Sunday, March 21, 2010

Vanishing Culture

A 1,200-pound stone head of an Aztec moon goddess has moved into the Getty Villa. So have life-size statues of a warrior adorned with eagle feathers, a duck-billed wind god and a demon known as the Lord of Death.

Made between 1440 and 1521 and on loan from Mexico City's National Museum of Anthropology and the Templo Mayor Museum, the massive artworks are among 64 sculptures, paintings and works on paper in "The Aztec Pantheon and the Art of Empire." Opening Wednesday, it's the most surprising exhibition yet to appear at Southern California's bastion of classical Greek and Roman antiquities.

The Villa has raised eyebrows with temporary installations of contemporary art related to its collections and exhibitions. But Aztec art? At a museum devoted to art made many centuries earlier on the opposite side of the world?

"It's probably not what you would have expected at the Getty Villa," says Claire L. Lyons, the Getty's antiquities curator who organized the show with John M.D. Pohl, a pre-Columbian specialist and research associate at UCLA's Cotsen Institute of Archaeology. "But we have long been interested in expanding beyond the classical Mediterranean." "In Search of Biblical Lands: Nineteenth-Century Photography of the Ancient Near East," to appear in 2011, will explore historic sites and pastoral life on the eastern margins of the Mediterranean.

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