March 13th, 2011

piranha - not a parrot.

Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico

I remember briefly studying the Olmec in my Mesoamerican art class back at DeAnza. It wasn't especially interesting, not to be too artsy-fartsy but I never really felt "connected" with the art.

At the De Young Museum, there's currently a traveling exhibition of Olmec masterworks. Since there are not a lot of Olmec pieces that have been found, that mean that if there's a artifact that appears in more than one book about this Mesoamerican civilization, it's in the show. I was seriously amazed to see so many familiar pieces as I walked through each gallery! I mean, you want to see a giant stone head? Fine, have a giant stone head:

If I remember correctly, there were actually two or three of the colossal heads on display.  This was the nicest one by far; his helmet had two jaguar paws over the eyes.  Is it a hint to the king's name?  Is this a portrait?  WE DON'T KNOW, we just have educated guesses by the handful. 

You want to see one of the massive Twin sculptures that people used to think indicated contact between Ancient Egypt and the Americas? Well, sure, take a gander at them.  Be impressed by their monumentality. We brought you the matched set, arranged in our best guess of how they appeared before the Olmec people.

Look! It's the La Venta figure group! Even though you are thinking to yourself, "They look like Roswell aliens!" please be assured that only pseudoscientists believe these serpentine sculptures are proof of human/alien interaction.

And so on and so forth.  They had the Kunz Axe in all its baby werejaguar glory.  There were sculptures and pottery and whatnot.  I found myself more interested in how the museum managed to transport some of these massive stone pieces to California and place them inside the museum than in the artifacts themselves.  I can't help it.  With the exception of the colossal heads, which have realistic facial modeling that I find admirable, many of the Olmec works are...well, ugly.  Crude looking.  Some of the animal pottery is cute, but the hollow baby sculptures are incredibly creepy.