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Olmec Art of Ancient Mexico

June 30 – October 20, 1996
East Building, Concourse

Installation view of Olmec Art of Ancient Mexico, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Gallery Archives

This exhibition is no longer on view at the National Gallery.

Overview: The exhibition, the first comprehensive show of Olmec art, consisted of 120 Olmec objects from public and private collections. The installation included 15 monumental works, among them the 13-ton colossal head from San Lorenzo that left Mexico for the first time for this exhibition, as well as jade and serpentine figures and jade masks.

An audio tour was narrated by Earl A. Powell III, director of the National Gallery. A video program produced by the National Gallery of Art was shown regularly in the East Building small auditorium, adjacent to the exhibition. During the summer, the Mexican Cultural Institute presented in Washington a variety of activities, including dance and musical performances and lectures related to the exhibition. A special lecture series entitled The Olmec World was held in the large auditorium on Tuesdays from September 17 through October 8. Jade and ceramic objects from the exhibition inspired a line of jewelry, which was sold in the East Building gift shop. D. Dodge Thompson, chief of exhibitions at the National Gallery, coordinated the show for the Gallery.

Organization: This exhibition was organized by the National Gallery of Art in collaboration with Mexico's Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, through its Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia.

Sponsor: The show was made possible by The Fund for the International Exchange of Art and generous support from Goldman, Sachs, and Co., Grupo Financiero Banamex-Accival, Pulsar Internacional, and Ford Motor Company, as well as other corporations. Additional support was provided by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

Related publication: The Olmecs (1200-400 B.C.), by Enrique Vela. Supplement to the magazine Arqueología Mexicana, March/April 1995 (English translation). [Archaeological maps, pre-Columbian timeline, and catalogue of colossal Olmec heads.]

Attendance: 222,199

Catalog: Olmec Art of Ancient Mexico, edited by Elizabeth P. Benson and Beatriz de la Fuente. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1996.

Brochure: Olmec Art of Ancient Mexico, by Susan M. Arensberg. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1996.