August 23, 2005

Following the success of the Maya exhibition in 2004, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco continues its commitment to showcase pre-Hispanic art at the new de Young museum, opening in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in October 2005.

Monumental Olmec Head on loan from the Museo de Antropología de Xalapa in Mexico will be prominently featured in the Ancient Americas Galleries. San Francisco, September 2005 –The de Young museum, which opens its new building to the public on October 15, 2005, is pleased to announce the loan of Olmec Colossal Head, Monument 4 from the Museo de Antropología de Xalapa in Mexico. The sculpture, dating back over 3,000 years, will be on view in the de Young’s Ancient Americas galleries for one year. This marks the first time in history that one of the seventeen known Olmec Heads will be on view in the U.S. West Coast. This astounding piece, a monumental basalt stone sculpture of a male head, belonging to one of the most ancient cultures in the Americas, weighs more than 10,000 pounds (4,600 kilos) and stands at 5.84 ft (185 cm). According to Mexican scholars this object, whose origins date from 1200 to 900 B.C., is the best preserved and most harmoniously proportioned of all the colossal heads known to exist.

During the new de Young’s inaugural year, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s Director Harry S. Parker III envisioned a monumental loan to complement the museum’s permanent collection. On a visit to Mexico to secure loans for Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya at the Legion of Honor museum last year, Mr. Parker visited the Museo de Antropología, Xalapa (MAX).

Attached to the prestigious Universidad de Veracruz, MAX, which houses nine of the seventeen known colossal Olmec heads in
the world, agreed to loan Olmec Colossal Head, Monument 4 to the de Young. For one year following the museum’s grand reopening in October 2005, visitors will have the unprecedented opportunity to view the Olmec sculpture in the museum’s Ancient Americas galleries.

“This is one of the most ancient artifacts from the American continents and we are very pleased to bring this magnificent piece to the museum for the enjoyment of all our visitors. This loan confirms and strengthens the goodwill relationship that we have with Mexico,” comments Harry Parker.

In 1862, workmen clearing a field in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, uncovered a massive stone sculpture in the shape of an expressionless face with piercing eyes, a flat broad nose, and thick, down-turned lips. This discovery initiated significant historic and scientific inquiry into the mysterious Olmec culture, one of the earliest civilizations in the Americas, which thrived in the fertile jungles of lowland Mexico from 1200 B.C.– 400 B.C.

The Olmec civilization is believed to be the ‘mother culture’ of Mexico, the root of the later Maya and Aztec cultures. Seventeen classic head sculptures, considered by scholars to be the hallmark of the Olmec civilization, have been found to date. The sculptures seem to be portraits of important figures or political leaders wearing ruler or ballgame helmets. Of the ten heads found in San Lorenzo, Mexico, the face on Olmec Colossal Head, Monument 4 is highly individualized and appears to be the face of a mature male.

Teotihuacan murals

Unusually fine in scope and quality, the de Young museum’s collection of murals from Teotihuacan is the largest anywhere outside of Mexico. The collection consists of several fragments ranging in size from a few inches in length to fourteen feet, composed of a thick backing of volcanic ash, a thin layer of lime, and a painted surface with elaborate images of figures or animals engaged in ritual activity, warrior-birds, feathered serpents, and flowering trees with emblems. The murals will be on permanent display in the Phyllis C. Wattis wing of the Ancient Americas galleries in the new de Young.
Teotihuacan was one of the first urban sites in Mesoamerica, located 40 miles northeast of what is now Mexico City.

Teotihuacan flourished between 100 and 750 A.D., and it is testament to the very sophisticated religious and cultural evolution of its people.

Significant conservation work needed to display these fragile murals for public enjoyment and study took many years to complete, and was accomplished through a collaboration between the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Instituto
Nacional de Antropología e Historia in Mexico. Fragments of the same series of murals are on display at the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City and the Museo de los Murales at the site of Teotihuacan. The opening of the new de Young museum marks the first time that the murals will be on permanent display in San Francisco.

Maya stela

In 1999, the Fine Arts Museums acquired a rare, Maya stela, dating to the 8th Century A.D. The stela represents an extraordinary example of the sophistication and elaborate craftsmanship of the ancient Maya civilization. The acquisition dramatically increases the significance of the museum’s pre-Hispanic collections, and represents a commitment to expanding those collections. In 2004, the de Young’s sister institution, Legion of Honor, featured Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya, an exhibition developed in collaboration with National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Through this exhibition
the museum was able to present an in depth exploration of the culture that created this exquisite monument.

The Maya stela, dating from the late classic period, was found in the southern Maya lowlands (an area now belonging to Mexico and Guatemala). This particular stela is of tremendous art-historical importance, not only for its high aesthetic quality and masterful execution but also for its intricate and unusual iconography. The monument depicts a standing female ruler with an elaborate headdress and a beaded costume proclaiming her power and legitimacy. She stands facing forward with her head turned to the left. A large serpent wraps itself around her body in four winding turns. Out of the serpent’s gaping mouth emerges the head and shoulders of K’awil, a principal Maya deity that the ruler has contacted through a vision. Four glyphic texts are visible on the stela, including two Maya Long Count dates correlating to A.D. 761, March 13, and A.D. 760, August 10. The first date likely corresponds to the stela’s date of dedication.

New acquisition of contemporary Mexican sculptor

On the occasion of its grand reopening, the de Young museum has recently acquired Tótem con Paisaje, a piece by contemporary Mexican sculptor Paloma Torres. The piece will be installed in the Ancient Americas galleries, among objects of Mesoamerican art, emphasizing connections between ancient and contemporary cultures. “We feel it is important to introduce examples of contemporary Latino arts into the Ancient Americas galleries to emphasize that artists today continue to receive inspiration from the pre-Hispanic past” comments Kathleen Berrin, curator of Africa, Oceania and the Americas.

Ms. Torres is strongly influenced by pre-Hispanic and contemporary architectural elements. Her art is both acutely attuned to the urban landscape and its patterns and always conscious of her pre-Hispanic past. Born in Mexico City, Paloma Torres is one of Mexico’s leading contemporary sculptors. Her work has been exhibited in Mexico, France, El Salvador, Switzerland, Canada, Los Angeles, San Antonio, and San Francisco. Museums in Mexico, Switzerland, El Salvador, Denmark, Venezuela and United States include her pieces in their collections.

“In Tótem con Paisaje we are able to see Mexico City as an organic being; the lines of the skyline change, one more construction appears, a scratch disappears and yet another structure remains incomplete” said the artist about her piece. Tótem con Paisaje is made of Zacatecas clay and engobe (water soluble gum) and stands more than 7 feet tall.

Ancient Americas Galleries

Art of the Ancient Americas will receive increased visibility in custom-designed spaces in the new de Young. The collection galleries, comprising 6,500 square feet, offer flexible, open spaces where visitors can view these spectacular three-dimensional objects. The shape, scale and lighting of the galleries will highlight the natural materials and beauty of the artifacts they were designed to house. A special gallery will be devoted to ancient objects from Mexico, including the museum’s outstanding grouping of Teotihuacan murals. The de Young’s exceptional holdings of ancient Maya art will also be the focus of a special gallery in the new building.

The Art of the Americas collections are of national significance to art history, anthropology and world history, and they have helped to establish the de Young as a primary source for cultural research and study. Additional strengths of the collection include:

• A magnificent selection of West Mexico tomb sculptures from Colima, Jalisco, and Nayarit
• Early classic Maya pottery
• Pre-Hispanic terracotta miniatures
• Panamanian and Colombian gold
• Great ceramic works from ancient Central America and Andean cultures, such as a mouth mask of hammered gold from the Nazca culture in Peru
• North Coast Peruvian art including a Chimu wooden house post
• Huari art, including a feather tunic and a wooden kero
• Aracano silver jewelry from Bolivia
• Approximately 850 textiles from Central and South America, representing the countries of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Venezuela, Mexico and Guatemala.
• 240 textiles and costumes from the Quechua and Aymara cultures of Bolivia and Peru in the Jeff Appleby Collection.

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