SF: Olmec, ancient civilization in Mexico, now at de Young Museum
San Francisco world travelers and residents should now make their way to the de Young museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.
That’s because now on display is the “Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico.” And it’s here through May 8th, 2011.
You might not recognize the name, Olmec, at first, but once you see the size of the monuments, you’ll know you have seen pictures of them before.
Where did the Olmec come from and where did they go? Did you know that the Olmec are actually America’s oldest civilization? They were discovered in the mid-19th century in Mexico.
The Olmec left behind them huge stone monuments, many of which are carved into giant heads. Those giant heads are made from rocks and are over 3,000 years old, dating to around 1500 BC. That dates them as pre-Aztec and pre-Mayan.
The stones and carvings at the de Young came from around 12 different museums throughout Mexico and the exhibit is a traveling one, having first been at the LA County Museum of Art, before traveling up the coast to the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Note, however, that San Francisco is the final venue, so you won’t be able to see the exhibition anywhere else in America after this. And if you wanted to see them in Mexico, you’d have to visit all 12 different museums to do that, since they are not all in the one place.
The largest piece on display at the de Young is the huge head you will see as you enter the exhibition. This piece weighs 12,500 lbs. It certainly makes the visitor to the de Young wonder how on earth the colossal stones were ever pulled off the mountain they came from, or even how they were rolled around. It’s not known if the pieces were sculpted by one artist or if several artists worked on a single piece.
What is known, however, is that simple tools, like sharpened rocks, were used to carve them and most of the giant heads are portrait heads of rulers of the time.
“It’s about the quality and the significance of these works of art,” says director John Buchanan, Director, Fine Arts Museums.
As well as the massive works on display, don’t forget to look out for the delicate ceramics and faceworks that are also here. It looks like many of the faces are snarling, but there are some happy expressions to be found in the pieces as well.
So just what happened to the Olmec and where did they go? Nobody can say. But while we can’t give an answer, we CAN stand in awe and fascination of the work the Olmec left behind for us to admire, all these centuries later.
Re travel: San Francisco residents can drive to the de Young museum in Golden Gate Park using Google Maps or they can take local MUNI transportation and get off at 11th and Irving. Those coming in from out of town would fly in to SFO International Airport. Deals can be found for bargain flights at www.kayak.com
See the video by Don Sanchez from Bay Area News Station ABC 7 on the left hand side. See too the slide show on the left with photos from the Olmec exhibition at the de Young. Photos courtesy of Javier Hinojosa / Fine Arts Museums of S.F.
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