Most of you know I am not given to superlatives. But last weekend my wife and I journeyed to Salem, MA, and saw what I can only declare to be The Most Beautiful Exhibition I have ever seen. I suggest you drop everything and get yourself to the Peabody Essex museum before the exhibition leaves on July 18. The exhibition is called “Fiery Pool: The Maya and the Mythic Sea.”
The exhibition is about an intriguing discovery, which recently led to a new view of Mayan cosmology. This new insight was made possible by the translation of a mysterious glyph which turned out to mean “Fiery Pool” (the sea) and proved to be the key to understanding how the Maya viewed the relations between the sea, rain, the planet and the gods. There are only about 90 objects in the exhibition, but each one is the very best, most wonderful example of its kind. The objects are spread out generously. One gallery, for example, has only four objects in it, so the beauty and importance of each one is inescapable.
There are a few very well chosen audio-visual pieces and interactives, and each one adds significantly to appreciation of the objects, without ever distracting from one’s enjoyment of the pieces themselves. One interactive is a large, multi-touch, horizontal flat screen display, which is delightful to see and to probe. It explains many details of the Mayan beliefs about sea creatures. Be sure to bring a young person with you, or wait for one to show up—the interactive does many things, but without a member of the i-Phone generation to explore it, you may not discover all its powers.
The signage, lighting, wall illustrations, case work, colors (Mickey pointed out they are Mayan blue and red, taken right from the objects)—everything is wonderfully harmonious and relaxing, allowing the mind to open and appreciate this strange and magical culture.
The exhibition will travel to Fort Worth and then St. Louis before the objects are returned to their home museums. But I worry that no other institution will give it the exceptionally generous space and terrific installation it has at the Peabody Essex, which originated it. So go now. The web site is http://www.pem.org/exhibitions/106-fiery_pool_the_maya_and_the_mythic_sea, and the press release page has a nice summary and pictures.
P.S. the museum is not a client of mine, and I paid full price to get in (well, I took a senior citizen’s discount).
Alan J. Friedman, Ph.D.
Museum Development and Science Communication
29 West 10th Street
New York, New York 10011 USA
a member of The Museum Group