The Oldest Paintings in America: Utah’s Rock Art Photographed by Goodloe Suttler

January 14, 2011 - March 20, 2011

Cave painting

Painted, pecked, and incised images from many different cultures and periods may be found in thousands of cave and cliff sites across Utah’s Colorado Plateau. This exhibition showcases photographs by Goodloe Suttler of the astonishing “Barrier Canyon Style” rock paintings, probably the oldest of the rock art traditions found in the region (with origins perhaps dating to around 5,000 BCE).

The powerful iconic quality of these enigmatic images of spirit figures, animals, and humans prompts reflection on the sources of the urge to paint, as well as consideration of the status of this oldest “indigenous” art.

In presenting The Oldest Paintings in America, the Ackland is also considering the role of photography and digital enhancements in not only documenting, but also interpreting ancient rock art. A number of works pair unenhanced photographic images with versions that have been altered using technology developed by NASA in 2004 for the Mars Rover’s photos. The enhanced versions are not attempts to imagine original colors; they are intended to help researchers better see faded or superimposed motifs. But these techniques prompt the viewer to ask what is the effect of the photographer’s choices? Does technical sophistication — and even enhancement — aid in full understanding?

This exhibition was curated by Peter Nisbet, Chief Curator, Ackland Art Museum, and is made possible by the William Hayes Ackland Trust and friends of the Ackland Art Museum. We thank Goodloe Suttler for his collegial cooperation in making this exhibition possible.

Images: Goodloe Suttler, Sinbad 2. Digital color prints (unaltered and digitally enhanced). Lent by the photographer.