Im­pe­rial Grandeur

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A new ex­hi­bi­tion at The Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art in New York, Golden King­doms: Lux­ury and Legacy in the An­cient Amer­i­cas, traces the cul­ture of lux­ury in preColumbian so­ci­eties such as the In­cas, Mayans and Aztecs, from around 1000BC to the ar­rival of Eu­ro­peans in the early 16th cen­tury.

In the an­cient Amer­i­cas, artists and their pa­trons se­lected ma­te­ri­als that could pro­voke a strong re­sponse—per­cep­tu­ally, sen­su­ally, and con­cep­tu­ally— and trans­port the wearer and be­holder be­yond the realm of the mun­dane.

Gold, silver, and cop­per were used pri­mar­ily to cre­ate re­galia and rit­ual ob­jects—met­als were only sec­on­dar­ily used to cre­ate weapons and tools. First ex­ploited in the An­des around 2000BC, gold was closely as­so­ci­ated with the su­per­nat­u­ral realm, and over the course of sev­eral thou­sand years the prac­tice of mak­ing pres­tige ob­jects in gold for rulers and deities grad­u­ally moved north­ward, into Cen­tral Amer­ica and Mex­ico. But in many ar­eas other ma­te­ri­als were more highly val­ued. Jade, rather than gold, was most es­teemed by the Olmecs and the Mayans, while the In­cas and the Aztecs prized feathers and ta­pes­try.

The Golden King­doms ex­hi­bi­tion, on view at The Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art un­til May 28th 2018, presents new un­der­stand­ings of an­cient Amer­i­can lux­ury arts through a the­matic ex­plo­ration of in­dige­nous ideas of value and lux­ury.

Golden King­doms ex­plores not only artis­tic prac­tices but also the his­tor­i­cal, cul­tural, so­cial, and po­lit­i­cal con­di­tions in which lux­ury arts were pro­duced and cir­cu­lated. The ma­te­ri­als of an­cient Amer­i­can lux­ury arts were closely as­so­ci­ated with divine power: they were made of ma­te­ri­als thought to have been emit­ted, in­hab­ited, or con­sumed by gods.

Lux­ury arts were also rel­a­tively small in scale, which meant they could be trans­ported over vast dis­tances as royal gifts or sa­cred of­fer­ings, thus serv­ing as a pri­mary ve­hi­cle for the ex­change of ideas across re­gions and through time. The ex­hi­bi­tion presents a new por­trait of the an­cient Amer­i­cas—one un­con­strained by to­day’s na­tional bound­aries—re­veal­ing net­works of artis­tic ex­change in his­tor­i­cal con­text.

Show­cas­ing more than 300 ob­jects drawn from more than 50 mu­se­ums in 12 coun­tries, the ex­hi­bi­tion fea­tures spec­tac­u­lar works of art from re­cent ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ex­ca­va­tions—crowns, pec­torals, pen­dants, neck­laces, ear and nose or­na­ments, rings, labrets, masks, man­tles, gob­lets, vases, ste­las, bells, mir­rors, painted books, and more—that have rarely, if ever, left their coun­try of ori­gin.

Daniel H. Weiss, pres­i­dent and CEO of The Metropoli­tan Mu­seum

of Art, stated: “It is a great priv­i­lege for The Met to present this stun­ning as­sem­blage of highly prized works of art from more than 50 or­gan­i­sa­tions. This ex­hi­bi­tion is the re­sult of an in­ten­sive five-year re­search ef­fort that brought to­gether schol­ars from across Latin Amer­ica and the United States, and we’re thrilled to share their find­ings and these beau­ti­ful ob­jects with our vis­i­tors.”

Ex­hi­bi­tion high­lights in­clude the exquisite gold or­na­ments of the Lord of Sipán, the rich­est un­looted tomb in the an­cient Amer­i­cas; the mala­chite fu­ner­ary mask of a woman known as the Red Queen, from the Maya site of Palenque; newly dis­cov­ered rit­ual of­fer­ings from the sa­cred precinct of the Aztec Em­pire; and the “Fish­er­man’s Treasure”, a set of Mix­tec gold or­na­ments plun­dered by Span­ish con­quis­ta­dors and des­tined for Charles V, the Holy Ro­man Em­peror and Span­ish king, but lost en route to Spain. Re­cov­ered from a ship­wreck in the 1970s, these fi­nal works are poignant re­minders of the brilliant tra­di­tions of an­cient Amer­ica’s lost golden king­doms.

“Ideas about artis­tic pro­duc­tion in the an­cient Amer­i­cas have tra­di­tion­ally been based on works in ce­ramic and stone—ob­jects of durable ma­te­ri­als,” said Joanne Pills­bury, The Met’s An­drall E. Pear­son cu­ra­tor of the arts of the An­cient Amer­i­cas.

“But there were also exquisitely worked ob­jects of rare and frag­ile ma­te­ri­als—most of which were de­stroyed at the time of the Span­ish Con­quest. Count­less works of gold and silver were melted down, and delicate na­tive manuscripts were de­lib­er­ately burned as part of cam­paigns to stamp out na­tive re­li­gions. And time has taken a heavy toll on feath­er­works and tex­tiles, which were con­sid­ered more precious than gold by many in­dige­nous

so­ci­eties. What we present in this show are not only spec­tac­u­lar art­works, but also rare and enor­mously im­por­tant ob­jects that es­caped de­struc­tion.”

In con­junc­tion with the ex­hi­bi­tion, The Met will of­fer a va­ri­ety of ed­u­ca­tion pro­grammes, in­clud­ing Sun­day at The Met—Golden King­doms: Forests of Jade (March 25th); Fam­ily Af­ter­noon—Last­ing Legacy (April 8th); MetFri­days—Artists Re­spond to Golden King­doms: Tere­sita Fernán­dez (April 13th); a Conversation with ... (English and Span­ish lan­guages, March 23rd and April 27th); and Ac­cess Dis­cov­er­ies (for chil­dren and adults with learn­ing and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties (April 22nd).

Golden King­doms: Lux­ury and Legacy in the An­cient Amer­i­cas is coor­gan­ised by The Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Mu­seum, and the Getty Re­search In­sti­tute. The ex­hi­bi­tion is cu­rated by The Met’s Joanne Pills­bury, An­drall E. Pear­son cu­ra­tor of the An­cient Amer­i­cas, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Ti­mothy Potts, di­rec­tor of the J. Paul Getty Mu­seum; and Kim Richter, se­nior re­search spe­cial­ist at the Getty Re­search In­sti­tute.

The ex­hi­bi­tion is made pos­si­ble in part by David Yur­man. Ad­di­tional sup­port is pro­vided by the Sher­man Fairchild Foun­da­tion, Alice Cary Brown and W.L. Lyons Brown, the Es­tate of Brooke Astor, the La­co­vara Fam­ily En­dow­ment Fund, Wil­liam R. Rhodes, and The Daniel and Estrel­lita Brod­sky Foun­da­tion.

Golden King­doms is ac­com­pa­nied by a fully il­lus­trated cat­a­logue pub­lished by the J. Paul Getty Mu­seum and the Getty Re­search In­sti­tute, Los An­ge­les. The ex­hi­bi­tion was pre­vi­ously on view as part of Pa­cific Stan­dard Time: LA/ LA at the J. Paul Getty Mu­seum, Getty Cen­ter (Septem­ber 16th 2017–Jan­uary 28th 2018).


n PAIR OF EAR OR­NA­MENTS WITH WINGED RUN­NERS Gold, turquoise, so­dalite, shell Moche, A.D. 400–700Peru, North CoastThe Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art, New York, Gift and Be­quest of Alice K. Bache, 1966, 1977 n EAR OR­NA­MENT DE­PICT­ING A WARRIOR Gold, turquoise, wood Moche, A.D. 640–680Peru, Sipán, Tomb of the Lord of Sipán (Tomb 1) Museo Tum­bas Reales de Sipán, Lam­bayeque, Peru, Min­is­te­rio de Cul­tura del Perú Photo: Juan Pablo Mur­ru­garra Vil­lanueva

n AN­DRÉS SÁNCHEZ GALQUE (An­dean, ac­tive Quito, about 1599) Don Fran­cisco de Arobe and Sons Pe­dro and Domingo, A.D. 1599 Oil on can­vasMuseo Na­cional del Prado, Madrid (PO4778)© Museo Na­cional del Prado

n STELA WITH QUEEN IX MUTAL AHAW Lime­stoneMaya, A.D. 761 Mex­ico or Gu­atemala Fine Arts Mu­se­ums of San Fran­cisco, Gift ofMrs. Paul L. Wat­tis Im­age cour­tesy of the Fine Arts Mu­se­ums ofSan Fran­cisco

n TABARDWITH LIZARD-LIKE CREA­TURES Feathers on cot­ton Nasca, A.D. 500–750 Peru, South Coast Vir­ginia Mu­seum of Fine Arts, Rich­mond, Arthur and Mar­garet Glas­gow Fund Photo: Kather­ine Wet­zel © Vir­ginia Mu­seum of Fine Arts

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