Tuesday, March 06, 2007

another free meal courtesy of the Field

Field Museum opening with all the trimmings tonight: the new Ancient Americas hall debuted with a 3 ½-out-of-5 star buffet (for me, when I hit the door at 6, it’s all about the buffet. After I eat I’m ready to think about the artifacts.) attended by the requisite mix of anthro-types, ethnically diverse hipsters and bankrolling doyennes (one of whom --I suppose not inexplicably but still surprisingly -- came clad in what appeared to be a baby harp seal fur coat).

The new hall turned out to be indigenous-Americans-lite, of course, because increasingly that’s what a museum installation needs to be if it’s going to work across its chief demographic – kids on field trips.

But I don’t mean to detract from the accomplishment: it’s a terrific addition to the museum's permanent collections, a story well told, and its focus on the indigenous people of the Plains before it travels in a straight swipe down to Central and South America was the right call, I think, for the Field, given its Midwestern provenance. (The Northwestern tribes get theirs in a hall of their own, newly refurbished, right outside the Ancient Americas' exit. I didn't spot any representatives from the Five Nations, but I'll betcha they're in there somewhere.)

The signage and placards are insightful and easy to understand, and the pieces selected from the Field’s collection are, of course, stunning. If Clovis spearheads and eccentric flints rock your world, you’ll do just fine here. (There I go again, revealing too much about my predilections.)

For whatever reason I got giddy stepping into the entry, where vertical video screens feature a diversity of indigenous Americans who appropriately introduce “their grandparents” – the ancestors -- in their native tongues.

From the entry the visitor moves into an antechamber where a moody CGI of the Illinois plains 10,000 years previous plays in ceiling-high surround screens, and the occasional mastodon scampers by in the distance. The experience comes across as a little black light and velvety, and is not as successful as the Cambrian animation that plays in Evolving Planet, because the landscape isn't as varied and diverse (of course it could be that I missed all the action because one of the doyennes was poking me in the kidneys to move along).

For me, the natural fibers and textiles were the panty wreckers of the evening (to borrow an anniemcq-ism) – I get weak all over when I spot indigenous fibers and threads, even more so when they’re really, really old -- and the new installation has three tremendously ancient and surprisingly vibrant and lovely textiles from the Americas on display -- plus a few 500 year old (intact!) Andean spindles and whorls to boot. Sweet.

The crowds were too thick and the timing too tight to take it all in -- and besides that there was dessert to be had (another three and a half stars) -- so we skipped out after 2 hours, with the implicit promise to take the rest in, in another round.

Not to worry: I’ll spare you the next trip.

p.s. The Hall of the Ancient Americas opens for real this coming weekend »

p.p.s. Relive the glory that was the sneak preview last November »


purl77 said...

goodness, the idea of 500 year old spindles make me weak in the knees :)

anniemcq said...

Don't you DARE spare us the next go-round. I'm a complete neophyte to all things Mayan, and you make it seem as exotic, fascinating and amazing as I'm sure it is. Keep up the cultural reporting. I want to know more.

suttonhoo said...

lol -- promise, anniemcq -- and just for you, coming up next: the All-Mayan Weekend!

Related Posts with Thumbnails