Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico

Resnick Pavilion
October 2, 2010–January 9, 2011

Olmec civilization, which began sometime around 1400 BC, was centered in the Gulf Coast states of Veracruz and Tabasco. Olmec architects and artists produced the earliest monumental structures and sculptures in Mexico, including enormous basalt portrait heads of their rulers. The colossal sculptures in the exhibition weigh between 7 and 10 tons each.

The exhibition also includes small-scale jadeite objects that embody the symbolism of sacred and secular authority among the Olmec. Olmec artists were unsurpassed in their ability to work with this extremely hard stone, using elementary tools like chert, water and sand.

Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico, is co-organized by Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, LACMA, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and is curated at LACMA by Virginia Fields, senior curator of Arts of the Ancient Americas. The exhibition at LACMA will be the first presentation on the West Coast of the colossal works and precious small-scale sculptures produced by Mexico's earliest civilization.

This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

Photo © 2010 Museum Associates/LACMA


El Bebé (Monument 2)
Mexico, Veracruz, La Merced
1000-800 BC
Bottle with Carved Relief
Mexico, Central Highlands
1200–600 BC
Seated Figure with Head Resting on Hand
Mexico, Puebla, Las Bocas
1200–800 BC
Colossal Head 5
Mexico, Veracruz, Municipality of Texitepec San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán
1200–900 BC

In Your Presence, by Marisela Norte

Writer Marisela Norte (she’s been called “…one of the most important literary voices to come out of East Los Angeles”) visited LACMA while we were installing Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico; she was awed as she watched the colossal stone pieces enter the museum. We invited Marisela to contribute a poem inspired by the experience as part of ongoing series Artists Respond. Marisela said this about the project: "I think the first thing that struck me was seeing the colossal head being taken out of its crate by the two cranes, with the Robert Irwin palm trees in the background,"...


Today, a few behind-the-scenes photos from the installation of Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico—one of the Resnick Pavilion’s inaugural exhibitions opening October 2. Hand painted onto the exhibition’s walls, this portion of a mural portrays a Maya dignitary carrying an Olmec-style baby, who represents the infant maize god. A royal figure dressed in an elaborate bird mask and ornaments form another mural. The zoomorphic throne may allude to ceremonies that occurred when the figure acceded to office...