Museum Home Current Exhibitions Obsidian Mirror-Travels: Refracting Ancient Mexican Art and Archaeology

This exhibition explores representations of Mexican archaeological objects and sites made from the Colonial era to the present.

Section of the Vienna Codex by an anonymous Mixtec artist. Hand-colored etching and aquatint after original manuscript in Alexander von Humboldt, Vues des Cordillères, et monuments des peoples indigènes de l'Amérique (Paris, 1810), pl. 47. The Getty Research Institute, 85-B1535

From the first moments of contact, Mexico's indigenous civilizations evoked in their European conquerors an array of unsettling emotions ranging from fascination to fear. Eradicating populations, destroying monuments, suppressing native religions, and collecting and classifying cultural objects were among the methods used for containing and framing native cultures. Pre-Columbian Mexico, real and imagined, became the subject of innumerable books, treatises, and images. Each iteration assigned new meanings and contributed to the ever-evolving construction of ancient Mexico.

The objects in this exhibition were created over the past five centuries by explorers, archaeologists, and artists who have in one way or another used Mexico's Pre-Columbian past as a vehicle for their journeys. Each object is informed by the time and place in which it was made. None are pure reflections of the sites or artifacts they portray. All produce refractions, slices of an object that cannot be reassembled into a whole. As such, they are all mirrors that displace the time and space of ancient Mexico.