Exhibiting Mesoamerican Archaeology in the Early 21st Century

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 81st Annual Meeting, Orlando, FL (2016)

In the first decade and a half of the 21st Century, Mesoamerican archaeology remains in the Museum spotlight—most conspicuously in a proliferation of highly-touted traveling exhibits, but also featured in permanent galleries. This popularity suggests that the museum-going public has not yet satisfied its great curiosity and interest in the history and culture of Mesoamerica. For archaeologists, this presents a uniquely valuable opportunity to communicate new discoveries and understandings directly with the public through a dynamic medium. Yet assembling high quality exhibits continues to be challenging for a host of reasons. In particular, many cash-strapped museums are unable to fund the development of large exhibits and are employing fewer and fewer curators. In fact, many of today’s "blockbuster" exhibits are put together by for-profit entities. This symposium assembles a group of researchers who will share their experiences curating recent traveling and permanent exhibits featuring Mesoamerican archaeology. Presenters will touch on a number of issues, including the business-side of mounting exhibitions, strategies in communicating research effectively, ethical considerations, the politics of representation, collaboration with native communities, how exhibits may create new knowledge and spur the development of new research trajectories, and the future of exhibiting Mesoamerica.

Geographic Keywords

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-11 of 11)

  • Documents (11)

  • Ancient American Art at the Saint Louis Art Museum (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Matthew Robb.

    In 2013, the Saint Louis Art Museum presented the first major re-installation of its collection of art of the ancient Americas in nearly thirty years. This paper will present some observations on the challenges presented by a collection largely defined by a single donor, Morton D. May. May's donations coincided with the high water mark of collecting so-called "primitive" art in the 1950s and 60s. But there is also a history of collecting and displaying pre-Columbian art in Saint Louis before...

  • Challenges and successes of some Mesoamerican exhibits in small university museums around the turn of the 21st century (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Stephen Whittington.

    Curating exhibits focused on Mesoamerican archaeology in two small university museums between 1993 and 2013 involved challenges with both similarities to and differences from those involved in curating blockbuster exhibits in large museums. Four exhibits included long-term and short-term installations, as well as traveling versions, and focused on the Maya, West Mexico, and Mesoamerica in general. Challenges were small budgets and staffs, negotiating loans and venues with staffs of other...

  • Exhibiting Cultural Context (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only John Pohl.

    A continuing issue is the treatment in exhibitions of Pre-Columbian objects as simply works of art. This is as much due to museum department compartmentalization and the dominance of design divisions who do not consider the integration of meaningful detail a priority and may even see it as disruptive to the overall design concept. Many of us are interested in developing contextualization without inhibiting the ability of art and artifacts to be appreciated for their own aesthetic merits so we...

  • Exhibiting Maya Archaeology in the Developed World: A Developing Country Perspective (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only John Morris. Jaime Awe.

    Mounting exhibitions that highlight the achievements of Mesoamerican civilizations can be a daunting task for curators of even the most affluent museums in America, Europe or Asia. In the case of smaller museums with ever decreasing budgets, the challenges posed by these projects are greater, and sometimes even cost-prohibitive. But what about the situation faced by the lending institutions in the developing world? Are there challenges and benefits that result from their collaboration with...

  • From hero objects to foam blocks: Contextualizing the archaeological record in Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Edward Fleming. Liza Pryor.

    Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed is a 10,000- to 15,000-square-foot traveling exhibition created through multi-national, multi-institutional partnerships and intended to appeal to museum visitors of all ages. The core of the exhibition is a collection of more than 200 stunning and thought-provoking archaeological artifacts and ethnographic objects from throughout the Maya world. These objects provide visitors opportunities to engage with the authentic Maya past, the Maya today, and the work of...

  • Latin America’s New White Elephant: Museums and Exhibits of Pre-Hispanic Material Culture in the Post-Industrial City. (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Adam Sellen.

    The “Bilbao effect,” or “Guggenheim effect” as it is also known, posits that spectacular architecture designed by star architects can help renew a city’s cultural sector and turn around a languishing economy. Many world museums in post-industrial cities have tried, with varying degrees of success, to reproduce the model implemented in Bilbao. In this talk we will explore how a focus on “wow-factor” architecture has transformed museums in Latin America, and in particular how this approach has...

  • The Making of a Mesoamerican Blockbuster: Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Marc Levine.

    This paper draws on a case study of the making of Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed, a “blockbuster” traveling exhibit, to examine issues related to the business, development, and curation of museum exhibits featuring Mesoamerican culture and history. On the business side, museums face challenges in funding exhibits, managing risk, and ensuring return on investment. Development efforts struggle to deliver exhibits in tune with the public’s changing tastes without sacrificing institutional goals to...

  • Maya 2012. Prophecy becomes history. (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Dirk Van Tuerenhout.

    The Houston Museum of Natural Science hosted an exhibit on the Maya 2012 phenomenon. This presentation reviews the various stages of preparing an exhibit from initial concept to cutting the ribbon. In particular, the speaker will address developing the storyline, object selection and marketing of the exhibit.

  • The Mesoamerica exhibitions in the future Humboldt Forum in the center of Berlin (2016)
    DOCUMENT Full-Text Viola Koenig.

    The Ethnologisches Museum Berlin, Germany will move into a new building called Humboldt Forum in the center of Berlin. The opening is scheduled 2019. The concept and planning for the new exhibition of the collections from Meosamerica will be presented and discussed.

  • A New Bak’tun – Maya Archaeology, Stewardship and Exhibitions Beyond 2012 (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Loa Traxler.

    Mindful stewardship of cultural heritage is a collaborative and holistic effort, often carried out in changing social contexts and facing steep challenges. As archaeologists, we communicate our understanding of the past and the broad implications of archaeological research to the diverse publics that we serve. Drawing from recent work to organize and present the "Maya 2012: Lords of Time" exhibition, this presentation will highlight approaches taken to contextualize pre-Columbian Maya cultural...

  • Public or Private? Archaeology in Modern Guatemalan Museums (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Oswaldo Chinchilla.

    Recent decades have witnessed a veritable explosion in the number of museums in Guatemala. Most of the new museums are small, focused on specific collections or sites. Some emerged from governmental initiatives, but many are private endeavors. In this paper, I trace the historical development of museums, going back to earlier, nineteenth and early twentieth-century precedents. I also offer comments on modern Guatemalan museums, including questions of institutional development, funding,...