Monday, 22 August 2011


The Maya vitrine

Aztec rock figurines

The Maudslay/Palenque lintel casts

The Maudslay cast of the idols in Copan, Honduras, my favourite works in display

My recent studies into Conceptual Maya Archeology took me to revisit the Mexican Gallery at the British Museum. Opened in 1994, at the end of the Mexican presidency of Carlos Salinas de Gortari , it was part of the celebration of the ilusions created by his neoliberal regime and its cultural policies (which included the mega exhibition Splendors of Thirty Centuries at the MOMA, NY). The Mexican Gallery was designed by Teodoro Gonzalez de Leon, who for more than 40 years has been the regime's official architect, and whose buildings are inspired by the monolithic language of Prehispanic ruins, as well as by Le Corbusier and Brutalism.

Seventeen years after it opened, the small (7x11 mts) Mexican Gallery feels escenographical and outdated. A fake Maya arch covered by slate traverses the space and occupies the length of the room, while the floor and side skirtings are covered by white Ancaster Limestone. Different sculptures are located standing over a pyramidal plinth/base (more Egyptian than Aztec!) covered with the same limestone, and a blue/ultramarine semi-suspended showcase contains the Aztec turquoise masks and double serpent, (unfortunately a few years ago it was found that the crystal skull of the collection was not really Aztec and it was removed from the Mexican collection). Cases containing objects from the different Mesoamerican cultures are located in three of the peripheric walls, while the back wall, separated by a portico, is painted in blood red and holds the Maudslay-Yaxchilan original lintels (casts of the other lintels are located in the stairs outside).

If Gonzalez de Leon had used less fancy materials, and maybe had been inspired by Sottsass and the Memphis style instead, we would have had a much more exciting archeological room!

Visit Jorge Pardo's more recent escenographic display in Los Angeles for LACMA's Prehispanic Collection, here.

(post dedicated to Vanessa Arelle, my expedition companion in this visit)

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