Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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At the Museums: Art of the Shamans Volume 52 Number 2, March/April 1999
by Brian Fagan

[image] Seated male "storyteller" from Jalisco dates to ca. 200 B.C.-A.D. 300. (The Art Institute of Chicago) [LARGER IMAGE]

Ceramic sculptures produced by the ancient West Mexican cultures, which flourished from around the second century B.C. to the arrival of the Spanish in the sixteenth century, have long attracted the attention of artists and collectors. The celebrated British painter Adela Breton collected sculptures from Jalisco as early as 1895. During the 1930s, Mexican artists like Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Rufino Tamayo acquired Precolumbian works from the region (now the states of Colima, Jalisco, and Nayarit), believing they were spontaneous reflections of ancient Mesoamerican culture. Their own symbolic depictions of Mexican life reflect the influence of these works. English sculptor Henry Moore was also influenced by West Mexican sculptures in creating his family groups.

Until fairly recently, however, the artistry of West Mexico was overlooked by most Mesoamerican scholars, who were preoccupied by that of the Olmecs, Maya, Teotihuacanos, and Aztecs. A new exhibition, Ancient West Mexico: Art and Archaeology of the Unknown Past, highlights the art of West Mexican peoples with more than 200 exceptional objects--obsidian knives, ceramic animal and human sculptures, and house models. Organized by the Art Institute of Chicago's Richard Townsend and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the exhibition illustrates the artistry of these little-known people and the cultural context in which objects were created, and chronicles archaeological research that has taken place in the region in recent decades.

Ancient West Mexico: Art and Archaeology of the Unknown Past will be on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, (323) 857-6000, through March 29.

* Click here for ARCHAEOLOGY's list of current exhibitions.

Brian Fagan is a contributing editor to ARCHAEOLOGY.

© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America