Olmec Art of Ancient Mexico

Olmec Art of Ancient Mexico

by Elizabeth P. Benson

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Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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 objectsall decorated with incised motifs constituting a symbolic language suggesting religion, cosmic beliefs and political statementsare 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, Teotihuacn 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. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Archaeologists have traced the major civilizations of Mexico back to the Olmecs, who lived in the southeast in the first and second millennia B.C. This is a catalog of one of the first entirely Olmec exhibitions, organized jointly with Mexico's Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes. Essays by several well-known U.S. and Mexican authors reflect modern attempts to understand what Olmec art meant to its creators, while color plates show artifacts from major Mexican museums. Because of its different focus, this book is an excellent companion to Jill Guthrie's The Olmec World: Ritual and Rulership (Abrams, 1996), which accompanied an exhibit at Princeton's art museum. Objects from the Princeton exhibit were mainly from private collections, and treatment of art objects in Guthrie's book is by subject areas, whereas this book takes a more geographical approach and includes articles on specific museum collections and on the daily life of the people. Recommended for large public libraries and academic libraries.-Sylvia Andrews, Indiana State Lib., Indianapolis

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Abrams, Harry N., Inc.
Publication date:
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9.87(w) x 12.88(h) x 1.02(d)

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