Art pieces from El Dorado: Myths of Gold exhibition

Photo: Arturo Sanchez


ARTnews Writes about Americas Society's El Dorado: Myths of Gold Exhibition

By Damaly Gonzalez

The art magazine highlights that the exhibition's theme "continues to be distressingly relevant today."

In Colombian artist Carlos Motta’s 2013 video, Nefandus, an indigenous man and a Spanish man travel down Colombia’s Don Diego River telling stories of the violent sodomization against natives by the Spanish during the conquest in Latin America. “The landscape does not confess what it has witnessed; the images are out of time and veil the actions that have taken place there,” the narrator explains. 

This question of colonial violence against the land and the passage of time is at the center of Nefandus and Part II of “El Dorado: Myths of Gold,” the exhibition in which it is currently being shown. On view until May 18, the exhibition at Americas Society in New York features over 100 objects and artworks from 60 artists linked by El Dorado, the mythical city of gold believed to be in the deep jungles of Colombia.

“From at least the sixteenth century onward, the myth of El Dorado was a central force in establishing the Americas as a “utopian” place, a venue of desire and a land ripe for conquest and plunder,” Edward Sullivan, co-curator of the exhibition and a ​professor of art history at New York University, told ARTnews. 

The works in the exhibition collectively show the consequences of this deep-seated myth, which penetrated the minds of colonizers and spurred the extraction, excavation, and brutal transformation of the Americas.

(Part I of the exhibition, which closed in December, displayed 16th century maps that attempted to place El Dorado, alongside contemporary maps by artists who engaged with topics of extraction and colonization.) 

The origin of the El Dorado myth is believed to have come from Spanish pillagers who came into contact with the Tayrona people in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region in Colombia. The Tayrona people appeared to be covered in gold, but which was in fact gilded material with slivers of gold around the edges. The Spanish, who weren’t aware of this detail, were captivated by these adornments and became convinced that the mountain bled gold.

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