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Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas

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The Museum's collection of art of the peoples of sub-Saharan Africa, the Pacific Islands, and North, Central, and South America comprises more than eleven thousand works of art of varied materials and types, representing diverse cultural traditions from as early as 3000 B.C.E. to the present. Highlights include decorative and ceremonial objects from the Court of Benin in Nigeria; sculpture from West and Central Africa; images of gods, ancestors, and spirits from New Guinea, Island Melanesia, Polynesia, and Island Southeast Asia; and objects of gold, ceramic, and stone from the Precolumbian cultures of Mexico and Central and South America.

Now at the Met

A Jewelry Designer's Tour of the Met

Debbie Kuo, Administrator, Department of Greek and Roman Art

Posted: Friday, May 8, 2015

The Met's collection is a world of inspiration for artists. As an administrator in the Department of Greek and Roman Art and a jewelry designer, I often stop in the galleries on my way to a meeting or sketch during my lunch break, and I am constantly looking to past centuries for new ideas.

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Olmec Babies as Early Portraiture in the Americas

James Doyle, Assistant Curator, Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas

Posted: Friday, April 17, 2015

One of the stars of gallery 358 and the recent exhibition The Nelson A. Rockefeller Vision: In Pursuit of the Best in the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas is a seated figure of a chubby baby in the Olmec style from Central Mexico (fig. 1). As the Rockefeller exhibit pointed out, this is among one of the most celebrated Olmec ceramic works known to scholars, and was even selected as the cover model for the Museum of Primitive Art's landmark show on Preclassic Mesoamerica in 1965.

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Where the Vast Sky Meets the Flat Earth: Framing Plains Indians

Daniel Kershaw, Exhibition Design Manager, Design

Posted: Monday, March 30, 2015

When I began thinking about the installation plan for the exhibition Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky almost two years ago, I started organizing the artworks and contemplating the layout of the scheduled gallery. The Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall (gallery 999) is usually divided into rooms, or a sequence of manageable spaces, but somehow this seemed inappropriate for an exhibition focused on art devoted to, and deeply reflective of, its overwhelming natural environment. Almost none of the objects, with the exception of modern and contemporary works, needed to be mounted to a wall, so that left most of the walls of the Met's second-largest special exhibition gallery available.

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Sacrifice, Fealty, and a Sculptor's Signature on a Maya Relief

James Doyle, Assistant Curator, Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas

Posted: Thursday, March 19, 2015

One of the Maya masterworks at The Metropolitan Museum of Art is an eighth-century relief with enthroned ruler, likely a fragment of the carved lintel of a doorway from the site of La Pasadita in northwestern Guatemala (fig. 1). La Pasadita was visited in the 1970s by renowned explorer and monument recorder Ian Graham, but subsequently became dangerous for scholarly visits because of border conflicts during the country's decades-long civil conflict. Land mines and security problems prevented archaeological work until 1998, when Charles Golden and colleagues performed reconnaissance in the area. Even today, the site lies within a troubled zone suffering the effects of narcotrafficking and illegal settlements within the national parks in the Usumacinta River drainage.

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Dana Claxton to Perform Original Piece, Fringed, at the Met

Amanda Malcolm, Intern, Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas

Posted: Thursday, March 12, 2015

This Sunday, March 15, filmmaker, photographer, and performance artist Dana Claxton will present an original piece entitled Fringed, which she created specifically for the Metropolitan Museum in honor of the exhibition The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky. Claxton's art, which is also represented in the exhibition, expresses reverence for her Lakota heritage and challenges the viewer to engage with Native American identities in contemporary society.

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Now at the Met

The Plains Indians Exhibition: A Milestone for the Met

Judith Ostrowitz, Research Associate, Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas

Posted: Monday, March 9, 2015

Today, The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky, a ground-breaking exhibition of Native American art, opens to the public at the Metropolitan Museum. Although indigenous art from North America has been presented at the Museum before, both in the permanent galleries in the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing and in smaller-scale temporary exhibitions, this project represents a certain milestone in the Museum's history. It focuses on a single region and includes more than 150 works of art that range from ancient stone sculptures made before European contact through painted buffalo hides and items of prestigious regalia to more recent works on paper, paintings, photographs, and a contemporary video installation piece. The scope of this exhibition is extremely ambitious, and I am delighted to have been a part of this project as the organizer for the venue here in New York.

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The Gilded Road: A Journey in Tweets

James Doyle, Assistant Curator, Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas

Posted: Monday, March 2, 2015

I recently embarked on a research trip that revealed new insights into the cultural contexts of some of the Met's most beloved objects made of gold, silver, and copper from Central and South America. The ancient artists that lived in present-day Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru produced incredible metal masterpieces now found in national, public, and private collections around the world. Though the specific focus of my trip was to study metallurgical traditions, visits to archaeological sites and new museums held many surprises pertaining to the arts of architecture, textiles, pottery, and even woodworking. Throughout the trip, I documented our team's visits to each place on Twitter. Here is a summary of the three-week journey from Panama to Peru, illustrated with a selection of the photos I tweeted.

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Now at the Met

A Mountain's Eyebrow: The Met's Earliest Ancient American Acquisition

James Doyle, Assistant Curator, Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas

Posted: Monday, December 22, 2014

In the 1870s a young Alphonse J. Lespinasse arrived in Mérida, Campeche, Mexico, to begin his term as United States consul. In those days, the Yucatán Peninsula was a volatile place, having been the scene of a political rebellion known as the Caste War of Yucatán, which began in the late 1840s. (In fact, one of the outcomes of the conflict was that peoples of Maya descent formed the independent nation of Chan Santa Cruz in the modern state of Quintana Roo, and even established diplomatic relations with Mexico and the United Kingdom.) Lespinasse arrived in the middle of a tense situation between native Yukatek Maya speakers and landowners who were largely foreigners, or criollos, of European descent.

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What's New in Gallery 350: Dogon Metalwork

Yaëlle Biro, Associate Curator, Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas

Posted: Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A group of fifteen iron and copper alloy miniature sculptures and ornaments has recently been installed in a wall case in gallery 350 dedicated to Dogon art from Mali. Combining three ornaments from the Met's own holdings with works selected from a private collection, this is the largest group of such Dogon miniatures ever featured at the Museum.

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Now at the Met

The Arts of a Mesoamerican Metropolis, Here at the Met

James Doyle, Assistant Curator, Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas

Posted: Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sergio Gomez and a team of investigators under the Feathered Serpent Pyramid at the site of Teotihuacan—one of the largest and most elaborate pyramids of the ancient world—are exploring a recently discovered man-made tunnel that passes under the east-west axis of the building, and have already uncovered rich dedicatory offerings using unmanned vehicles and controlled excavations (fig. 1). Teotihuacan is remarkable for the scale and elaboration of its architecture, the well-organized grid on which the city was planned, and an artistic tradition that included stone sculpture, mural painting, and pottery. The city's residents lived in complex apartment compounds from the late first millennium b.c. to the mid-seventh century a.d., suggesting a relatively stable social structure unlike that of other cities in the ancient New World. There were even neighborhoods of foreigners who continued their local traditions in distinct "barrios" of the city. A truly cosmopolitan place, Teotihuacan was the Manhattan of its time—a hub of activity and a destination for those from far away.

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