Recent archaeological discoveries have established Colombia as one of the earliest ceramic producing areas of the New World. Spanning more than 2500 years of cultural and artistic development, the 167 masterworks in this exhibition date from 1000 BC to the Spanish Conquest. Sophisticated as designers and artisans, Pre-Columbian artists favored abstraction and stylization, often preferring to suggest and imply rather than to depict and define. The ceramics in the exhibition represented a wide range of powerful forms, including highly decorated figural jars and urns, musical instruments and ritual paraphernalia. The accompanying gold works demonstrated that goldsmiths shared motifs and designs used by ceramists. Rarely art for art’s sake, almost every aspect of Pre-Columbian work conveys meaning that reflects indigenous religion, myths and sociology. The exhibition illuminated the role of the shaman as the link between the human world and the realm of spirits and gods in the cosmology of the civilized cultures that flourished in Colombia before the arrival of the Spanish.

During the run of the exhibition, Armand Labbé gave an illustrated lecture at Mingei, “Piercing the Pre-Columbian Veil.”

Organized by The American Federation of Arts and The Bowers Museum of Cultural Art. Curated by Armand Labbé, Director of Research and Collections at The Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, and Treasurer of the Board of Directors of Mingei International Museum. Objects were on loan from prestigious Colombian collections including the Museo del Oro, the Fondo de Promocíon de la Cultura and the Instituto Colombiano de Antropología (Colcultura) and private collections. The collections of The Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, the Michael C. Carlos Museum, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Denver Art Museum , the Field Museum of Natural History, and North American private collections were represented as well. The exhibition’s presentation at Mingei was funded in part by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture and the County of San Diego Community Enhancement Program.

Shamans, Gods and Mythic Beasts: Colombian Gold and Ceramics in Antiquity, published by the AFA and the University of Washington Press accompanied the exhibition, along with a complimentary brochure. The catalog included a lead essay by Labbé and essays by Warwick Bray, Leonor Herrera, Marianne Cardale Schrimpff, and Ana Maria Falchetti with a foreword by Julie Jones, curator in charge, Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It contained 150 color illustrations.

Travel assistance was provided by American Airlines. Educational materials were made possible by The Brown Foundation, Inc. Additional support was provided by the Benefactors Circle of the AFA. The exhibition was a project of ART ACCESS II, a program of the AFA with major support from the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund.

An exhibition of rare artworks from pre-Hispanic Colombia, SHAMANS, GODS AND MYTHIC BEASTS was the first major, international exhibition to focus on important ceramic sculpture and related gold works from ancient Colombia, the legendary El Dorado. The exhibition provided an opportunity to see works from heretofore-undocumented cultures dating from the first millennium BC.

Ron and Mary Taylor Gallery


On View: Jan 31, 1999 - Apr 11, 1999

Curator: Armand Labbe

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