Art Review


Photographs by David Alexander Björkman make up the interesting exhibit The Maya Ballgame, now on display at the Museo de las Américas (861 Santa Fe Drive, 303-571-4401) for the "Month of Photography."

The Björkman shots, printed in black and white, are divided into two groups: those in the north gallery that are staged re-creations of the ancient Mayan ballgame, and those in the south gallery that are documentary views of great Mayan sites, notably the pyramids of Chichén Itzá. Both sets are reminiscent of ethnographic photos -- the sort that might be seen in National Geographic magazine -- even though the staged ones absolutely are not.

The ancient ballgame was a violent, fast-moving sport that utilized a natural-rubber ball. Björkman has posed boys and young men in period costumes, as seen in "The Spirit Ocelot" (right), to play the game in the ruins of the actual ball courts. Adding context to the photos is a small collection of Mayan ceramics installed in a showcase, most of which are from the Museo's permanent collection.

As many are aware, the Museo has had some highs and lows -- mostly lows -- during the last year or so. A financial crisis led to the sale of the property on Kalamath Street, effectively eliminating any chance that a new Museo, which was to be designed by California architect Michael Rotundi, will be built. Then the other half of the Museo's building on Santa Fe Drive was put up for sale (it's already under contract), and that's even worse.

Finally, though, things seem to be looking up. At the end of September, the City of Denver and Bank One announced a bailout for the cash-strapped institution. The Museo was in debt to Bank One to the tune of three quarters of a million dollars and had defaulted on the loan. The bank forgave $255,000 of that, and the city picked up the rest. The Museo will have one year to pay it back.

In the meantime, the place is up and going with The Maya Ballgame, which will run through November 27.

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia