Published: January 8, 2002
CLEVELAND, OHIO – The newly reinstalled Art of the Ancient Americas gallery at the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) is open to the public. Completely refurbished, the gallery showcases the museum’s world-class collection of objects created by ancient Central and South American artists, including the Aztec, Maya, and Inca. More than 170 objects in ceramic, stone, gold, fiber and other media are on view.
The gallery is organized into the major geographic divisions of Mexico and Guatemala, and Peru, then chronologically within those divisions. The all-new cases – lined with a luxurious, moss-green fabric – complement art works created in jadeite, a dark green-blue stone considered more precious than gold in ancient Mexico. Among the finest pieces on display are several jadeite objects created by the Olmec, Mexico’s first complex culture.
Special Olmec highlights are a sensuously modeled “Head Fragment” (900-300 BC) with lips parted as though in speech and an “Elongated Mask Ornament” (900-300 BC) that depicts a deity-like head with closed eyes as if asleep.
Other highlights from ancient Mexico are stone sculptures of the ballgame, a sport that had cosmic meanings. The museum’s ballgame collection is one of the finest in the United States and includes a newly acquired “Thin Stone Head (Hacha)” (AD 600-900) that is breathtaking in the serenity of the human face it depicts.
From ancient Peru comes a “Group of Sixteen Gold Objects” (Peru, 500-200 BC) that are among the very earliest of gold ornaments made in the Americas. The group includes two large ear ornaments elaborately decorated with a repeating motif of bird and serpent; three delicate, finely wrought nose ornaments with gold “danglers” that would have moved and glittered when the wearer spoke or moved; and a small golden flute. It is thought the sound of this flute may have evoked bird song since it was made in the shape of a bird and has small birds perched on its top and sides.
State-of-the-art lighting illuminates “Cloth with Procession of Figures” (100 BC-AD 200), one of the most famous surviving ancient Andean textiles. When a visitor approaches it, a motion sensor triggers a dramatic wash of low light that reveals a mysterious procession of figures linked to nature’s fertility. Richly painted in tones of red, black and ochre, several of the figures wear feline mouth masks and one wears a costume with outspread wings.
Adjacent to the newly installed gallery is a corridor gallery that contains ancient artworks – mainly of gold – from Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia. The corridor gallery was renovated several years ago. When the museum expands, these objects will be integrated with those in the newly installed main gallery.
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