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Norman Daly: The Civilization of Llhuros and Other Works

This presentation includes two major bodies of Norman Daly’s work. Paintings from the late 1940s and early 1950s demonstrate the artist’s admiration and fascination with other cultures. As a young man, Daly spent a lot of time in the Southwest of the United States, where he became acquainted with both Native American and Hispanic cultures. The paintings on view are reminiscent of sand paintings, hieroglyphic markings, Kachina dolls, and the Southwestern landscape. Their palette is that of the desert: the browns and ochres of its rocks and sand, the reds and oranges of a desert sunset. In them we can already see the roots of Daly’s later project, which would occupy much of his life, The Civilization of Llhuros. Only a small number of objects from the original display could be included here.

Daly has worked on his fictitious civilization for almost forty years. It was first exhibited in 1972 at the Andrew Dickson White Art Museum of Cornell University. The original exhibition consisted of over 150 objects and traveled to several museums in the United States. In 1974 it was included in the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum’s exhibition Projekt ’74 in Cologne, Germany. Daly’s project was perhaps one of the first undertakings of this nature, representing a growing loss of faith in the objectivity of history. The artist’s mythical civilization can be seen as a critique of history as political or moral propaganda. Taking the form of a history museum display, The Civilization of Llhuros used faux artifacts, documents, photographs, audiotapes, and explanatory texts to present an entire civilization that only existed in the artist’s imagination. Contemporary artists like Mark Dion and John Leaños have been involved in similar projects since then. Just like the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles, Daly’s Civilization of Llhuros encourages us to question the veracity of the historical narratives we are presented in museum displays.

Born in Pittsburgh in 1911, Daly received his undergraduate degree from the University of Colorado and an MFA from Ohio State University. He did postgraduate work in Paris and further art-history study at the Graduate Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. He taught at the University of Colorado, Oberlin College, and the Parsons School of Design in Paris before teaching in Cornell’s Art Department for over fifty years. His work has been on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Chicago Art Institute, among many other national and international venues. He passed away in 2008.