This is the backside of a physically overwhelming Aztec-made figure of Coatlicue, discovered in the subterranean rubble of postcolonial Mexico City. I saw it on Sunday at the Museo Nacional de Antropologia. This is the massive and sort of nationally totemic house of pre-Hispanic history and artifacts at Chapultepec, one of those absolute must-sees for tourists, even those passing through in a day or so.
I hadn't been back in years. And I left feeling a little unconvinced. With this piece for instance, as breathtaking as it is, there is little accompanying information for it otherwise: no exact or estimated date for when it was made, no exact location of where it was found. Many of the pieces in the museum aren't even labeled. Throughout, no clear effort is made to distinguish between original artifacts, replicas (there are many in there), and contemporary artworks. It also appears ill-kept; there are unmarked parches holes throughout the space, indicating either working repairs, upgrades, or for all we know remnants of archeological theft.
For years the museum has been criticized as being too Aztec-centric, as being sort of anthropologically imperial. The criticisms hold up. The hall on cultures of the north, where some of my ancestors are from, is pretty inadequate.
Right now through the end of the month the museum is hosting some mega-exhibit on the riches of the Russian Czars. On Sunday lines were practically endless to buy tickets and to get inside. Admission and access are separate from the permanent exhibits. The INAH clearly has its priorities straight.