Sunday, December 30, 2007

I came to the Pre-Colombian exhibit at the Denver Art Museum with the expectation to see more pots that depicted daily life, more illustrations of people and what I think of as particularly Aztec imagery. This expectation is directly related to my memories of and familiarity with the Pre-Colombian collection at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

I chose this seated female figure from the Pre-Colombian ceramics because it seemed to me to be a calm, almost meditative figure. The quality of quietness in this figure is important to me in that I enjoy art that makes me step back for a second—this reflective quality is one that I am drawn to because my own work is not quite there yet—but I am aiming to get it there if I can.

I do feel that this object is sincere, mostly thanks to the attention to detail in the surface treatment. I also feel that it is very related to death and the stillness of the dying, something about the eyes suggests this to me. I think it is the darkness and the closed quality of the eyes that stands out in this way. Though there doesn’t seem to be humor here, there is a sense of the sublime in regards to the spiritual. Much of my sense of this figure comes from speculating answers to some questions in regards to the physical, social and historical aspects of the work as follows:


This female figure was made form local earthenware and slips and resists, it has no glaze but has been highly burnished. This burnishing indicates a high level of skill in the maker. The smaller than life size scale of the figure in relationship to the amount of detail on the surface also indicates skill. It is a hollow female figural sculpture, which seems to have been made for religious use, maybe even for a tomb.


Because the time spent is valuable time in any agrarian society and because this object was clearly not made for everyday use, I have to conclude that it was most likely made for the private use of an upper class citizen. I imagine that this figure is valued for completely different reasons today than when it was originally fabricated. I believe the cultural influence on this object is regional rather than far-reaching. There appears to be much attention to realism in the rendering of the female body, but more stylistic rendering of the face, legs, hands and arms. This makes me wonder if it is an idealized representation of the female figure? The tattoo-like detailing on the skin also points me to this conclusion. The body has been made beautiful and aesthetic through the use of iconic imagery, symbolism and patterning—perhaps even through the seated positioning and the specificity of the eyes.


It is not particularly clear what the purpose or use of this object is, it is dirty and aged. It will appreciate in value over time because there are only so many Pre-Colombian objects out there in the world to own. The figure could still be used today for what it was originally intended for. I would say the modern equivalent would be the tombstone and the objects we are buried in/with. The object seems well cared for and not damaged by time.

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