Decoding Mimbres Painting: Ancient Ceramics of the American Southwest

Resnick Pavilion
May 20, 2018–September 16, 2018
Decoding Mimbres Exhibition Image

This exhibition will feature over 50 examples of the finely painted ceramic wares produced by the Mimbres people in the region of southwestern New Mexico between 850 and 1150 CE. The hallmark of Mimbres culture are extraordinary black-and-white ceramic bowls, painted with great ingenuity, dexterity, and precision. The bowls are best known for the variety of animals and plant life that they depict, with a small number of vessels showing human figures engaged in narrative scenes. Alongside these recognizable figurative paintings, Mimbres artists produced seemingly “geometric” designs including zigzags, spirals, checkerboard patterns, and other motifs that appear to have little or no reference to the natural world.

This exhibition will introduce the interpretations of longtime artist and observer, Tony Berlant, and scholar Evan Maurer. Their views are informed by scholarship and decades studying Mimbres ceramics, as well as the expertise of collaborators from many different disciplines. They present compelling evidence that the so-called Mimbres “geometrics” were not invented motifs without reference to the natural world, but rather abstracted depictions of various hallucinogenic plants—most commonly Datura—and the brain-generated shapes manifested in the eye as a result of ingesting these plants (often referred to as “entopic” shapes).

This exhibition was organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

All exhibitions at LACMA are underwritten by the LACMA Exhibition Fund. Major annual support is provided by Kitzia and Richard Goodman and Meredith and David Kaplan, with generous annual funding from Jerry and Kathleen Grundhofer, the Judy and Bernard Briskin Family Foundation, Louise and Brad Edgerton, Edgerton Foundation, Emily and Teddy Greenspan, Marilyn B. and Calvin B. Gross, David Lloyd and Kimberly Steward, David Schwartz Foundation, Inc., and Lenore and Richard Wayne.

Image: Bowl with Abstract Clusters of Datura Buds and Leaves, c. 850–1150, private collection, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA