The Maya of Modernism

From the time when archaeologists first began to discover the civilization’s spectacular ruins, Mexico’s Maya past has been a boundless source of inspiration, ideas, and iconography for the modernist imagination. This study examines the ways artists, architects, filmmakers, photographers, and other producers of visual culture in Mexico, the United States, Europe, and beyond have mined Maya history and imagery.

Beginning his study in the mid-nineteenth century with the first mechanically reproduced and mass-distributed images of the Maya ruins, and ending with recent works that address this history of representation, Lerner argues that Maya modernism, represented by artists as diverse as Robert Smithson, Sergei Eisenstein, Albert Lewin, Waldemaro Concha Vargas, and Robert Stacy-Judd, is the product of a hemispheric and at times even global dialogue. Lerner describes an ongoing pan-American modernism characterized by a continuing series of reinterpretations, collaborations and exchanges in which Yucatecans, Mexicans and foreigners, mestizos, Mayas and others, all participate, each free to respond to, endorse, misunderstand, reinterpret or reject each other’s ideas.

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