At Large  June 29, 2017

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Announce a Major Exhibition of Artifacts from the Ancient City of Teotihuacan, Many Recently Excavated or Never Before Seen in the U.S.

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) are pleased to premiereTeotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire, the first major exhibition on Teotihuacan in the U.S. in over twenty years. The ancient metropolis of Teotihuacan is one of the largest and most important archeological sites in the world, and the most visited archeological site in Mexico. At its peak in 400 CE, Teotihuacan was the cultural, political, economic, and religious center of Mesoamerica, and inhabited by a multiethnic population of more than 100,000 people. This historic exhibition will feature over 200 artifacts and artworks from the site, and is a rare opportunity to view objects drawn from major collections in Mexico, some recently excavated – many on view in the U.S. for the first time – together in one spectacular exhibition.

“We are proud to have been working in collaboration with our cultural partners in Mexico for over 30 years,” says Max Hollein, Director and CEO of FAMSF. “In this groundbreaking exhibition, an abundance of recent archeological discoveries will offer visitors to the de Young insight into the life of the ancient city and give greater context and significance to the Teotihuacan murals in our own collection.”

Located approximately 30 miles outside of modern day Mexico City, Teotihuacan was founded in the first century BCE near a set of natural springs in an otherwise arid corner of the Valley of Mexico. At its peak a few centuries later, the city covered nearly eight square miles, and featured enormous pyramids, long avenues, and residential compounds. Highlights of the exhibition will include artifacts recently excavated from the site of the Feathered Serpent Pyramid, as well as objects from both recent and historic excavations of the Moon Pyramid and the Sun Pyramid—the three largest pyramids at Teotihuacan.

The exhibition, which will travel to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), will also reunite exquisite mural fragments in FAMSF’s collection with others from the same residential compound at Teotihuacan. In 1986, FAMSF repatriated a number of murals as part of an unprecedented joint agreement with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). Together they established a program of collaborative conservation and exhibition. Alongside these murals will be monumental and ritual objects from the three pyramids, as well as ceramics and stone sculptures from the city’s apartment compounds, which were inhabited by a diverse group of peoples from across all of Mexico.

“The past ten years have seen major revelations in Teotihuacan archaeology. With these discoveries comes a new sense of Teotihuacan that will have an impact for generations to come,” says Diego Prieto Hernández, INAH General Director. “We are grateful for the enthusiastic and abiding partnerships we have developed with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Such exchanges are crucial to create a shared understanding and vision, across countries and cultures, a common basis for our human experience."

The national and international teams working at the main pyramids have made significant discoveries since the last major Teotihuacan exhibition in 1993, when the de Young hosted Teotihuacan: Art from the City of the Gods. By bringing objects from various excavations together and encouraging visitors to understand the context of specific sites within the city, the new exhibition will provide a rare opportunity for Bay Area audiences and visitors to experience a significant place in Mexico's historical and cultural landscape.

“This exhibition will give visitors the chance to be immersed in the history of Teotihuacan and its urbanism through encounters with 200 objects,” says exhibition curator Matthew H. Robb. “It is an opportunity to anchor these objects on the map of the site to understand how art held communities together in a large, complex, cosmopolitan city— offering valuable lessons for contemporary audiences.”

In the sixth century, a devastating fire in the city center led to Teotihuacan’s rapid decline, but the city was never completely abandoned or forgotten; the Aztecs revered the city and its monuments, giving many of them the names we still use today. Teotihuacan is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and attracts upwards of four million visitors annually.

Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire is curated by Matthew H. Robb, chief curator of the Fowler Museum at UCLA and former curator of the arts of the Americas at FAMSF. The exhibition will be on view at the de Young Museum in San Francisco from September 30, 2017 through February 11, 2018. It will travel to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) from March 25 through July 15, 2018.

This exhibition could not have been possible without a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.