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Discover the Snite

Mark Witte | Friday, September 5, 2008

It has the largest collection of Olmec art in North America, with artifacts covering more than 3000 years of Mexico’s mother culture-the Olmec Civilization’s history. It contains Native American art predating European contact, countless paintings from the last five centuries and is currently exhibiting Richard Serra’s groundbreaking Arc of the Curve and Paths & Edges. But most Notre Dame students have never been inside.The Snite Museum of the Arts sits in the silhouette of Notre Dame Stadium, but its collections are anything but overshadowed.

Located immediately to the east the of museum’s main entrance is The Dragon and the Goddess: Olmec Art and Its Legacy exhibit, which houses over 270 works of art, more than 80 of which are Olmec, and 169 of which were made before A.D. 250. The gallery is the museum’s largest collection and one which Gina Costa, the Museum’s Public Relations and Marketing Specialist, says is the most important Mesoamerican collection outside of Mexico City.

And it is.The gallery contains artifacts and sculptures from the Aztec, the Toltec, the Mayan and the Teotihuacán Civilizations, to name a few. Notable among them is the “God L Relief Panel” attributed to Toltec and Mayan culture of the Late Classic and Early Post Classic periods (A.D. 850-950). God L, the Lord of Hell, can be seen smoking a cigar in the stone sculpture. Also eye-catching is the basalt sculpture “Palma depicting the God of Death as a ballplayer holding a knife and a severed head” from the Classic Veracruz Culture (A.D. 700-900), which nearly resembles the shape of a tiara.

In the center of the exhibit there are selections from the museum’s collection of Spanish Colonial Christian art interpreted by Indian and Latino artists, including a stone Atrial Cross with the face of Christ and instruments of the passion, i.e. torture devices, carved into it. The cross predates the conquest of the Aztec Empire.But the Olmec collection is only one of many at the Snite Museum of the Arts.

On the upper level of the museum are the 18th and 19th Century Galleries, the American Gallery and the Beardsley 20th and 21st Century Gallery. The 18th and 19th Century Galleries contain works by numerous European artists including Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, François Boucher, Gerard de Lairesse and Charles Louis Muller, who’s “Roll Call of the Last Victims of the Reign of Terror” calls out pertinently from a wall in the Virginia A. Marten Gallery.

In the American Gallery, Father William J. Corby, CSC, can be seen addressing troops of the Irish Brigade on July 2, 1863 at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in Paul Henry Wood’s “Absolution Under Fire,” which he painted at the age of 19 in 1891. Demanding attention from the other side of the room with its stunningly bright color scheme hangs Jeanette Pasin Sloan’s more modern, acrylic on canvas, “Mercato Stripes,” (1983) which shows chalices reflecting off one another. Inside the Beardsley Gallery are a number of contemporary art pieces including Kenneth Snelson’s “Mozart I,” whose shadow is almost as impressive as the intricate brass tubing and wire design creating it.

The lower level of houses the Arts of Africa Gallery whose pieces include a 19th century brass ceremonial sword of the Ghana Ashanti people, Liberian facial masks from the early 20th century and numerous Cameroon earthen pipe bowls depicting toothless old men.

The basement also contains the Ancient, Medieval and Renaissance Gallery which contains many marble works from the first and second centuries AD and the 16th century marble depiction, “Virgin Enthroned Nursing Infant Jesus,” by Italian sculptor Giovanni Antonio Amadeo.

There are more than 23,000 works of art inside the Snite Museum of the Arts and that’s not including the exhibitions on the main floor which change regularly.

The aforementioned Serra exhibit is on display in O’Shaughnessy Gallery (located behind the Native North Americans Gallery) until mid-October and selections from Maxim Kantor’s Wasteland and Metropolis are on display in the Milly and Fritz Kaeser Mestrovic Studio Gallery on the first floor’s northeastern most wing.

The title of the Olmec gallery, The Dragon and the Goddess, according to Museum Curator Douglas E. Bradley, refers to two important features of the Olmec template-the concept of the land of Mexico as a giant dragon’s body, and the role of the Great Goddess as the primary deity involved in human life. You’d be silly to miss seeing either of them.

The Snite Museum is open on Tuesday and Wednesday 10am-4pm, Thursday thru Saturday from 10am-5pm and Sunday from 1-5pm. Admission is free.