Art, Exhibitions and Installations, Getty Research Institute

Obsidian Mirror-Travels Explores Myths and Truths about Ancient Mexico

The current exhibition at the Getty Research Institute, Obsidian Mirror-Travels: Refracting Ancient Mexican Art and Archaeology, challenges our ideas of how we understand the past. More than 70 objects from the Colonial era to the present, including maps, books, photographs, engravings, and contemporary works, explore how artists, archaeologists, and artists have looked through a mirror darkly at ancient Mexico.

The fragments of Mexico’s Pre-Columbian past are exactly that: fragments. Visitors to the exhibition are invited to think about what fragments say about a past civilization—and what they might say about us. These pieces, like our projections onto them, change over time.

The past is rarely cohesive or reconciled, or even ever past, says scholar and author Khristaan Villela, who curated the exhibition with senior collections cataloguer Beth Guynn. “People of all kinds—explorers, professors and visual artists—continue to mine ancient Mexico for inspiration,” he says.

In this video he discusses how the exhibition came to be and gives you a taste of what you’ll see in the show.

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      From you have I been absent in the spring,
      When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
      Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
      That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him,
      Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
      Of different flowers in odor and in hue,
      Could make me any summer’s story tell,
      Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew.
      Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
      Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
      They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
      Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
      Yet seemed it winter still, and, you away,
      As with your shadow I with these did play.

      —William Shakespeare, born April 23, 1564

      Vase of Flowers (detail), 1722, Jan van Huysum. The J. Paul Getty Museum

      04/23/14

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