Holland Cotter, A Lost Culture, Drenched in Blood and Beauty (New York Times, October 15, 2004)
Peter Schjeldahl, Memento Mori (The New Yorker, November 1, 2004)
Frederick M. Winship, Guggenheim museum revisits Aztec empire (Washington Times, from UPI, November 19, 2004)
Michele Leight, The Aztec Empire: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (The City Review, with lots of great images)
Carolyn Weaver, Aztec Art Exhibit Showcases Fascinating Civilization (Voice of America News, December 17, 2004)
Jennifer Viegas, Aztecs Cooked, Skinned, Ate Humans (Discovery News, January 25, 2005; thanks to Cronaca for this link)
Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya (exhibit at the National Gallery of Art)
Mark Barry's visit to Teotihuacan
This show gives an extended look into the obsessions of the Aztecs, with death and how it sustained life. Many of the sculptures depict their seemingly endless pantheon of gods, and the animals associated with them, beginning with the ground floor presentation of Quetzlcoatl (the feathered serpent, shown in a large serpent head sculpture) and the death goddess Coatlicue, with her skirt of serpents. The incredible number of objects encourages you to plumb the many associations these deities had for Aztec artists, such as the symbolism of the snake, shedding its skin and rejuvenating itself. One of the most striking pieces in the show is an anthropomorphic brazier (shown at left), in which a youthful human face is seen within an aged face, which is itself within a dead face, with hollow eyes like a snake skin. Looking at this piece gave me a new perspective on the Aztec practice of flaying sacrifice victims and priests wearing their skins until they rotted away, a ceremony depicted in the Xipe Totec sculpture also in the show.
For someone who has not yet visited any of the great Mesoamerican sites, the exhibit also provides some excellent pieces from the Templo Mayor at Tenochtitlán and other temple sites, such as the Atlantean figures, sculptures that supported an Aztec temple at its four cardinal points. The Aztecs, like other Mesoamerican cultures, assimilated most of the legends of cultures that preceded them. They continued to revere the sacred city at Teotihuacan and appropriated artwork from much older cultures like the Olmec, worshipping the ancient goggle-eyed weather god, whom they called Tlaloc, at the Templo Mayor. There are some beautiful Olmec pieces in this exhibit, too, including several masks and a standing figure depicting the Jaguar-child motif found in that culture. According to the exhibit commentary, the Aztecs excavated the major Olmec sites, in a quest for their past.
Photograph by Michele Leight (www.thecityreview.com)
With a lot to think about, I spent my last few minutes in Manhattan wandering through Central Park. The bases of Christo and Jeanne-Claude's upcoming installation The Gates had been installed, with little orange plastic supports visible on all the paths winding through the park. Mark Barry tells me that he will be in New York for the opening (it will be in place from February 12 to 28) and will give us some pictures. We look forward to it.
Thanks to Marja-Leena Rathje for her kind reference to and comment on this post.