The Walters Art Museum presents Exploring Art of the Ancient Americas: The John Bourne Collection Gift an exhibition of 135 artworks from cultures that rose and fell in Mexico, Central America and Andean South America from 1200 B.C.–A.D. 1530. Drawn from the collection of John Bourne recently gifted to the Walters, this exhibition, on view February 12–May 20, 2012, expresses each culture’s distinctive aesthetics, worldview and spiritual ideologies.
Modern historians group the many ancient societies south of the United States into three great traditions based on ancient geo-politics and patterns of shared cultural features: Mesoamerica, Central America and Andean South America. The exhibition features artworks as illustrations of the societies’ fundamental principles such as the shamanic foundation of rulership in Mesoamerica, Costa Rica and Panama, and the cosmic principles embodied by gold and silver in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Artists expressed each society’s uniqueness in novel forms of monumental and portable art of human figures, spiritual beings and deities, and companions of daily life such as dogs, made from stone, clay, precious metals and fibers.
Exploring Art of the Ancient Americas touches on the performative nature of politics and religion—performance being a key mechanism for strengthening bonds of community and religious belief. The exhibition features the imaginative musical instruments used during these events and emotive portrayals of performers—from kings to commoners.
“Before mass communication such as television, the internet or smart phones, performance was a vital public device for real-time communication of a culture’s social, political and ideological beliefs,” said Curatorial Consultant for Art of the Ancient Americas Dorie Reents-Budet. “In the ancient Americas, as elsewhere in world history, performance communicates group identity and reinforces social hierarchy, political power and other key characteristics of a society.
This exhibition features selections from collector John Bourne, who was among the initial explorers to probe deep into the hilly jungles of southern Mexico. Traveling with adventurer Carlos (Herman Charles) Frey and photographer Giles Healy, they were among the first Westerners to visit Bonampak, the now famous Maya site celebrated for its three-roomed royal building whose interior walls are covered with murals recording a battle and public rituals concerning royal political history at the site during the eighth century. Bourne became enamored of the creative expressiveness of the Maya—and of all peoples of the ancient Americas—perceiving the works as equal to any artistic tradition in the world.
This exhibition has been made possible through the generous contributions of John Bourne, the Women’s Committee of the Walters Art Museum, the Selz Foundation and the Ziff Family, through its endowed exhibition fund for the arts of the ancient Americas.