ReVisión Access Guide

Introduction & Connections to the Land

It is difficult to define what makes the Americas the Americas. A landmass incorporating North, South, and Central America as well as the Caribbean islands, the region encompasses hundreds of languages, cultures, and beliefs. Traditionally, the story of the Americas has been told as two separate narratives, before and after the arrival of Europeans. ReVisión: Art in the Americas proposes a single interwoven story that collapses time and distance to reveal how the past continues to exert an enduring influence on artists today. In these galleries, history, legend, memory, and the present intertwine.

To be from the Americas is to be descended from both the original inhabitants of this land and those who sought their fortunes in the richness of this land from 1492 to today. It is this shared history with its inherent contradictions—to be both conquered and conqueror—that unites us. The works in the exhibition span 2,500 years of artistic production. We invite you to explore the complex stories of the Americas and the cultural legacies that continue to shape our lives today.

Connections to the Land

Glazed ceramic vessel in the form of three fish stacked vertically with a double-spout and bridge on top. The bottom fish faces a different direction than the top two. Vessel is seven inches high, four inches wide, and seven inches deep.

Gift of Natalia Majluf in honor of Jorge Rivas, 2016.302. © Estate of Juan Javier Salazar

Spanning thousands of miles, the Americas contain a multitude of landscapes: fertile volcanic valleys, arid coastal deserts, and dense rainforests. For centuries, peoples throughout the region shared the beliefs that they came from the land, the land is alive, and the land will sustain them if they pay it tribute. Each plant, tree, animal, rock, and mountain contained within it a life force derived from the spark of creation. The works in this gallery illustrate ongoing relationships between communities and the essentials of nature that sustain them: water, corn, and mountains.

Juan Javier Salazar
Peruvian, 1955–2016, worked in Lima
La Portola
2016
Glazed ceramic
Gift of Natalia Majluf in honor of Jorge Rivas, 2016.302. © Estate of Juan Javier Salazar

Water That Sustains

Large painting featuring an ornately dressed Virgin and Child seated in the trunk of a tree. Two men kneel in devotion on either side of them. Water flows from a beehive at the foot of the Virgin to a town below.

Gift of the Collection of Frederick and Jan Mayer, 2008.832

Attributed to Cristóbal de Villalpando
Mexican, about 1649–1714
The Virgin of Valvanera
About 1710
Oil paint on canvas
Gift of the Collection of Frederick and Jan Mayer, 2008.832

The rhythm of life revolves around the arrival of rain, an essential ingredient for a bountiful harvest. While rain brings life, it can also bring great harm through storms and flooding. The importance of water to daily life is reflected in the religious beliefs of communities throughout the Americas. In Central Mexico, several deities were associated with water. Cocijo, the Zapotec god of rain, embodied the potentially destructive forces of storms. Chalchiuhtlicue, Aztec goddess of lakes and streams, also ruled over childbirth, due to the watery nature of the womb.

Along the arid Peruvian coast, rainwater flowing down the mountains brought the desert into bloom, while a rich ecosystem of marine life nourished coastal communities. When the Spanish came to the Americas, they brought their own beliefs associated with life-giving water, as can be seen in the painting of the Virgin of Valvanera, with its flowing stream.

Funerary urn embodying two human figures on opposite sides with small, molded figures on the neck of the vessel.

Gift of the Collection of Frederick and Jan Mayer, 2006.14A-B

Unknown artist
Marajó Island, Brazil
Jar
400–1500
Ceramic with colored slip
Gift of the Collection of Frederick and Jan Mayer, 2006.14A-B

Located at the delta of the Amazon River, Marajó Island is subject to seasonal flooding and heavy rainfall that enriches the land. For a thousand years, it supported a large community that left behind elaborate ceramics. Undulating designs evoke a serpent, a key animal who, according to Amazonian mythology, brought people to the territory. A detail on the belly of this monumental vessel, made to hold the bones of the deceased, suggests a feminine identity and power.

Three lidded bowls that are graduated in size. The bowl on the left features water lilies and hummingbirds, the middle bowl has a fish-shaped handle and reptilian imagery, and the bowl on the right depicts a deity riding on a mythical bird.

Purchased in honor of Jan and Frederick Mayer with funds from 2001 Collectors' Choice, 1998.33–35A-B

Unknown artists
Maya culture, Mexico or Guatemala
Lidded Vessel with Deity Riding on Mythical Bird; Lidded Vessel with Fish and Reptilian Imagery; Lidded Vessel with Waterlilies and Hummingbirds
250–450
Reduction-fired ceramic
Purchased in honor of Jan and Frederick Mayer with funds from 2001 Collectors' Choice, 1998.33–35A-B

Together these vessels map the three realms of the Maya cosmos: sky, earth, and underworld. The waterlily imagery represents the dark, still waters of the underworld, while the vessel featuring the fish handle and reptilian forms stands for the earth, often described as the back of an alligator. The third vessel, associated with the heavens, depicts the Principal Bird Deity, bearing on his back a hunchbacked, toothless man who is Itzamnaaj, the creator deity.

Corn That Nurtures

Large crucifix with Jesus nailed to the cross.

Museum exchange, 1968.192

Unknown artist
Guanajuato, Mexico
Crucifix
About 1700
Caña de maíz technique (wood, corn paste, gesso, fabric, and oil paint)
Museum exchange, 1968.192

The making, the modeling of our first mother-father with yellow corn, white corn alone for the flesh, food alone for the human legs and arms.

– Popol Vuh (an account of the creation of the K’iche’ Maya)

An essential staple in the ancient Americas, corn was integral to origin stories throughout the region. For many communities, corn, along with water and blood, was a vital substance: the flesh of humans as well as necessary sustenance. The ancient Maya described the earth’s surface at the moment of creation as a four-cornered corn field from which life and land sprouted. The Aztecs believed that the spark of life came from the blood sacrifice of the gods sprinkled on maize dough, a belief that would be incorporated later into Catholic religion, as the corn-paste crucified Christ on display here illustrates.

The preciousness of corn can be seen in the materials and imagery used to represent it. The Olmec carved green jadeite, the rarest material available, into abstracted representations of corn cobs. The Inka represented this essential staple in silver.

Still image from video. A woman sits bent over a table covered with dozens of tortillas, ears of corn, a clear plastic cup, a large pot, and a carafe.

Still © and courtesy of Sandra Monterroso

Sandra Monterroso
Guatemalan, born 1974
Tus tortillas mi amor (Lix Cua Rahro)
2004
Video
Ed. 3/6, + 2P/A
12 min., 30 sec.
Still © and courtesy of Sandra Monterroso

In this performance, whose title translates to “Your tortillas, my love,” Sandra Monterroso chews corn kernels to break down their hard exterior and then mixes the mash with water to make the masa or dough for tortillas. Like the Maya gods who created humans from corn, Monterroso puts a part of herself into the corn dough. As she works, she recites a poem in Q’eqchi’, a Maya language also used for the work’s second title, Lix Cua Rahro.

Sacred Landmarks: Mountains and Volcanos

Still image from video. Still is composed of four images arranged in a two-by-two square grid, each depicting the same mini volcano in different stages of combustion.

Purchased with funds from DAM Contemporaries, the Ralph L. and Florence R. Burgess Trust, and Lucile and Donald Graham by exchange, 2017.71. © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC, courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co

Ana Mendieta
Cuban, 1948–1985, worked in Iowa and New York
Volcán [Volcano]
1979
Super 8 mm color film transferred to high-definition digital media, silent single-channel video, ed. 1 of 8 with three artist proofs
3 min., 56 sec.
Purchased with funds from DAM Contemporaries, the Ralph L. and Florence R. Burgess Trust, and Lucile and Donald Graham by exchange, 2017.71. © The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC, courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co

Mountains and volcanoes held special spiritual significance for many communities in the ancient Americas as places of origin. After the Spanish brought Christianity to the Americas, sites that were sacred to Native populations often acquired new meaning. Tepeyac hill in Mexico, a place of worship for the Aztecs, was converted to an important Christian site during the Spanish empire. It is where, according to Catholic tradition, Juan Diego met the Virgin of Guadalupe and miraculously received her image on his cloak.

Cuban artist Ana Mendieta’s video explores the sacred nature of mountains and volcanoes. The flames in Volcán (Volcano) consume the contents of the female-shaped opening in the earth, a reference to similar Afro-Cuban religious rites that use fire to honor goddesses.

Beaded net bag with strap for carrying, along with four small, silver instruments. The beads on the bag are arranged in stripes of coral, white, purple, and orange.

Gift of Frederick and Jan Mayer, 1969.296.1-6

Unknown Chancay artist
Peru
Net Bag with Miniature Instruments
1000–1500
Spondylus shell beads, cotton thread, and silver
Gift of Frederick and Jan Mayer, 1969.296.1-6

ReVisión: Art in the Americas is organized by the Denver Art Museum. It is presented with generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts, Carl & Marilynn Thoma Art Foundation, Kathie and Keith Finger, donors to the Annual Fund Leadership Campaign, and the residents who support the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD). Promotional support is provided by 5280 Magazine and CBS4.