Los Angeles

“Pre-Columbian Masterworks”

Pasadena Museum of Art, Pasadena

A pocket-sized exhibition of eleven large and twenty-eight small examples of Pre-Columbian sculpture of Mexico. The clay and stone sculpture has been borrowed from sev­eral southern California collections, those of Robert Rowan, E. Primus, Dal­ton Trumbo and the Stendahl Gallery. One is a little at a loss to fully under­stand the nature of the display: it does not attempt, even on a small scale, to render a meaningful picture of the Pre­Columbian sculpture of this region, nor, with the exception of two specific pieces, could one honestly say that the indi­vidual examples are in themselves out­standing. If the whole exhibition could have been composed of such powerful visual statements as that depicting Xipe, the Toltec Flayed God or the small Mayan seated figure from the Island of Jaina (both from the Rowan Collection) its limited scope would have been under­standable. For then its sole reason for being would be that of displaying a few magnificent high points of Pre-Colum­bian art. But such is not the dominant theme, for the run of the pieces is aver­age and in some cases not even this.

One suspects that the apparent lack of direction in this exhibition may be due to the confusion (intellectual, emotional and visual), which still surrounds the field of primitive art. If it is to be treated as art, then the question of quality must be the dominant basis for selection and emphasis. If its significance is ethno­logical or archaeological, then the aver­age will probably occupy the center of the stage. Quite obviously a piece of primitive sculpture may well serve both purposes, for the juice we may squeeze from it is highly varied. But in the matter of an exhibition, some decision must be made, in one direction or another.

David Gebhard