Singer Sargent’s ”Portrait of Charlotte Cram.” The painting depicts a 7-year-old girl Sargent painted while in Europe in 1900. There he became an integral member of the transatlantic school of art, which includes the painters Mary Cassat and Whistler. Curator of American Art Melissa Wolfe said Sargent’s portraits of children exemplify a cultural shift in America at the turn of the 20th century.

“They capture this moment in the United States when children are ... their own beings and not just mini adults and they have personalities and intellect,” Wolfe said.

Throughout the coming year, the museum will also exhibit ancient Peruvian textiles, Chinese Buddhist art, Greek embroidery, and work by the artists Sun Xun and Jennifer Bornstein.   

Follow Willis on Twitter: @WillisRArnold