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50 Years of Pre-Columbian Art

Header invite for PC 50th anniversary


In 2013, Dumbarton Oaks celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art with a year-long program of exhibitions and events.

From January 15 through the end of the year, select artworks on loan from U.S. and international museums join the permanent collection in the Philip Johnson Pavilion. In the spirit of collaborative discovery championed by Robert Woods Bliss during his lifetime, the displays explore connections and contrasts between objects and cultures. A gilded Mixtec atlatl, a painted Maya figurine, ancient glyphs, and delicate Andean mosaics showcase the heights of ancient American artistic achievement and highlight recent advances in object research. Objects loaned from Harvard University’s Peabody Museum recall a tradition of institutional ties originally cultivated by Bliss himself, who consulted regularly with the museum’s curators and conservators. After five decades, his Pre-Columbian collection continues to incite scholarly inquiry, reveal ancient craftsmanship, and delight the eye of the viewer.

Robert Woods Bliss collected with passion and exacting care. Between 1912 and his death in 1962, he acquired works of art from some thirty ancient American cultures, many of them theretofore unstudied. His predilection for fine workmanship, high quality materials, and interesting or unusual designs shaped the collection—and in no small part, the emerging field of Pre-Columbian studies.

Committed to furthering knowledge of Pre-Columbian art, Bliss collaborated widely to publish and exhibit his pieces. Catalogues of his collection included research by scholars at Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institution. The National Gallery of Art hosted an exhibition of Bliss objects from 1947 to 1962. In 1963, wishing to display his collection in perpetuity, Bliss donated it to Dumbarton Oaks for installation in the museum’s newly-built Pre-Columbian wing, designed by the architect Philip Johnson.

Today, the mid-20th century avant-garde building has been retrofitted with climate-control, UV-protection windows, and new interior and exterior lighting. Celebratory displays are interspersed among the collection’s permanent exhibits. The result is an exciting and dynamic installation that juxtaposes old and new, permanent and temporary, familiar and groundbreaking.

We hope that you will join us in celebrating 50 years of Pre-Columbian art at Dumbarton Oaks.

Download the booklet (PDF, 2.7MB) for information about all exhibitions and events.

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