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Ancient American Art in The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing

The galleries for Ancient American art (Galleries 356, 357, 358) in The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing have temporarily closed in preparation for the exciting new renovation project which will reenvision these collections for a new generation of visitors. 

While the galleries are closed a selection of works are on view in the Great Hall Balcony.

A rich history of creative expression—parallel to, but independent of, the rest of the world—unfolded in North, Central, and South America thousands of years prior to European colonization. Over the course of several millennia, artists transformed select materials into monumental stone sculptures, finely crafted gold ornaments, and other spiritually charged works in wood, ceramic, shell, textile, and featherwork. The Met’s collection of ancient American art sheds light on how these works were commissioned, created, and animated by powerful men and women across the continents, both in life and ultimately in death, as vital funerary possessions that accompanied them into the afterlife. The Museum’s holdings reflect the diversity of indigenous nations in the Americas and celebrate the associated visual cultures, origin stories, and daily lives of the people who made them. The galleries present a journey through time and space, from the royal courts of the Classic Maya and their peers to the south, the Moche, to the massive city of Teotihuacan in central Mexico, to centers of innovative sculptural production in Western Mexico and Ecuador, and finally to the imperial capitals of the Incas and the Aztecs.


The Met began to acquire works of ancient American art in the nineteenth century, but a reignited interest in the 1960s culminated with the establishment of the Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, the promised gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, and the major centennial exhibition Before Cortés: Sculpture of Middle America (1970). Since the opening of The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing in 1982, further international collaborations with colleagues and institutions across Latin America have resulted in landmark projects, from major exhibitions to focused explorations of specific topics.

The online collection features high-resolution, open-access images of works in the collection, along with cultural and chronological information. These object records—an ongoing research project—also provide data on the history of works from the time of their creation to their acquisition by the Museum.

Most of the collection comes from unknown archaeological contexts. The Museum is guided by the Report of the Association of Art Museum Directors' Task Force on the Acquisition of Archaeological Materials and Ancient Art (revised 2013) and the American Association of Museums' Standards Regarding Archaeological Material and Ancient Art, see Collections Management Policy.

For further reading on the history of the department, see Making The Met: 1870-2020 and The Nelson A. Rockefeller Vision: Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.

Explore the Collection

Discover highlights from our collection.

The Renovated Galleries

After nearly forty years since the inauguration of The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing, The Met is creating three distinct new galleries for African Art, Ancient American Art, and Oceanic Art. Learn more about the renovation here.

Special Installations

Containing the Divine: Peru

Learn about how vessels from the Andean region of South America contained concepts of transformation, power, and cosmological knowledge.

Featured Article

Moche Portrait Vessels

Artists of the Moche cultures excelled at the creation of “portrait vessels,” so-called for their striking apparent resemblance to specific individuals.

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Discover The Met’s many publications on ancient American art.

Blog Articles

Read fresh perspectives on ancient American art from curators and others at the Museum.


Watch videos on ancient American art at The Met — interviews, lectures, exhibitions previews, and more.

Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History

Browse richly illustrated essays on ancient American art.

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Meet the Fellows

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Curatorial Friends Group

The Friends of The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing: Art of Five Continents brings together patrons and collectors in support of the department.