Museum Show Good Enough to Eat: “Chocolate”
The summer’s most delicious show, Chocolate, is at the American Museum of Natural History through September 7. Spanning more than 2,000 years and featuring more than 200 objects, Chocolate covers the legends, history, cultural, ecological and economics of the cocoa bean from pre-Columbian artifacts, ritual objects to modern marketing techniques. The exhibit, which was developed by the Field Museum in Chicago, is signed in both English and Spanish.
While the displays of delicate European porcelain chocolate services might be heavy going for youngsters, others will engage and delight in them. Everyone will be surprised to discover that their favorite treat originates as an unattractive pulpy pod filled with seeds which can be turned into rich and delicious cocoa powder and chocolate bars.
The exhibition, which introduces the plant itself and the tropical rainforest where it flourishes, also highlights the Mayas who were first to turn chocolate into a drink. Here, see one of the oldest lumps of chocolate in the world—dated 437 CE; here, also are Mayan vessels. By whirling cylinders near one of these vessels visitors can translate the hieroglyphics on its outside.
In the interactive Aztec marketplace, visitors learn about the purchasing power of a handful of cacao beans in ancient days; elsewhere a running ticker shows nearly real-time prices from the Coffee, Sugar, and Cocoa Exchange at The Board of Trade in New York today. Another display explains how the Spanish discovered chocolate while scouting for gold in the New World, and how travelers from other lands returned with chocolate from these trips.
Perhaps the show’s most unusual object is a burnished wood coffin from Ghana in the shaped of a cacao bean. Coffins like these are made today for the wealthy cocoa farmer to celebrate his life achievement.
Engaging exhibits deal with the advertising and marketing that promoted the craze for chocolate. And there are old-fashioned chocolate tins, oddly named chocolate bars of yesteryear and a salute to chocolate’s use on festive occasions around the world.
The exhibit concludes with a wall cleverly designed like an open huge chocolate box with giant candy video monitors showing people testifying to their love of chocolate. A tiny fourth-floor cafe offers an array of chocolate treats. There are museum events related to the exhibit as well as a special chocolate shop.#
Admission to the show is by timed entry. Tickets are $17 for adults, $12.50 for seniors and students; $10 for children, and include museum admission. Information: 212-769-6900 or www.amnh.org.