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Major Exhibition of Maya Art Opens in Austin at the Blanton Museum

'Forces of Nature' features 200 objects on view from LACMA's Ancient America art collection

Blanton Museum of Art (photo by Holly Cowart)

The Blanton Museum of Art on the University of Texas at Austin campus will be host to a major exhibition of Maya art called Forces of Nature. This exhibit features around 200 objects from Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Ancient America art collection from the Classic period (250–900 CE), and will be on display from August 27, 2023 through January 7, 2024. 

This exhibit in particular marks only the second time a major exhibition of Maya art to be presented in the U.S. within the last decade. To learn more about the pieces on view, what visitors can expect, and more, we sat down with Rosario I. Granados, Marilynn Thoma, associate curator of art of the Spanish Americas at the Blanton Museum, who is managing this exciting and culturally rich exhibit. 

Plate with Supernatural Monkey, AD 600-900, Maya, slip-painted ceramic, 2 3/10 x 12 in. (5.8 x 30.5cm), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by Camilla Chandler Frost(M.2010.115.723) photo © Museum Associates / LACMA

An exhibit of such importance arrives at UT Austin

This story begins with UT Austin Alumna Megan E. O’Neil (MA Art History, 1999) who worked at LACMA prior to the pandemic and now is an Associate Professor at Emory University. 

Granados explained that this event was a happy coincidence since the Blanton had been trying to have an exhibition of this type of importance for a long time, and had established a relationship with LACMA. Forces of Nature was already set to be a touring attraction, and the rest is history. 

“We thought it was important to showcase this Ancient American art that would really have a conversation with our permanent collection, but also with UT at large. It is one of the most important hubs of Maya Studies since the 70s… it was the perfect combination,” Granados said.

Whistle with Ruler, Bicephalic Serpent, and Ballplayers, AD 600-900, Maya, ceramic with post-firepigment, d: 2 3/4 in. (7 cm), 6 4/5 x 3 x 4 in. (17.3 x 7.6 x 10.2 cm), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchasedwith funds provided by Camilla Chandler Frost (M.2010.115.857) photo © Museum Associates / LACMA

An exploration of the supernatural

With a name like Forces of Nature one has to wonder if the collection of Maya art lives up to its substantial name, and it absolutely does. This exhibition explores the rich world of the supernatural in ancient Maya art. These ancient artworks showcase how artists portrayed the supernatural world and how royalty acquired and displayed their own supernatural power. The exhibit is divided into four thematic areas, and within those areas contain twenty-three sub-sections. 

The first section introduces us to the Maya cosmology and the supernatural. The second section, Supernatural entities of Sky, Earth, Water, and Underworld take a deep dive into the many Maya deities. Animals and creatures come into play in section three, not only in their art, but in other mystical forms as well. 

“This was part of an important vision that Megan had when creating this exhibition. She wanted to show that many things were not only invented by the Maya, but they were able to establish relationships with previous cultures in Mesoamerica,” Granados explained.

The last section, which is also the largest of the group, is Divine Rites of Kings and Queens, and immerses us into the world of royalty. 

“We have pieces that represent women, and the important roles they have as leaders, as wives of rulers. Also sections here that depict musicians and the vital role of dance in rituals,” Granados said. Plenty here to devour and get lost in.

Mortuary Panel, 687-800, Maya, limestone, 22 1/2 x 22 x 4 in. (57.2 x 55.9 x 10.2 cm), Los AngelesCounty Museum of Art, anonymous gift (M.2010.115.1064) photo © Museum Associates / LACMA

The notable collection of Maya art includes ceramic vessels, figurines, and jewelry from present-day Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras

Getting more specific into the items of the show; visitors will see a collection of vessels, figurines, jewelry, and more. 

“We have fourteen codex-style objects which are among my favorites, it is where you can really see how relevant inscriptions were. Scholars can identify the text around each one of the vessels and discover who made the piece and who is being celebrated. These objects can also contain the reasons why they are being produced and used.” 

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Maya, Carved and Incised Box, 450-550, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Purchased withfunds provided by Camilla Chandler Frost through the 2008 Collectors Committee (M.2008.59) photo ©Museum Associates/LACMA

Visit the exhibit with open eyes and a taste of curiosity

Granados went on to say it’s like looking at your coffee mug and having all of the information at your fingertips. “It tells you a lot about how functional these objects are.”

“Don’t come thinking that you are going to find information about the dead of times,” she joked. She encourages people to come with open eyes and a taste of curiosity. “We made a huge effort with the preporators and curators that allowed these small objects to shine…it should be an intimate experience, ” Granados added. “The Maya should be seen as a living entity.” 

The museum is planning lectures and programming in conjunction with UT Austin faculty about the Maya art objects through the duration of the exhibit. To find out the most up to date information on Forces of Nature and the Blanton in general, please visit

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