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Faces of Eternity: Masks of the Pre-Columbian Americas

September 18, 1991 to December 14, 1991

Faces of Eternity: Masks of the Pre-Columbian Americas was the first exhibition ever to focus exclusively on the mask-making traditions of the native cultures of North, Central, and South America, and the Caribbean, prior to the Europeans’ arrival to the Western Hemisphere. Particularly significant was the fact that many of the masks in the exhibition were on public display for the first time.

The exhibition, curated by Dr. N.C. Christopher Couch, featured a selection of 83 outstanding examples of masks of precious metals, stone, ceramic, shell, and wood – as well as ceramic and stone sculptures depicting masked warriors and performers – from major museums and lesser-known collections of Pre-Columbian art in the United States and Latin America.

The use of masks by various Native American cultures in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres is widespread and has been practiced from at least the beginning of the second millennium B.C. Artworks included in the exhibition dated from 1,000 B.C. to the time of the Spanish Conquest in the 1500s. The exhibition was organized thematically, rather than chronologically or geographically, in order to emphasize the multiple functions and meanings that masks had in their original cultural contexts.

An illustrated catalogue was published in conjunction with the exhibition. Faces of Eternity was the first scholarly publication on the subject. The catalogue is out of print, but available for research.

Faces of Eternity: Masks of the Pre-Columbian Americas was supported by the Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council for the Arts.