Mayan Art

LACMA Wanderings: Part 2

As many probably already know, I have temporarily abandoned the Los Angeles area to work for a youth sports photography company for their shoot season. I have modeling commitments in the area, so I will be in southern CA periodically, but it still seemed fitting to visit LACMA one last time before moving up the coast. This time I forced myself to stay away from the European art, and instead went through the ancient Pacific and the Art of the Americas sections.

I was seriously just uncomfortable the whole time. Picture courtesy of LACMA website.

This self induced Picasso-fast drove home the huge influence of Central and South America on the Southern California cultural scene. Of the two, two and a half floors devoted to the art of the Americas, an entire floor is devoted to art from those regions, some contemporary and some less so. Seeing news wings of the museum called my attention to the variety in presentation present in each building. The ancient Pacific section was completely barren, with cards explaining the different objects tucked in the corner and no writing at all on the bright white display stands. In contrast, the ancient art from Central America was contained to two rooms in the middle of the section for the Americas, with brightly colored curtains around the ceiling, wall displays surrounded by an interesting shade of puce and lumpy wooden display structures scattered in the middle of the room. Hopefully it isn't too hard to determine which decorating pattern I preferred. The womb-like indigenous art galleries were unsettling and distracting, especially in contrast to the simple white walls of the surrounding galleries.

Maya Vase with Snake-Lady, artist and year unknown. Photo courtesy of Justin Kerr's Maya Vase Database.
People will probably be pretty confused about this in a few thousand years. Google Images

Luckily I found the Mayan art in a clean, white-walled space, information on each piece concisely printed next to the artifacts themselves. Near the end of the gallery I found a piece depicting a female figure, reclining with a huge snake, surrounded by other figures clearly less powerful than her. I will put a disclaimer that I can't prove that this picture is actually the piece I saw. I could not find it on the LACMA website, and the database where I found this image attributes the piece so the Kimbell Art Museum. However, considering this is exactly what I was looking at, the photo was uploaded in 1998, and the vase was not found on the Kimbell's website, I don't find it inconceivable that the piece may have changed hands. Regardless, the descriptive text talked about a possible deity referred to as "snake lady," never found in Mayan texts, but heavily represented in the civilization's art. I love the idea of this mystery goddess, strong and relaxed as a snake twines around her. However, what really drew me to the piece was the idea that we have no idea what the story of this potential goddess is. If I had posed for the vase painting, I would know the myth she represented, her significance, where she derived her power. Fast forward a few thousand years and this woman I posed for a is a complete unknown, the only proof of her importance her prominence in the art of the time. Our imperfect knowledge of her shows the communicative power of art and the immense power of time, erasing the entire mythology of a clearly prominent figure.