Ancient Mexican Arts From Teotihuacan at LACMA


Pyramids and art of the people who built them are filling museums in Los Angeles this spring. King Tut opened at the California Science Center on March 24. An exhibit on Egypt at the classical world debuts March 27 at the Getty Center. And, “City and Cosmos: The Arts of Teotihuacan,” about the ancient Mexican city with three main pyramids and recent archeological finds, opened March 25 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

The groundbreaking “City and Cosmos: The Arts of Teotihuacan” exhibition presents objects unearthed over the last few decades—including some even in the last few years. It also features nearly 200 items from the area located about 30 miles northeast of Mexico City. The objects at LACMA include a monumental sculpture made out of volcanic rock; mural paintings and artwork that adorned walls in the city; and smaller items carved or made from greenstones, shells, and ceramic. They give a sense of how this pre-Hispanic people lived in the first millennium CE.

The “City and Cosmos” showcase was organized in partnership with the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH) in Mexico and the de Young Museum, Fine Arts Museums in San Francisco (where it was recently on display). It provides the opportunity to see objects never before exhibited in the United States.

Teotihuacan and TlalocanLACMA

LACMA CEO Michael Govan noted that many different peoples and cultures shaped the region over the centuries. “Teotihuacan was one of the most significant civic centers in the Western Hemisphere,” he said.

Teotihuacan thrived in central Mexico from the first century BCE through the fifth century CE. It was then the largest urban area in Mesoamerica with approximately 100,000 residents. The community was built in a grid plan that covered about 8 to 9 square miles. It was highly organized and used complex irrigation systems to reroute natural water sources to the area.

A journey through the LACMA exhibition begins with new discoveries from Tlalocan, the tunnel discovered in 2003 by a Mexican archaeological team. Located underneath the Feathered Serpent Pyramid, the tunnel contained an astounding collection of objects. Near Tlalocan’s final chamber, they found four sculptures, two of which are in the LACMA exhibit. Large incised shells from the find are also shown.

Exhibit Highlights

“City and Cosmos” is organized based on the city’s primary architectural complexes and the three major pyramids: Sun Pyramid, Moon Pyramid, and Feathered Serpent Pyramid. Additional galleries present items from the residential compounds and the populations along the city edge.

Noteworthy items presented include:

  • Standing greenstone figurines with rounded faces found in the tunnel under the Feathered Serpent Pyramid.
  • A male figurine made of greenstone and serpentine alongside a obsidian female figurine surrounded by 18 pieces of obsidian shaped like serpents and lightning bolts found in a burial sits under the Moon Pyramid.
  • Striking massive stone carvings, particularly a fragment of one featuring a circular design with a skull centerpiece.
  • Vessels depicting one of Teotihuacan’s most important deities, the Storm God, with goggled eyes, and pronounced fangs. Other objects depict the Fire God, who sits cross-legged with a fire pit on hLACMAis head.
  • Framing murals featuring serpents and flowers painted directly onto wet plaster that adorned in interior rooms. The mural fragments show that they used strong colors, particularly red.
  • A large volcanic stone Mosaic Jaguar from the Xalla residential compound.
  • Several ornate incense burners portraying butterflies and warriors.

The ancient Mexican artifacts from Teotihuacan will be at LACMA through July 15, 2018. The museum is located in the mid-Wilshire area near the La Brea Tar Pits.

By Dyanne Weiss

Exhibit visit March 21, 2018
LACMA: City and Cosmos: The Arts of Teotihuacan
San Jose Mercury News: Ancient Mexican world springs to life at the de Young

Photos by Dyanne Weiss

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