- The Washington Times - Friday, July 21, 2006

NEW YORK — You might say “been there, done that” when you visit the Metropolitan Museum of Arts’ exhibit “Lords of Creation: The Origins of Sacred Maya Kingship.”

The reason is the overwhelming number of shows on Mesoamerican culture, including the Metropolitan’s mammoth “Splendors of Thirty Centuries” in 1990 and the National Gallery’s “Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya” in 2004 and landmark “Olmec Art of Ancient Mexico” in 1996.

Exhibit co-curator Virginia M. Fields of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art focuses here on how the first Maya earthly rulers “transformed” themselves into supernatural gods. To accomplish this, she gathered 143 sculptures, paintings, ceramics and wood objects from early 200 B.C. to A.D. 600.

She maintains that the first manifestations of their belief in self-deification were in Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras, where some of the objects already have been displayed.

This, however, is the objects’ first visit to the U.S.

Based on inherited beliefs from the preceding Olmec culture (1200-300 B.C.), whose rulers directed “mana,” or the supernatural and spiritual powers of the surrounding cosmos, the objects come from important Maya sites such as Calakmul, Campeche and Teotihuacan in Mexico and Tikal, Guatemala, as well as Olmec areas in Mexico’s coastal lowlands.

However, only one small basalt Olmec king in the first gallery is a model for images of Maya rulers (also shown in “Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries”). This expressively sculpted statue from around 900 B.C. wears the three-leafed corn-shoot emblem of the Maize God on its headband.

Also adopted by the Maya is what has been called the Olmecs’ “strange art style” of obesity, cranial deformation, slanting eyes, flat noses and mouths with thick lips and turned-downed corners.

The exhibit opens with the tall, beautifully carved granite “Stela II” from Guatemala, one of the earliest depictions of a Maya ruler masked as a god in the guise of the great world tree (portraying himself as the supreme ruler of the cosmos). Above his bird deity mask is a creature whose forehead sprouts a trefoil maize plant while the leader holds the lightning ax of Chaak that reveals his role in breaking open the Earth for the Maize God’s resurrection.

Another magnificent work is the ceramic orange-and-red- painted king dressed as the Maize God on the round “Plate Portraying Enthroned King.”

Still another is “Seated Figure of Lord” (200 B.C. to A.D. 100) in fuchsite and pigment, sitting in the cross-legged royal position. He is decorated simply with Olmec-style cleft motifs incised on the sides of his head — which could also symbolize corn tassels — with a large “k’in” (sun) on each cheek.

Not to be missed is the later “Mosaic Funerary Mask” (A.D. 200-600) that shows just how expressively the Maya used such materials as jadeite, seashells and obsidian. An unusually naturalistic royal mask shows the expiring of the king’s soul by two white shells protruding from each side of his mouth.

This is not an easily comprehensible show, but the quality of each exhibit makes it outstanding. Wall labels and the catalog will help noncog-noscenti, as will the accompanying film.

WHAT: “Treasures of Sacred Maya Kings”

WHERE: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave., New York

WHEN: 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; closed Mondays. Through Sept. 10.

TICKETS: $15 for adults, $10 for students and seniors 65 and older, free for members and children younger than 12 accompanied by an adult. Advance tickets available at www.TicketWeb.com or 800/965-4827 or 212/535-7710

ONLINE: www.metmuseum.org

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