This article is reprinted from Arts Magazine,
the bimonthly publication of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Four Thousand Years of American Art
An unprecedented exhibition introduces the world to the arts of ancient
By Molly Hennen
OPENING IN MINNEAPOLIS after a very successful tour of
France, Sacred Symbols: Four Thousand Years of Ancient American Art
highlights the rich history of Native American cultures and showcases
many masterpieces from The Minneapolis Institute of Arts permanent
collection. Conceived within the FRAME (French Regional American Museums
Exchange) consortium of French and American museums, it provided an
opportunity for the Institute, the organizer and primary lender, and
six other American museums to share the wealth of their collections
with four museums throughout France. It has been an unprecedented chance
to familiarize the people in these regional centers with the art of
Native American civilizations, and will serve a similar purpose here,
the exhibitions only U. S. venue.
Many have heard of the Maya, Aztec, and Inca cultures,
but far fewer know the masterworks of the Olmec, Colima, or Moche. The
cultures of ancient America were complex and varied, and Sacred Symbols
features art from a selection of some of the most significant groups.
The overview of cultures is what makes Sacred Symbols
unusual and compelling. Showing the civilizations of early America in
context with one another allows the visitor to understand the cultural
interconnections. Linked by vast networks of trade, the ancient Americans
exchanged materials, technology, ideas, and iconography, and it is fascinating
to discover these interactions. Even more exciting is the chance to
see top objects from The Minneapolis Institute of Arts placed in proximity
with pieces of similar quality from other museums for the first time.
The oldest piece in the show is also the most modern looking,
and was the generous gift of our former Trustee Chair, Beverly Grossman.
This birdstone was carved in about 2500 B.C. by an artist of the Ancient
Woodlands culture, living and working in what is now the eastern United
States. Despite its age, its sleek abstracted lines are as up-to-date
as anything created in the last century. This exquisite small sculpture
was both utilitarian and aesthetic. It served as a weight for a spear
thrower, to increase the spears power and effectiveness, while
simultaneously providing decoration, cleverly meeting the need for function
and ornamentation in one object.