This beautiful book is the catalog of an exhibition of Olmec art that opened in 1996 at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Anyone who ever traveled through Mexico and visited its archaeological sites will recognize the seminal imagery of Olmec sculpture and objects. Their significance to Mexico's most ancient culture, which prospered 3,000 years ago, is examined in detail. There are texts by 14 specialists, and all of the photographs were commissioned to illustrate the 120 pieces, which include monumental sculptures and smaller figurines excavated from archaeological sites, and axes and other objects related to human sacrifice. Since no written documents survive, these objects and works of art provide the sole insight into the mysteries of this culture's history, cosmology, and daily life.
From Publishers Weekly
The Olmec art style, characterized by powerful, multi-ton basalt sculptures of figures and portrait heads in full-round and relief; smaller, finely cut and polished jade and serpentine figurines, masks, celts and ornaments; and fine ceramic representations of animal and human figures as well as pottery, flourished mainly in the Gulf Coast region of Mexico between 1200 and 600 B.C. One hundred and twenty of these extraordinary objects?all decorated with incised motifs constituting a symbolic language suggesting religion, cosmic beliefs and political statements?are well reproduced in this book, which doubles as the catalogue for an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art. For many years the Gulf Coast Olmec were considered the mother culture of Mesoamerica, transmitting their style and beliefs through widespread trade and conquest and setting the pattern for the architectural complexes, social organization, religion and artistic expression of the great, later civilizations of the Maya, Teotihuacan and Aztec. But it has never been clear whether the Olmec style represented an Olmec people, and recent archeological investigations, described in several essays here, cast doubt on this theory, suggesting instead that a significant number of regional sites offer a coherent set of early Mesoamerican architectural vestiges and Olmec style elements, and that there were multiple active partners in the elaboration of a common system of Mesoamerican beliefs and practices. However, casual readers will have to grapple with academic prose to extract the considerable information in this compilation of often repetitive essays. The authors are curators of pre-Columbian material. Illustrations.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.