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Frist Center presents exhibition of ancient American art from the John Bourne Collection
Figural Pendant, Maya, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, or Honduras, Early Classic Period, 250–450 CE, Jadeite, 2 5/8 x 1 7/8 x 1/2 in., The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, promised gift of John Bourne (TL.2009.20.263), Photo © The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.
NASHVILLE, TENN.- The Frist Center for the Visual Arts welcomes an impressive array of nearly 125 ancient American art objects in Exploring Art of the Ancient Americas: The John Bourne Collection. Opening Friday, March 1, 2013 in the Center’s Upper-Level Galleries, this exhibition provides a compelling overview of the art made in Mesoamerica, Central America and Andean South America between the years of 1200 B.C. and A.D. 1520, when the Spanish conquest of the New World began.

Featuring select pieces from the John Bourne Collection at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, the exhibition presents the objects as both beautiful art forms and insightful expressions of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. “The people inhabiting these regions forged remarkably innovative and sophisticated cultures making the region one of the world’s great cradles of civilization on par with those in Europe and Asia,” says Frist Center Curator Katie Delmez.

The religious, political and social beliefs of the Olmec, Aztec, Maya and Inka civilizations, among many others, are revealed through the various utilitarian and decorative vessels, sculptures, metal works and jewelry. The pieces serve as illustrations of these societies’ fundamental principles such as the shamanic foundation of rulership in Mesoamerica, Costa Rica and Panama, as well as the cosmic principles embodied by gold and silver in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

“Artists of these ancient cultures expressed each society’s individual characteristics through their unique monumental architecture and artful renderings of human figures, spiritual beings and deities,” Ms. Delmez explains. “They also created works detailing aspects of daily life, such as dogs, llamas and other animals fashioned from clay and precious metals.”

Additionally, Art of the Ancient Americas touches on the performative aspects of politics and religion in ancient American societies. Included in the exhibition are elaborate musical instruments and emotive portrayals of dancers that were used during public and religious events by all classes. “Performance was a key mechanism for strengthening bonds of community and religious beliefs,” says Ms. Delmez. “It was a vital social device for real-time communication of a culture’s ideologies, similar to how the Internet and TV function within contemporary society.”

All of the works in the exhibition come from the collection of John Bourne, which he generously gifted to the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. After a trip to the jungles of southern Mexico in 1945, Bourne, along with another explorer and photographer, became the first non-Maya to see the ruins of Bonampak, the now famous Mayan site celebrated for its royal building whose interior walls are covered with historically and politically significant murals. Enamored of the creative expressiveness of the peoples of the ancient Americas, Bourne began collecting art from this region and time period. “At this time in the 1950s, Bourne was one of only a few—which included the Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo—who recognized pre-Columbian artifacts as fine art,” Ms. Delmez notes. “Art of the Ancient Americas is as much about the cultural expression of these inimitable cultures as it is John Bourne’s lifelong love of collecting works from these regions.”

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