The Aztec Empire
Download high resolution, press-approved images.
Have a media inquiry? Contact us for more information.
Join the Press List
The Aztec Empire
The Aztec Empire, Friday, October 15, 2004–Sunday, February 13, 2005
Press Preview: Thursday, October 14, 2004, 10 AM–2 PM
NEW YORK, NY—June 2004—This fall the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum examines the extraordinary civilization of the Aztecs through more than 440 works drawn from public and private collections, including archaeological finds of the last decade never before seen outside Mexico. The Aztec Empire is the most comprehensive survey of the art and culture of the Aztecs ever assembled, and the first major exhibition devoted to the subject in the U.S. in more than 20 years.
The Aztec Empire is organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in collaboration with the Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes (CONACULTA) and the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH). Guest curator is Felipe Solís Olguín, Director of the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City, co-curator of the large-scale survey Aztecs at the Royal Academy in London in 2003, and one of the world's foremost authorities on Aztec art and culture. Exhibition design is by Enrique Norten of TEN Arquitectos + J. Meejin Yoon.
The Aztec Empire begins by painting a vivid and immediately recognizable portrait of daily life in a thriving metropolis and seat of power. In an early section sculptures in stone or fired clay and stucco depict the appearance of an urbane people in an ascendant society in a variety of poses, whether standing, seated, kneeling, crouching, holding a cacao pod, or bearing an elaborate headdress. Some are idealized, such as fertility figures or figures of warriors; others, like a stone sculpture of a hunchback (ca. 1500), savor the particular.
Visitors then encounter a bestiary of meticulously observed depictions of the flora and fauna of Mesoamerica from the 13th to 16th centuries, featuring eagle, coyote, jaguar, monkey, dog, rabbit, frog, snake, locust, and a larger-than-life-size, realistically depicted carved cornelian grasshopper (ca. 1500) that seems poised to jump.
The Aztec Empire provides a broader chronological and cultural context for the Aztecs' achievements than earlier exhibitions, whose focus has been the representation of Aztec society at its peak. An early section focuses on the ways in which the Aztecs adopted and transformed the forms and symbols of their ancestors, among them the Olmecs, Toltecs, and the people of Teotihuacan. A great treasure from the latter period is a highlight of the exhibition: a stone and turquoise mask of a human face, with eyes, joined eyebrows, facial symbols, nose ring, and necklace inlaid with shell and obsidian (ca. 450). Among the works representing the cultures of the peoples who surrounded the Aztecs, whether as defeated subjects or enemies, are never-before-exhibited objects from the Huastec civilization (ca. 1200–1521), including a polychrome anthropomorphic pot portraying the face of a man with horizontal bands of paint along his cheekbones, bulging eyes, and rows of pointed teeth.
The Aztec Empire examines the Aztecs' symbolic interpretation of the cosmos and the natural world; gods, rites, and ceremonies; and use of war and human sacrifice in service to an extraordinarily prescribed religion. Many of the featured objects will help the viewer understand the symbolism of the Templo Mayor, or Great Temple, of Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City), which according to the foundation myths of the Aztecs represented the place where its patron god, Huitzilopochtli, was born. This symbolic building, designed as a stepped pyramidal platform, one of 78 in the sacred precinct, has yielded many treasures since it was discovered by accident in the heart of downtown Mexico City in 1978. One of the most important artifacts in the exhibition was uncovered only a decade ago: a nearly six-foot-tall fired-clay figure of the god of death and darkness, Mictlantecuhtli (ca. 1480), who is shown stripped of half his flesh, with enormous claws for hands, and a head pocked with holes where actual hair would have been threaded. Another icon is the life-sized eagle warrior (ca. 1440–69), one of two monumental polychrome clay figures found in a room in the House of Eagles at the Templo Mayor that are believed to represent the sun at dawn. A ritual offering in the form of a greenstone canoe, less than a foot long, accompanied by a cluster of small fishes carved in mother of pearl, is among the never-before-exhibited artifacts from Templo Mayor to be featured.
The Aztec Empire brings together many different representations of the Aztec pantheon, including large-scale stone sculptures thought to have been inspired by the huge monoliths of Teotihuacan and Tula, which the Aztecs would have looked to in searching for their own past. Also featured are stone discs, stone and fired-clay tablets, and a palm-size greenstone pendant depicting the god of fire, Xiuhtecuhtli (ca. 1500). The pendant is particularly precious, for it was probably reserved for use by an Aztec ruler.
The Aztec Empire gives viewers a sense of the life of the Aztec nobility and that of commoners, merchants, and artisans, through jewelry, body ornaments, musical instruments, household objects, and other works made of gold, silver, turquoise, bone, shell, and feathers. Such artifacts as earspools, nose ornaments, and the handle of a flyswatter not only reflect daily life, but show that the Aztecs, formidable stonemasons and ceramicists, were masters at fashioning objects from a variety of materials.
The exhibition covers Aztec civilization through the time of the European conquest, with objects that reflect the early states of the Spanish campaign to convert the indigenous peoples of Mexico to Christianity and the eventual devastation of Aztec society. Among these is a tour-de-force example of feather weaving on bark, a chalice cover (ca. 1540) designed with a circular, wave-like pattern believed to symbolize holy water transmitting the word of God.
For The Aztec Empire, architects Enrique Norten of TEN Arquitectos + J. Meejin Yoon introduce a single bold design element into the classic white wall interior of Frank Lloyd Wright's landmark building: an undulating ribbon wall covered with dark gray wool felt. This serpentine wall, absorbing light and sound, will render the space a deep and mute environment. As it bends and peels to accommodate the various scales of the works on view, the wall creates new spatial experiences along the ramps. By focusing on the experience of the perimeter and periphery, as opposed to the center, the project accommodates the curatorial themes of the exhibition, while at the same time providing a smooth and nonuniform system for displaying an array of artifacts.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated publication, entitled The Aztec Empire, which will feature 28 essays by 23 scholars, authorities in their respective fields, exploring such aspects of the Aztec culture as their view of the cosmos, religion and rituals, and daily life, both as common citizens and nobility. Ecological and anthropological evaluations will also be included. The catalogue is 376 pages with 199 full-color plates as well as additional illustrations ($75 hardcover, $50 softcover). It is published by the Guggenheim Museum and will be distributed in North America by D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers. The companion volume The Aztec Empire: Catalogue of the Exhibition documents every artifact in the exhibition with full-color images and brief, authoritative texts. It is approximately 80 pages and will include over 400 images ($24.95). There will be a special discount for the purchase of both catalogs.
The Aztec Empire will travel to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao from March 21 to September 4, 2005.
The Aztec Empire is organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in collaboration with the Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes (CONACULTA) and the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH) of Mexico.
Major sponsors of this exhibition are Banamex/Citigroup and Televisa.
Additional support provided by PEMEX, Mexico Tourism Board, and TELMEX.
The exhibition is made possible in part by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities, together with the generous support of the Leadership Committee for The Aztec Empire, GRUMA, ALFA, and Con Edison.
Transportation assistance provided by Aeromexico.
Media support provided by Channel Thirteen/WNET.
Special thanks to the Embassy of Mexico in the U.S., the Embassy of the United States in Mexico, and the Consulate General of Mexico in New York.
Selected Public Programs
The Arts in the Aztec Empire
Saturday, October 16, 10 AM–4 PM
This symposium on the Guggenheim exhibition The Aztec Empire brings together scholars from Mexico and the United States to discuss the role of art in the Aztec world and its impact on Aztec society, economy, education and politics. Presentations emphasize the daily life of the Aztecs, as well as their ritual practice. Participants will include Elizabeth Boone, Tulane University; Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, Templo Mayor Museum; Michael Smith, State University of New York at Albany; Felipe Solís Olguín, National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City and curator, The Aztec Empire; Richard Townsend, Art Institute of Chicago.
Contemporary Readings of the Mexican Past: Reinterpreting the History of Mexican Art
Tuesday, October 19, 6:30 PM
Mexico's ancient past and its modern art have been the subject of many international exhibitions. This panel critically examines the evolution of the perception and presentation of Mexico's past through exhibitions of Precolumbian objects and Mexican Modern and contemporary art organized abroad, ranging from the surveys of Precolumbian art assembled by curator Fernando Gamboa in New York in the 1930s to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s monumental exhibition Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries in 1994. Panelists discuss the construction of often conflicting readings of Mexican art in Mexico and in the United States. Participants will include Olivier Debroise, independent curator and critic; Néstor García Canclini, Chair, Department of Sociology, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana. Moderated by Mary Coffey.
Ndabua Isien/Nest of Images: Contemporary Indigenous Poetry of Mexico
Tuesday, December 14, 6:30 PM
This evening provides a rare opportunity to share the work of indigenous poets from Mexico. Readings by Mayan, Zapotec, and Mazatec poets will be translated and read in Spanish by Mónica de la Torre, editor of the Mexican poetry collection Reversible Monuments and in English by poet and writer Eliot Weinberger. This event emphasizes the varied nature of contemporary indigenous life in Mexico. Participants will include Briceida Cuevas Cob, Maya poet; Juan Gregorio Regino, Mazatec poet; Natalia Toledo, Zapotec poet. Moderated by Mónica de la Torre with English readings by Eliot Weinberger.
Cabaret Prehispánico: Performance by Jesusa Rodríguez
Saturday, November 13, 7 PM
Jesusa Rodríguez, one of Mexico's preeminent and most innovative performers, uses indigenous history to explore modern culture. In this special performance developed for the Guggenheim exhibition The Aztec Empire, Rodríguez presents a satirical "Precolumbian cabaret" in which she narrates the story of the Aztec empire and establishes a parallel with the contemporary empire of the U.S. Rodríguez uses the stage to give life to the static sculptures through which we know the Aztecs today. The work will be performed in Nahuatl, Spanish, and English.
From Aztec to High Tech: A Solo Performance by Guillermo Gómez-Peña
Saturday, November 20, 7 PM
Guillermo Gómez-Peña is back as a spoken word brujo-poeta, using multilingualism, humor, and hybrid literary genres as subversive strategies to explore fear of immigration, the dark side of globalization, the digital divide, censorship, and interracial sexuality. Continually developing multicentric narratives from a border perspective, Gómez-Peña creates what critics have termed "Chicano cyber-punk performances." In his work, cultural borders have moved to the center while the alleged mainstream is pushed to the margins and treated as exotic and unfamiliar, placing the audience in the position of "foreigner."
Public and Artist Interactions
The Brown Sheep Project - Performance Art as Alternative Pedagogy: A Workshop
Thursday and Friday, November 18 and 19, 6:30–9:30 PM
Since 1993, Guillermo Gómez-Peña and the Pocha Nostra performance troupe have conducted cross-cultural/cross-disciplinary/cross-generational workshops involving performance artists, actors, dancers, and students from diverse ethnic communities and artistic backgrounds. This two-day educational workshop aimed at emerging artists and cultural leaders sharpens performance and analytical skills in dialogue with like-minded cultural rebels. Participants create a temporary utopian space within a productive relationship between artist and community, promoting aesthetic freedom and cross-cultural dialogue. Instructor: Guillermo Gómez-Peña. The fee is $75 non-members/$65 members. To register, the public may call (212) 423-3637.
Dia de los Muertos: A Family Celebration
Saturday, October 30, 11:30 AM–5:30 PM
FREE with ticket obtained at El Museo del Barrio
This special collaboration between El Museo del Barrio and The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum invites families to celebrate the ancient Mexican tradition of the Day of the Dead. Beginning at El Museo, families learn about the feast which celebrates the cycle of life and death and honors our ancestors. All are invited to participate in educator-led discussions, art making and music workshops, and contribute to a communal altar. Then hop on the provided shuttle and head down to the Guggenheim Museum for a festive celebration, including live performances, refreshments, and educator-led tours of The Aztec Empire. (Shuttle transportation to the Guggenheim begins at 2:00 PM from El Museo.) This bilingual program includes free admission to both museums and shuttle transportation. Free admission by ticket only. Ticket distributed at El Museo del Barrio on day of event beginning at 11:30 AM. For more information, the public may call (212) 660-7134.
Bilingual Audio Tour
A family-oriented bilingual audio tour of selected works in The Aztec Empire will be available.
Family Highlights Tours
Second Sunday of each month, November–February, 1 and 2 PM
Free family highlights tours of The Aztec Empire. Children ages 5–12 and their adult companions are welcome to explore the exhibition and to participate in creative writing, movement exercises, and other gallery activities to make connections with works of art. Participants may meet the educator at the information desk upon arrival.
Life Lines: Finding Inspiration in Keith Haring's Art
Saturday, October 23, 1–4 PM
In conjunction with the exhibition Keith Haring: New Wave Aztec, on view in the Sackler Center, participants will focus on the lines and symbols used in Haring's work. This workshop engages participants in viewing and discussing the artist’s work and explores various types of lines to create images of importance to family members. Participants transform their drawings into linoleum prints inspired by Haring's work. Instructor: Wan Ling Li. Open to children ages 7–13 with an adult companion. $15 for one child, plus one free adult ($10 for members' children); $10 per additional adult or child. To register, the public may call (212) 423-3637.
Codices of the Aztecs
Saturday, November 13, 1–4 PM
During the Aztec empire, scribes recorded significant occurrences and myths in books of bark paper or animal skin called codices. Participants in this workshop will examine the codices in The Aztec Empire and then create ones of their own. Focusing on how these works were created, families will use natural inks and paints from stones, bugs, flowers, and earth, as the Aztecs would have done, along with symbolic imagery and figures to record important stories about their own family life. Instructor: Patricia Miranda. Open to children ages 7–13 with an adult companion. $15 for one child, plus one free adult ($10 for members' children); $10 per additional adult or child. To register, the public may call (212) 423-3637.
Aztec Animals & Animation
Saturdays, December 4 and 11, 2–4 PM
Participants explore the symbolism and forms of the clay animal figures in The Aztec Empire. In the first session, families will view the exhibition, create their own clay animals, and take digital photos of their creations to use in the second session to create an animated iMovie. Instructors: Jessica Wright, Education Manager, School Programs; Rosanna Flouty, Manager for New Media; Reynolds Tenazas-Norman, Learning Through Art Teaching Artist. Open to ages 7–13 with an adult companion. $15 for one child, plus one free adult ($10 for members' children); $10 per additional adult or child. To register, the public may call (212) 423-3637.
Art After School at the Guggenheim Tuesdays, Oct 19–Dec 7, 4–6:15 PM
Students get to know the museum's Frank Lloyd Wright architecture and the permanent collection. Classes are held in the Sackler Center for Arts Education, with visits to the current exhibitions, including The Aztec Empire, incorporated into each session. Children participate in interactive gallery visits followed by hands-on studio-art workshops. Led by museum educators, participants experiment with techniques from collage to digital media in individual and team projects. The program culminates with a showcase where students invite their families to view the work they have created. To ensure individual attention, this program is limited to 15 participants. Open to children ages 8–11. Tuition for this 8-week program is $275 ($250 for members' children). For information or to register, the public may call (212) 423-3637.
Keith Haring: New Wave Aztec
Flash-Based High School After-School Program
Mondays, October 25–December 6, 3:45–6 PM
Public Presentation: Wednesday, December 8, 5–7 PM
After viewing the exhibition The Aztec Empire, students explore original drawings and prints that illustrate artist Keith Haring's interest in ancient art traditions. As participants develop their own image-based vocabulary, they learn how to use Flash MX to animate line-based drawings for the web. Open to high school students ages 14–18. $35 fee includes all materials. Those interested may call Rosanna Flouty, Education Manager for New Media at (212) 423-3532 for an application.
# # #
General Information: 212-423-3500
Hours: Saturday–Wednesday 10 AM–5:45 PM; Friday 10 AM–8 PM; closed Thursday
During The Aztec Empire, special admission prices apply:
Admission Only: $18 adults; $15 students/seniors; children under 12 free; members free.
Family Sundays: $18 for families with children under 18 and up to 2 adult companions; second Sunday of each month during the exhibition.
Family Highlights Tour: Children ages 5–12 and their adult companions are welcome to explore The Aztec Empire and to participate in creative writing, movement exercises, and other gallery activities to make connections with works of art. Second Sunday of each month during the exhibition, 1 PM and 2 PM; free with museum admission.
Bring A Friend Fridays: Half-price admission on Friday evenings, 5–8 PM.
June 29, 2004
Betsy Ennis / Jennifer Russo
Guggenheim Museum Public Affairs Office