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Far Out! Psychedelia at Metropolitan Museum’s “Golden Kingdoms” (with video)

In a tweet today, Joanne Pillsbury, the Metropolitan Museum’s curator of the Arts of the Ancient Americas, called attention to one of two miniature objects that caught my eye (perhaps for the wrong reasons) at yesterday’s press preview for Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient America, which received deserved acclaim during its recent run at the Getty Museum.

Here’s Joanne’s tweet:

As it happens, this potential blockbuster’s first public day at the Met coincides with the last day when admission to the museum will be “pay what you wish” for everyone. The ticket counter is about to become the Met’s new “Golden Kingdom.”

Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

In an abundance of discretion, Pillsbury didn’t reveal in her tweet that the gold-and-silver “Effigy Spoon” she highlighted was (in the words of its label) “possibly used to inhale hallucinogens during religious ceremonies….A face on the underside of [the] stool would have been visible to the spoon’s user.”

Joanne Pillsbury
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

The exhibition label includes this photo showing the spoon’s face, as seen by the sniffer:

Bimetallic Effigy Spoon, Chavin, 400-200 BC, Peru, Chavin de Huántar
From Pre-Colombian Collection, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington

At the press preview, we were regaled by the blasts of real conch-shell trumpets, whereby two Aztec performers from Mexico invoked the gods’ blessings for the display. The last horn-player blowing at the end of this brief CultureGrrl Video is E. Bradley Strauchen-Scherer, the Met’s associate curator for Musical Instruments:

The musicians’ sumptuous backdrop is familiar to regular visitors to the Met, which owns it and many other objects in the show. Each of the panels is composed of tens of thousands of feathers, primarily from the blue-and-yellow macaw.

Here’s a close-up of its intricately stitched surface:

Detail from Feathered Panels, Wari, 600-900 AD, Peru, South Coast, Churunga Valley, Corral Redondo; Metropolitan Museum
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Notwithstanding the large photo in Pillsbury’s tweet, the gold-and-silver spoon is tiny, as is this bone spoon, which likely served a similar function:

Spoon with Profile Head and Ornate Decoration, Cupisnique/Chavin, 550-250 BC, Peru, Kuntur Wasi
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

According to its label, this spoon may also “have been used for inhaling psychoactive substances during ceremonies. When the spoon is raised to the nose, the supernatural feline carved on the handle becomes clear [but eventually blurs, like my photograph?], with its fierce fangs and serpent eye in direct view.”

I’m getting ready for a little trip of my own (via airplanes, not controlled substances), so I’ll have to wait until my return to share, perhaps, other highlights from the more than 300 objects, ranging from 1000 B.C. to the early 16th century, loaned by more than 50 museums in 12 countries.

If all goes according to plan, I’ll be lunching later this week with a former Midwest museum director at his new professional home in warmer, more sunlit climes. The only “psychoactive substance” coming into contact with our spoons will be coffee.

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