You know you've got a big-deal exhibition on your hands when the Wall Street Journal covers it in a splashy feature. Indeed, "The Aztec World," the Field Museum's ambitious exhibition of Aztec art and artifacts, offers a far-reaching look at this often misunderstood and maligned culture. (And, the buzz has been good -- we reported on it before it even opened.)
The exhibit, which opened at the end of October and continues through April 19, seeks to demystify one of the world's great civilizations through a close-up look of its culture. Consisting of artifacts collected from the Field Museum's archives along with museums from across the U.S. and Mexico, "The Aztec World" will showcase almost 300 items assembled together for the first time. This is the exclusive engagement of the exhibition, so, if you want to see it, now's your only chance.
The Aztecs rose to power over the span of 200 years, between 1325 and 1521, building a compelling empire that lives on in our history books and our imaginations to this day. The exhibition, which was organized by the Field in collaboration with Mexico's council of culture and art and the institute of anthropology and history, offers both art history as well as an anthropology lesson of Aztec culture as a whole.
Designed to follow the Aztec timeline, the exhibition begins with artifacts from the nomadic origins of the culture, continuing through the building of the great city of Tenochtitlan (the capital of the Aztec people). Along the way, visitors pass through farms and artisan districts before encountering the grand temples and palaces of the main city. You'll see everything from clay pots and stone sculptures of Aztec gods and religious vessels to everyday items like farming tools, utensils and weapons.
The "Warrior" section of "The Aztec World" exemplifies the popularized bloodthirsty side of the culture, featuring one of the exhibition's centerpieces: a life-size terra-cotta sculpture of "Eagle Man," a spirit warrior. And, yes, you'll also get a glimpse of sacrificial altars; the Aztecs believed sacrifice -- human and otherwise -- was essential to maintaining cosmic order.