The collection of pre-Columbian art at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
, one of the largest in Canada, has grown again, with important donations that are now on display in the new galleries devoted to the art of ancient America. Some 100 objects, including thirty-two recent donations and nineteen loans, have been selected for this presentation of rare works. It presents a chronological and cultural approach to each major cultural area in Ancient America: Mesoamerica, the Intermediate Area (Central America) and the Andes in South America. With the arrival of a new curator, Victor Pimentel, the Museum has reinstated its policy of research and enrichment for the collection of pre-Columbian art, as part of the dynamic of revitalizing the Museum on the eve of its 150th anniversary, said Nathalie Bondil, the Museums director. As is the case with the entire Museum collection, admission to the galleries of pre-Columbian art is free at all times.
The Museum would like to draw attention to the great generosity of Gerald Benjamin, whose donations include a remarkable ensemble of statuettes from the Tlatilco region in the Mexico valley (1200-400 B.C.) known as the Pretty Ladies. In my opinion, a Eurocentric museum is not really a museum of fine arts. African, Oceanic and pre-Hispanic arts are of great aesthetic interest and deserve equal treatment, he commented. The Museum also acknowledges the significant contributions of Rolande and Jean-Claude Bertounesque, major donors of works from Ancient Mesoamerica, Leo Rosshandler, former curator and assistant director at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, who organized the 1971 landmark exhibition Man-eaters and Pretty Ladies, Guy Joussemet, an eclectic collector and donor, and the Montigny-Charbonneau family.
Visitors will discover fascinating painted pottery pieces that illustrate the beliefs and ways of life of the various civilizations of ancient America, such as a goblet depicting human sacrifice from the north coast of Peru, Mochica portrait vases, brightly coloured Nazca ceramics, a Chancay China figure with slanted eyes, and various Incan and Mayan ceremonial vessels associated with complex rituals. They will also see various female figurines from the Tlatilco and Chupícuaro cultures and in the Jaina style (Mayan civilization), along with examples of Olmec stone statuary and smiling figures of victims who were no doubt drugged before the sacrificial ceremony. Jade and gold jewellery attest to the talents of masters in the art of carving and of the lost wax and hammering techniques.
Victor Pimentel is responsible for the presentation in the galleries of pre-Columbian art; their layout has been designed by Christiane Michaud.
The Museums collection of pre-Columbian art now includes some 700 works. It is the only museum in Quebec with ancient American art on permanent public display.