The Maya of Modernism: Art, Architecture, and Film 0826349811, 9780826349811

From the time when archaeologists first began to discover the civilization's spectacular ruins, Mexico's Mayan

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The Maya of Modernism: Art, Architecture, and Film
 0826349811, 9780826349811

Table of contents :
Title Page
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: The Vegetative Maya
Catherwood Revisited
Photography, Archaeology, and the Maya in the Peninsular Creole Imagination
Chapter 2: Maya Modernism Without the Maya
Modernist Primitivism
Chapter 3: Progressing Towarda Maya Modernity
Triumph of the Maya Will
Maya Blueprints for the Future: Maya Revival Architecture
Chapter 4: The Aoristic Maya
Modernism Is Elsewhere
Racial Memories
Ecstasy at Izamal: Aoristic Maya Modernism Frustrated
Chapter 5: The Maya Absolute
American Origins
A Fevered Dream of Maya: Robert Stacy-Judd
Conclusions: Leaving the Ruins of Maya Modernism
Back Cover

Citation preview





University of New Mexico Press





modernism art, architecture, and film t

jesse lerner

© 2011 by the University of New Mexico Press All rights reserved. Published 2011 Printed in the United States of America 16  15  14  13  12  11      1  2  3  4  5  6 Libr ary of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Lerner, Jesse. The Maya of modernism : art, architecture, and film / Jesse Lerner. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. isbn 978-0-8263-4981-1 (cloth : alk. paper) 1. Maya art. 2. Maya architecture. 3. Mayas in popular culture. 4. Mayas—Antiquities. I. Title. f1435.3.a7l47 2011 972.8105—dc22 2010043208 Design and composition

Melissa Tandysh

Composed in 10/14 Sabon LT Std Display type is ITC Busorama BT Frontispiece   Sergei Eisenstein at Chichén Itzá (courtesy the Lilly Library at Indiana University, Bloomington).

For Sara






chapter 1: The Vegetative Maya


Catherwood Revisited


Photography, Archaeology, and the Maya in the Peninsular Creole Imagination


Raíces 44 Chapter 2: Maya Modernism Without the Maya

Modernist Primitivism

53 55

Photogravity 64 Chapter 3: Progressing Toward a Maya Modernity


Triumph of the Maya Will


Maya Blueprints for the Future: Maya Revival Architecture


Chapter 4: The Aoristic Maya


Modernism Is Elsewhere


Racial Memories


Ecstasy at Izamal: Aoristic Maya Modernism Frustrated 120 Chapter 5: The Maya Absolute


American Origins


A Fevered Dream of Maya: Robert Stacy-Judd



Conclusions: Leaving the Ruins of Maya Modernism


Notes 165 Bibliography 189 Filmography





Numerous individuals and institutions aided immeasurably in the completion of this manuscript. A Fulbright-García Robles fellowship awarded by the Comisión México-Estado Unidos para el Intercambio Educativo y Cultural and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board enabled me to conduct archival research, write and revise at the Instituto de Inves­tigaciones Estéticas of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) during the 2006–2007 academic year. The intellectual stimulation offered by my colleagues there—especially Cuauhtémoc Medina, Deborah Doritinsky, and Renato González Mello—made my stay that much more productive and enjoyable. The employees at the Hemeroteca Nacional and Biblioteca Miguel Lerdo de Tejada were of immense assistance in the research process. In Mérida, the faculty and staff of the Facultad de Antropología at the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán invariably proved helpful as well. Special thanks go to Edward Roger “Jimmy” Montañez Pérez, Francisco Fernández Repetto, and Waldemaro Concha Vargas. Mérida’s Hemeroteca José María Pino Suárez and Biblioteca Carlos Ruz Menéndez both proved to be invaluable resources. An Everett Helm fellowship, awarded by the Lilly Library at Indiana University at Bloomington, allowed me to consult materials related to the production of Sergei Eisenstein’s unfinished Mexican film. The archivists in the film department of New York’s Museum of Modern Art allowed me to consult the various unauthorized edits of this footage. At the Filmoteca de la UNAM, Iván Trujillo and Antonia Rojas helped with the research and licensing of film stills. While working with the Robert Stacy-Judd materials, the personnel at the University of California Santa Barbara’s Architectural Drawing Collection were also most accommodating. The staff members, archivists, and librarians at the Southwest Museum’s Braun Library in Los Angeles, and Claremont College’s HonnoldMudd Library, were also of great assistance. While completing and rewriting this manuscript, the Getty Research Institute invited me to participate in the workshop “Sites Unseen: Antiquity in the New World,” where the productive discussions and wealth of rare materials further stimulated the development of ideas. The invigorating discussions at the workshop were a wonderful stimulus at a crucial moment ix

in my process of rewriting and revisions, and I remain indebted to the participants: Rosa Casanova, Roxanne Dávila, Larry Desmond, Elizabeth Edwards, Rosemary Joyce, Claire Lyons, Mary Miller, Megan O’Neill, James Terry, Mauricio Tenorio Trillo, and Khristaan Villela. Additional thanks are owed to Federico Navarrete—who read and commented on a draft of the manuscript—and to Byrt Wammack, Fátima Tec Pool, Alfredo Salomón, Tarek Elhaik, Anne Bray, Natalia Bogolasky, Clark Arnwine, and Ana Duarte. In Claremont, California, special thanks go to Alexandra Juhasz, Eve Oishi, and Elazar Barkan for their comments and criticisms. Daniel Mendoza and Patrick Miller reproduced the still images from several of the films. An earlier version of a portion of Chapter 2 was published previously in Afterimage (vol. 28, no. 5, 2001) as “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Heritage,” and a portion of Chapter 5 appeared in Cabinet (no. 2, 2001) as “A Fevered Dream of Maya.” These are reprinted in significantly revised form. The discussion of Sergei Eisenstein’s unfinished film was presented in a much abbreviated form at the Visible Evidence XIII conference at the Cinemateca Brasileira in São Paulo. The section of Robert Smithson’s Hotel Palenque was presented at the Sala Arte Público Siqueiros in Mexico City, in conjunction with the first Mexican showing of this work.





he 1961 television documentary Expedition: Treasure of the Sacred Well records the construction and operation of an extraordinary artificial archaeological geyser within the Sacred Cenote at Chichén Itzá. The site is a focal one for Mesoamerican archaeology. Chichén Itzá, the ancient Maya city, is represented by and has been replaced with the modern tourist destination and research site built upon (and from) its ruins. There, as elsewhere throughout the Yucatán peninsula, the erosion of the soft limestone just below the thin layer of impoverished topsoil has over the centuries produced innumerable caves and underground passages. When the roof of these subterranean cavities can no longer hold, the collapse yields a sinkhole—or in local parlance, a cenote. The ancient Maya used these as a source of fresh water, as a place for religious offerings, and most notoriously for ritual human sacrifices. The prospect of recovering the decayed remnants of whatever was heaved into this water during pre-Cortesian rituals—and, of course, the eternally tantalizing visions of dark-skinned, beauteous young virgins, generously bedecked in gold and jade, tumbling downward to the water’s surface and death—have made the Sacred Cenote at Chichén Itzá the site of a series of archaeological follies, from Edward H. Thompson’s destructive dredging to the atomic-age attempts to drain the cenote or to clear the water by chlorination.1 Expedition: Treasure of the Sacred Well (and the complementary articles in National Geographic, generously illustrated with photographs) chronicles the process whereby scientists from the Smithsonian Institution, the National Geographic Society, and Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (National Institute of Anthropology and History, or INAH)—supported by divers from a Mexican scuba club (CEDAM)—insert 1

a long metal tube perpendicularly into the well, and then by pumping air to the bottom of the pipe force mud, water, and hundreds of archaeological fragments up through the pipe and into the air in a veritable pre-Columbian gusher.2 Although the effect of this practice on the artifacts uncovered was quite predictably destructive (the narrator notes that all pottery recovered is in the form of broken fragments, and disingenuously concludes that “perhaps the Maya broke these pots in order to symbolically kill them”), the archaeological geyser does function perfectly as a metaphor for the subject of this study: Chichén Itzá and the other celebrated Maya sites of Mexico as a veritable cornucopia of artifacts (with their attendant inspirations) that once dislodged from their long-standing resting places are scattered in all directions as they head to new destinations, taking on new and remarkable lives unimaginable to the artisans who originally crafted them.3 In addition to the daring bi-national team of divers and archaeologists, risking injury or even death for the sake of science and knowledge, the television documentary features two local Mayas who were employed by the team as assistants. Avelino Canul, introduced as “an ordinary local farmer,” earns repeated praise from the narrator for his “keen eyesight” and other “virtues” that make him “a wonderful helper.” “Little José, our youngest helper,” as he is introduced in the film, also merits commendations in the documentary’s voiceover. In the National Geographic article, where he is again highlighted, Little José is even given the benefit of a last name: here he is presented as “[t]wentieth-century Maya, young José Burgos.” Much is made of the fact that these modern Maya were able to “learn to use an Aqua-Lung” and that one proves “to be a superb diver.”4 The interest in Maya using Aqua-Lungs, and more broadly in the Mexican Indians’ embrace of modern technology and of modernity more generally, is recurrent and noteworthy. Elsewhere in this same issue of National Geographic’s thematic section on Mexico, for example, the reader is presented with a scene from Veracruz in which “overalled Indians bid their bare-breasted wives maj nioj—goodbye in their ancient Aztec tongue—and set off to build one of the world’s most modern chemical plants.”5 As this trope suggests, the rejection of, indifference to, miscomprehension of, or (as in this case) ready adoption of new technologies by an ancient people—and by extension the potential for those people to fully enter the modern world— is consistently a source of curiosity and anxiety in both the film and the publication. It is also one of the themes, explicit or implicit, of the many Western representations of the Maya—both popular, such as this television program and magazine article, and scholarly. 2


Fig. 1  Still frames from Expedition: Treasure of the Sacred Well, 1961.

This is also a question at the heart of this text: what place, if any, do the Maya have in the modern world? What do the astonishing ruins scattered across southeastern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras tell us about the living Maya and their potential to enter into modernity? How should they be cast in that most treasured and oft repeated of Western narratives: “progress” toward modernity? Might their past aesthetic and architectural accomplishments form the basis for a uniquely American (PanAmerican, Mexican, Latin American, or just plain “American,” with all of that adjective’s ambiguities) modernism? How is it possible—or indeed, is it possible—to be both Maya and modern? introduction


Nearly four decades after the misguided archaeological exploits documented in Expedition: Treasure of the Sacred Well, I was in Mérida, the Yucatán, as a guest of the film festival Festival Regional Cine-VideoSociedad/Geografías Suaves. I had come to show my fake documentary Ruins (1999), a film essay on the history of collections and exhibitions of Mesoamerican antiquities in the West. The film festival took place in a variety of venues around the city: a restored movie palace from Mexican cinema’s “Golden Age,” the municipal cultural center on the city’s central plaza, and a commercial multiplex that had allowed the festival use of one of its theaters. My film was shown at this latter location, and in the screening room next door the DreamWorks animated feature The Road to El Dorado (Eric “Bibo” Bergeron and Will Finn, 2000) was showing. The film is (at best) a revisionist treatment of the Spanish conquest of the Maya, whose English-language version features the voices of Kevin Kline, Kenneth Branagh, and Rosie Perez. The steps out of my screening and into the theater next door meant a return to the Sacred Cenote, not specifically at Chichén Itzá but a more generic Maya site hidden in a fantastic tropical landscape. The candycolored caricatures of Mesoamerican artifacts the animated Maya on the screen tossed into the well of sacrifice created a psychedelic rainbow of preColumbian loot. All the while the animated participants in the imaginary ritual danced with abandon, like a pre-Cortesian rock-and-roll version of a demented Radio City chorus line, mouthing the Spanish-language translation of the original score composed by Elton John and Tim Rice. The children in the audience—and there were many—were enraptured. The “twenty-first century Maya,” to update National Geographic’s designation, were eating it up. It occurred to me that my film and the DreamWorks production (as different as they might be in their modes of production, intentions, filmic styles, critical agendas, and so on) were both trapped in the same hall of mirrors—North American (U.S.) representations of Mexico, reimported to Mexico for consumption and reinterpretation—which had been the case for at least the past century and a half. As with the hall of mirrors, where each reflection implies further distortions, these film screenings imply a back and forth of mutual (mis-) interpretations and creative re-readings. This study digs beneath this hall of mirrors to find fragments of the meanings of the ancient Maya of southeastern Mexico in the modernist imagination, scattered around and below the hall’s foundations like so many dislodged reflective shards.6 It reveals that like the ancient fragments 4


lifted from the bottom of the Sacred Cenote, propelled up into the air and scattered in all directions, the Maya past has proven to be a bottomless horn of plenty—a boundless source of inspiration, ideas, and iconography for artists, architects, filmmakers, photographers, and other producers of visual culture in Mexico, the United States, Europe, and beyond. More specifically, this study looks at the ways these ancient fragments have been used within the contexts of divergent strands of modernism and of visual culture. “While the imperial metropolis imagines itself as determining the periphery,” Mary Louise Pratt writes, “it habitually blinds itself to the ways in which the periphery determines the metropolis.”7 The phenomenon I am calling Maya modernism takes place within the framework Pratt describes. It is a back and forth among the periphery of the periphery (Chichén Itzá, the Yucatán, and more generally the Maya region in southeastern Mexico), the center of the periphery (Mexico City), and the metropolitan centers of the United States and Europe. The dynamics of these reflections and reinterpretations are like a hall of mirrors every bit as inducive to delirium as the hailstorm of antiquities depicted in The Road to El Dorado—though typically not colored with the same saturated, garish pop tones as those of the cornucopia of ersatz artifacts that appears in the animated feature. From Alfred Jensen’s expansive painted diagrams to Gunther Gerzso’s aoristic abstractions of the 1940s and 1950s, the specifics of this history complicate a simpler notion that one set of ideas (those of modernism) is first developed within the metropolis and then exported elsewhere— whereas another set of objects (images and artifacts of the Maya; the material basis or raw materials for explanations of what the Maya might now be or once have been) travels in the other direction. Instead, we see a complex back and forth involving itinerant objects and artists, migrants and pilgrims, dialogues, collaborations, and exchanges. This history exists within the larger narrative of modernist “primitivism,” but differs in significant and intriguing ways from the more familiar narratives of how Oceanic or West African objects (brought back to Europe as colonial loot and warehoused in museums) later sparked the imagination of the German expressionists, Parisian cubists, and other modernist vanguards of the early twentieth century. Whereas the modernist primitivism of the cubists of Montmartre (for example) existed without the knowledge of the West Africans whose radical geometries provided such provocative inspiration, what I am calling Maya modernism is significantly the product of a hemispheric—or at times introduction


even global—dialogue or ongoing Pan-American conversation. Whether it was the North American visits of the Mexican muralists and their impact (most famously the Works Progress Administration muralists emulating Diego Rivera and his expansive vision) or the influence of Sergei Eisenstein’s never-completed film on Mexican cinema’s “Golden Age,” the modernism that finds inspiration in the ancient Maya is not as a rule the product of individuals working in isolation. As will become clear, the motivations and the ideological charge of this modernist spirit may have been very different for artists of north and south, but what distinguishes this regional (or hemispheric) history of primitivism from the more familiar Parisian case (or that of the Fauves, or of Gauguin in Tahiti, and so on) is that it is the product of an exchange in which Yucatecans, Mexicans, foreigners, mestizos, Maya, and others all participate and in which each is free to respond to, endorse, misunderstand, reinterpret, or reject another’s ideas. There are exceptions, however. For example, there were visitors who remained isolated from their surroundings. Charles Olson’s Mayan Letters makes it apparent that while living in Yerma, Campeche, he had more significant long-distance intellectual engagements with Robert Creeley and Cid Corman than with any of his Mexican hosts or neighbors.8 Robert Smithson, and his wife Nancy Holt and gallerist Virginia Dwan, are documented as driving southward from Mérida toward Chiapas and staging the photographs later published as “Incidents of Mirror-Travel in Yucatan,” and are likewise minimally engaged with locals. However, for the most part this regional history of modernist primitivism is characterized by a continuing series of dialogues, reinterpretations, collaborations, imitations, rebuttals, reuses, and exchanges. The welcome Mexico offered refugees fleeing European fascism and World War II, and a host of peripatetic radicals who either relocated or visited, also contributed to the development of a modernism that is at once internationalist and particularly Mexican. By tracing these interactions and mutual influences, this study aims to further deepen and complicate the analysis of that facet of modernism problematically labeled “primitivism.” Many of the scholarly conversations on these topics use the muchcriticized 1984 exhibition “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art: Affinities of the Tribal and the Modern at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York as a point of reference. That exhibition, its problematic use of “affinities” as a device to link modernist and non-Western objects, and its erasure of the colonial projects that brought the material culture of Africa and 6


Oceania to the European studios of the artists represented all merit close scrutiny and criticism.9 Anachronistically evoking an outmoded distinction between tribal and court societies, the role of Mesoamerican objects in this dynamic was excluded from the MoMA exhibition. However, even the most preliminary review of that role reveals a history strikingly different from the tale (repeated by art historians) of cubists purchasing Dogon masks at the marché aux puces and returning to their studios newly inspired—ready to challenge the rules of Renaissance perspective. My approach here eschews a more traditional art historical analysis or textual readings derived from film studies in favor of a more broadly conceived methodology indebted to cultural studies and to studies of visual culture. What this approach risks losing in terms of medium-specificity is more than compensated for by other gains. It allows me to utilize an interdisciplinary perspective that examines not simply the traditional objects of the art historian’s scrutiny—painting, sculpture, prints, fine-art photography, and so on—but architecture, television, film, popular culture, and other expressions beyond the scope of “high art,” including television programs such as Expedition: Treasure of the Sacred Well.10 Antecedents for this approach include not only the recent studies from the emergent interdisciplinary field of visual culture but the writings of Jean Charlot, whose Art from the Mayans to Disney contains model essays on popular culture and “high” art, ancient and modern—including pulquería paintings, the ancient murals at Chichén Itzá, and Carlos Mérida’s drawings—each scrutinized and analyzed with the same intelligence and respect.11 Charlot, whose travels often brought him into the crucible in which Maya modernism was being forged, also understood implicitly that images hold a special power in Mexico’s history—making this extraordinarily rich terrain for such an approach. A gift, quite literally from the Maya to Disney—conducting research for the Pan-American feature films Saludos Amigos (1942) and The Three Caballeros (1945)—is documented in the 1942 travelogue South of the Border with Disney, which records a hemispheric good will tour by a team of Disney Studios’ animators. In addition to providing accommodations to the group visiting from Hollywood, “the young employees of the Mayan Hotel” gave Walt Disney a cake adorned with a likeness of Mickey Mouse rendered in brightly colored icing. The film’s narrator tells of another technology the Maya have readily embraced. “Every one of” the Mayan Hotel’s employees, we are told, “was an enthusiastic picture fan.”12 Serge Gruzinski has analyzed how, centuries before there were any introduction


Maya “picture fans,” images had been deployed in the New World as part of complex struggles of power and faith among participants with vastly different belief systems: For spiritual reasons (the imperatives of evangelization), linguistic reasons (the obstacles of many indigenous languages), and technical reasons (the spread of the printing press and the rise of engraving), the image exerted a remarkable influence on the discovery, conquest, and colonization of the New World in the sixteenth century. Because the image—along with written language—constitutes one of the major tools of European culture, the gigantic enterprise of Westernization that swooped down upon the American continent became in part a war of images that perpetuated itself for centuries and—according to all indications—may not even be over today.13 Gruzinski’s daring projections of Blade Runner’s dystopian, corporatedominated Los Angeles (or is it Mexico City?) of the future—with its flattopped pyramids housing malevolent corporate interests and a plethora of large-screen outdoor projections—suggest that this dynamic does not end with modernity but rather accelerates with the exponential increase of images spewing from new technologies designed for their ever more rapid and invasive dissemination. Gruzinski looks to the conquest of the Americas—in its political, artistic, spiritual, aesthetic, and linguistic dimensions—as the point of origin for the forces of globalization that are transforming our world today. In that same spirit, this study focuses on visual culture inspired by the Maya—primarily from late nineteenth and twentieth centuries—and contemplates its trajectory throughout the hemisphere and beyond. Although one might argue that the Mayas’ encounter with the modern world begins with Columbus’s landfall on the Yucatán coast, with the first Spanish sailors shipwrecked on their shores, or the Spanish conquest of the peninsula of the early sixteenth century, the starting point advanced herein is somewhat more narrowly conceived. I have chosen to begin my study in the mid–nineteenth century, with the first mechanically reproduced and mass distributed images of the Maya ruins, and to end it with recent works that address this history of representation. The nineteenth-century antiquarians and their lithographs and early photographic processes are the start of this history. The year 1915, marking the belated arrival of the Mexican Revolution to the Yucatán, is another milestone—a vital reference point in my 8


periodization of this subject. For the most part I have used the late modernism of the 1960s—including the inauguration of the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City (1964) and Robert Smithson’s trip through the Maya region (1969)—as this study’s chronological endpoint, with the exception of a few recent works of contemporary art that explicitly or implicitly address this history of Maya modernism: Gabriel Orozco’s Photogravity (1999), Leandro Katz’s Catherwood Project (1984–1993), and recent photographs by Sharon Lockhart (Enrique Nava Enedina: Oaxacan Exhibition Hall, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City, 1999) and Waldemaro Concha Vargas (Fuente maya, 1999). Rather than ordering the works discussed chronologically, classifying them by the medium employed (painting, film, photography, and so on), or employing some other organizational scheme, I have chosen instead to structure this text using five enduring paradigms around which these representations and the ideas that inform them are clustered. This structure exposes commonalities shared by artists of different eras and nationalities and working in distinct media by foregrounding the conceptual foundations and assumptions of the work. I make no claims of being encyclopedic in my survey, and recognize that there is much rich and important Maya modernist material that I have not addressed. Throughout this study, I deploy a problematic Western concept—that of “the Maya”—as something of a given. The term the Maya lumps together dissimilar cultural groups from the Yucatán lowland (the hub of my inquiry) and the highlands of Chiapas, as well as dozens of distinctive linguistic groups through much of Central America. As this diversity suggests, the category is not self-evident or natural—though it is durable. Although the Maya invented neither this terminology nor the grouping, they now borrow from it freely and use it toward their own ends. Today’s visitors to the Yucatán peninsula may be struck by the multiple, seemingly uninterrupted, performances of “Maya-ness” typically staged for the benefit of outsiders— who invariably arrive expecting to see precisely this. At Mérida’s Tulipanes nightclub, performers stage a nightly mock human sacrifice in a natural cenote beneath the dining area—accompanied by an archaic low-fidelity audio recording of Silvestre Revueltas’s La Noche de los Mayas. At the ceremony’s consummation, a concealed system of rusting pulleys raises the appeased mechanical rain god from the water’s depths— illuminated by the flashing of a strobe light and irrigated by artificial “rain.” Elsewhere in Mérida, the municipal government stages weekly performances of a “typical Maya fiesta” on the city’s public plazas. “The Maya” introduction


may well be a fiction, but the omnipresent and endlessly repeated stagings of local cultures and invented traditions have made this construct a real and enduring one. Time, many scholars have proposed, was something of an obsession for the ancient Maya—or in the words of Miguel León-Portillo “an insistent preoccupation.”14 The prediction of eclipses, the cyclical and “long-count” calendars, and numerous complex astronomical calculations all figured large in their intellectual and spiritual world. However, the element of time that structures this essay is something altogether different. Modernity’s narratives unfold in linear time. For the Maya, living or ancient, to make sense narratives had to be positioned in relationship to the past, present, and future of the region and to the nation and the Americas. Are the contemporary Maya living fossils, melancholic lingerers haunting the scene of their past glories like phantoms lost in time? Will they ever regain some of their past splendor, or will they quietly fade away—like other “vanishing races”—leaving only their crumbling monumental ruins as a reminder of what they once were? And if they were to enter modernity, what would that look like? This leads to no idle matter of speculation, but rather to a fundamental question for self-styled intellectual and ideological architects of post-Revolutionary Mexican modernity: What about the Indians? At the center of work examined in Chapter 1 is an understanding, sometimes explicit and more often simply implied, of the relationship of the living Maya to the ruins in their midst and the modern world impinging upon them. In Chapter 1, we look at a series of diverse images that all operate on the assumption (and seek to convince us) that the Maya are themselves remnants or living artifacts of an exhausted culture. This conviction recurs throughout this history, and permeates Mexican visual culture in pernicious and troubling ways. The first images of Maya ruins and their contemporary descendants to receive wide distribution are those of Frederick Catherwood, a pioneering photographer and adventurer who traveled extensively in the Maya region in the mid-nineteenth century. Catherwood’s images and the text of John Lloyd Stephens they illustrated are both reinterpreted by Yucatecan commentators, initiating the cavalcade of reflections in the Pan-American hall of mirrors. Contemporary artists have also revisited Catherwood’s formative depictions. Stephens and his Yucatecan translator disagree on the possibility or probability that the disparaged modern-day Indians may be the descendants of the builders of monumental ruins. Stephens returns to the New World the origins of the Maya culture—a culture whose roots Jean-Frédéric Waldeck had 10


located in South Asia, Hugo Grotius had placed in Nordic lands, Lord Kingsborough located in Palestine, and Harold Gladwin attributed to the army of Alexander the Great!15 By situating the Maya as heirs to the ruins, Stephens, his translators, and commentators all weigh in on the relationships among the Maya, the Maya past, and the modern world. The first chapter concludes with the orthodoxies of an official Mexican construction of the ancient and modern Maya propagated by the Partido de la Revolución Institucional (PRI) after the consolidation of its monopoly on political power in the second half of the twentieth century. The independent Mexican feature film Raíces (1953) and the National Museum of Anthropology (1964) are presented as exemplifications of many of these prevailing tenets. The second paradigm is premised on a disappearing act. Susan Stewart writes that “in the New World . . . antiquarianism centered on the discovery of a radical cultural other, the Native American, whose narrative could not easily be made continuous with either the remote past or the present as constructed by non-native historians.”16 One way to establish that continuity is to remove the Native American—in this case, the Maya—from the picture. The radical otherness is no longer an issue if the ruins are depopulated; there is then a heritage unclaimed that is free for the taking. This strategy allows for a continuity to be established by virtue of geographical proximity, pushing aside issues of racial and cultural difference. Chapter 2 uses a contemporary example as a point of departure to explore this paradigm: Photogravity, Gabriel Orozco’s series of sculptures commissioned by and exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Here we have a Maya modernism without the Maya. The ancient objects are a blueprint and a vindication for the modern, but the indigenous Mexican is nowhere to be seen. I will use Orozco’s project, which specifically addresses the collecting practices of one important pair of patrons of modern art and collectors of pre-Cortesian objects (Walter and Louise Arensberg) to ask some of the more general questions that arise when modernism recontextualizes non-Western objects (likely objects coming from societies without a concept equivalent to what we call “art”) and relocates them to a museum or gallery space. For the post-Revolutionary Mexican state, the ancient Maya and their accomplishments were a usable past—one that could effectively be deployed to address a burning political and social imperative. Here, visions of Maya modernism celebrate the possibility or reality of the Maya themselves catching up and entering the modern world. The Maya of today enter the modern world and become active subjects in a new world of their introduction


own making. A little-known newsreel from the 1930s; the work of several painters, architects, and photographers; and an influential series of anthropological studies all illustrate this dynamic. I will also focus on several key figures of the Mexican cultural renaissance who, like the Arensbergs, engaged in a practice of recontextualizing ancient Mexican artifacts as “art” but who did so in a way that formulates a very different relationship of the Maya to modernity. Finally, key works of Maya Revival architecture prove the most vivid and enduring monuments to progress toward a Maya modernity. Diverse strains within Latin American Maya Revival architecture and the theoretical discourses that motivated them are contrasted with the North American equivalent in Chapter 3, which outlines how these differences changed over time with the shifting political climate. Chapter 4 contemplates another scenario, that of the aoristic Maya—a culture and a people that transcend and conflate the ancient and the modern. Here, the role of the Maya is neither to catch up with the march of progress as defined by others nor to offer validation of modern aesthetic projects with objects from their distant past but rather to engage fully with the modern world on their own terms—as actors in charge of their own destinies and in tune with their ancient sensibilities. The artist Robert Smithson’s significant engagement with the ancient Maya included a series of ephemeral installations done with mirrors (documented in an article and in many photographs) and a parody of an art historian’s slide lecture titled “Hotel Palenque,” focusing on a prosaic site beside the celebrated Maya ruins in Chiapas. In this last item, the illustrated lecture disguised as a lightweight one-liner or a whimsical bit of Aquarian Age humor, Smithson reveals the continuity between a lowly form of contemporary Mexican vernacular architecture and the most exalted structures of the past—revising both the category of Maya Revival architecture and of Maya modernism itself. The long-standing fascination of the surrealist movement with Native American cultures generally and with the Maya more specifically produced artifacts as strange as Alfred Lewin’s potboiler The Living Idol (1957), which brings the paradigm of the aoristic Maya into the realm of the Hollywood feature film. Finally, I will analyze Sergei Eisenstein’s ¡Qué Viva Mexico!, which in spite of its profound influence and considerable originality is a film that will never be finished and that will never exist in the form its director envisioned. Eisenstein’s materials for the film and the wealth of supporting materials are instructive in that they reveal how the film project evolved, 12


flirting with two of the dominant paradigms in the initial conception of the film’s introduction and conclusions before settling on a highly individual understanding of Maya culture as an aoristic continuity transcending the ages. I propose that the key to understanding Eisenstein’s aborted Mexican project lies, improbably, in Walt Disney—and in the Russian director’s idiosyncratic reading of Disney animation as the distillation of a bundle of perverse primordial urges. The final paradigm gives the Maya a privileged position within the broad outline of human history. The Maya are not posited as stragglers in the narrative of human progress, left behind either to catch up or to fade away. Nor are these narratives rejected, as they are with Eisenstein, Lewin, and Smithson. Instead, the Maya are mistakenly identified as the point of origin of human civilization and the fountainhead of mystical wisdom. Here, the murky worlds of esoterism and theosophy find expression through visual culture. At the center of this discussion are the pioneering archaeologists Alice and Agustus Le Plongeon—as well as Robert StacyJudd, an English architect who imagined (and managed to build) structures in the Southern California landscape in which these ideas might thrive. Throughout this history, the Maya represent a complex puzzle for the Western mind. To call the Maya, their architecture, or the collapse of their civilization “a mystery” is trite. Since the arrival of the first European, the native people of the Americas have been frequently understood as savages—yet the sophisticated architectural ruins, paintings, and sculptures left behind by the ancient Maya do not fit comfortably within this pervasive misconception. Alice Le Plongeon accurately characterized this discrepancy when she wrote at the end of the nineteenth century: The nations that peopled the American continent prior to the coming of the Spanish conquerors are all spoken of as Indians. The word Indian immediately calls up a vision—at least in the mind’s eye of many people—of a dark-skinned savage; not overly burdened by clothing, but elaborately tattooed and smeared with paint, a towering ornament of gaudy feathers on his head, a tomahawk in his hand . . . It is in Southern Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, down to Darien, that the traveler pauses in amazement before splendid monumental remains that are scattered over vast territories. Who were the builders? The people found there at the time of the Conquest said they did not know; if any traditions existed among them they remained untold . . .17 introduction


The Maya are thus perceived as an anomaly within the category “Indian.” Their writing system, monumental architecture, mathematical endeavors, and vivid intellectual life seem to set them apart. Within the long and troubled history of Whites trying to make sense of who the “Indians” are or were, what would become of them, and how to comprehend (or at least explain) their worldview and past accomplishments—so radically different from anything of the Old World—the Maya often seemed to be a particularly puzzling exception. Today we may more readily recognize the many traits the ancient Maya shared with other Mesoamerican peoples, and this sense of anomalousness is largely lost. These commonalities were not always apparent, and the impression of the ancient Maya’s uniqueness, exceptional status, and even superiority gave their image a special charge for observers. On one hand, the achievements of the ancient Maya may make them seem less distant or less alien to some Western observers. For many, it seemed that here was a usable past. When cast as the Greeks of the New World, Maya heritage was a powerful repertoire from which numerous artists and architects could draw— yet there was much else that was more difficult to assimilate. First and foremost, there is the practice of human sacrifice—something profoundly difficult for the Western mindset to assimilate and accept. Some intent on remaking the ancient Maya in their own image have denied this practice, or have characterized it as an alien practice introduced late by the more barbaric, bloodthirsty Toltecs invading from the north. Others searching for an ancient Maya culture that is radically “other” have chosen to celebrate human sacrifice. These are only a few of the complexities that inform the assimilation of ancient Maya culture into the project of modernism. In any event, the Maya past remains central to Mexican national identity. Roger Bartra writes: “[T]he myth of the subverted Eden is the inexhaustible source that feeds Mexican culture. The current definition of nationality owes its intimate structure to this myth.” [“El mito del edén subvertido es una fuente inagotable en la que abreva la cultura mexicana. La definición actual de la nacionalidad le debe su estructura íntima a este mito.”]18 As Bartra emphasizes, we are in the terrain of mythology and ideologically motivated constructs, not of descriptive treatments of reality. None of the disparate images of the Maya that emerge should be mistaken for an archaeological or ethnographical record, which they not infrequently ignore or contradict. They do, however, take us to the foundations of a series of questions central to Mexican modernity and its shortfalls.



Chapter 1

The Vegetative Maya


n the beginning, there was a misunderstanding. Venturing westward from their Caribbean toehold, Francisco Fernández de Córdoba and his crew of Spanish conquerors first saw the American mainland along the Yucatán coast. “What do you call this land?” the sailors called out in Spanish to the Maya on the shore. “We don’t understand you; you talk funny,” came the reply in Maya. Taking an erroneous translation of this retort as the answer to their query, the Spanish named the peninsula “Yucatán.” The first encounter between the West and the Maya was one of mutual befuddlement and of failed communication.1 It set the tenor for the next five hundred years. The misunderstanding that leads to this baptism was the first of many misapprehensions. It defines the norm for outsider accounts, and especially for outsider explanations of the Maya, their stunning ruins, their present, and their past. But this ought not trouble us here. Look not to Maya modernism for any insight into the Maya themselves. The multiple and contradictory roles the Maya have played in the modern imagination are not at all revealing of the Maya or their culture, but of the mindset, prejudices, needs, and thought processes of the numerous filmmakers, architects, photographers, painters, sculptors, and other artists who have contributed to this discourse. In this sense, Maya modernism is like the related discourse of mexicanidad, or “Mexican-ness.” Since the post-Revolutionary cultural renaissance, when the “Indian” was posited as embodying the essence of certain national traits, Maya modernists have set off to invent an Indian suited for this task. Roger Bartra writes:

I believe that I have found a weak point or a crack in the national phenomena. This weak point is formed, curiously, by the very 15

studies of the nature of the Mexican national character (and especially studies of “Mexican-ness”). I am interested in these studies because their object of analysis (the so-called “national character”) is an imaginary construction that they themselves have invented, with the decisive aid of literature, art and music. In reality, the essays on “Mexican-ness” bite themselves on the tail, so to speak: they are an ideological and cultural emanation of the phenomenon they pretend to study . . . [. . . me parece haber encontrado un punto débil, una resquebrajadura, por la que es posible penetrar povechosamente en el territorio de los fenómenos nacionales. Este punto débil está formado, curiosamente, por los mismos estudios sobre la configuración del carácter nacional mexicano (y, especialmente, las reflexiones sobre “lo mexicano”). Me interesan dichos estudios porque su objeto de reflexión (el llamado “carácter nacional”) es una construcción imaginaria que ellos mismos han elaborado, con la ayuda decisiva de la literatura, el arte y la música. En realidad, los ensayos sobre “lo mexicano” se muerden la cola, por así decirlo: son una emanación ideológica y cultural del mismo fenómeno que pretendo estudiar . . .]2 Maya modernism, a subset of indigenismo, is another such discourse— related to and often overlapping with the discourse of Mexican national character.3 Maya modernism is indigenismo in Mexico’s southeast, where presence of contemporary Indian cultures is stronger, the signs of modernity’s arrival harder to come by, and the connection to the national center weakest. Like other strains of indigenismo, it is a discourse that tells us little or nothing about the Indian—and much about the outsiders studying or “bettering” the Indian (anthropologists and bureaucrats, policy makers, poets, and novelists; or in this case modern artists, architects, and filmmakers) and about their needs, fantasies, ideological agendas, and desires. These needs, fantasies, agendas, and desires are not random emanations of overactive imaginations made feverish by the tropical sun. They are highly structured, extremely revealing, and prone to fall within recurring patterns that reflect enduring epistemes. What may be more surprising is that these patterns demonstrate commonalities, even consensus, among highly incompatible schools of thought. This chapter looks at some of these strange bedfellows, distinct in their many ways but united in their 16

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understanding of the Maya of today as a decayed vestige—a living fossil. Improbably, this conviction brings together imperial adventurers and revolutionaries, criollo elites and indigenista nationalists, neorealist filmmakers and nineteenth-century intellectuals. To explore this constellation of images, we must start with the first modern image technologies that spread (mis-)representations of the ancient Maya splendors and their living descendents all over the world. These were the daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and other nineteenth-century photographic processes that feature prominently in early Yucatecan archaeology—as well as the printed reproductions that allowed unique (in other words, not mechanically reproducible) photographic images wide circulation. The in­dividuals responsible for the introduction of photography to the peninsula are to a great extent also the leading figures in the regional history of nineteenth-century archaeology. Like much of the earliest photography in Mexico, this was largely the work of itinerant daguerreotypists from the United States and Europe— who passed through the country; took a series of images of ruins, landscapes, and faces; and continued on in search of new worlds to conquer. In October 1839, the English artist Frederick Catherwood and the North American writer and traveler John Lloyd Stephens left New York to explore the ruins of Central America and the Yucatán. Both had worked previously, independently of each other, documenting ancient ruins in Egypt and the Middle East. They left New York two days before D. W. Seager presented the first daguerreotype camera to New World audiences, and hence did not benefit from this new technology.4 Catherwood did, however, use a proto-photographic device (the camera lucida) as an aid to drawing—a practice not uncommon among illustrators of his day. Catherwood’s meticulous images of the monumental and heretofore little-known ruins and Stephens’s lucid prose were well matched. When Stephens published the two-volume Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan (accompanied by Catherwood’s illustrations), the account proved hugely popular—quickly going through several printings. A century and a half and many editions later, Stephens’s account and Catherwood’s pioneering images remain in print. Catherwood and Stephens made a second expedition to the peninsula in 1841 through 1842, and this time brought with them a daguerreotype camera in order to record the ancient Maya sites. Stephens’s narrative of the second trip and the lithographs based on these photographs appeared in 1843 as Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, which proved equally successful with the public.5 the vegetative maya


Another explorer, Baron Emanuel von Friedrichsthal, brought a camera to Izamal, Uxmal, and Chichén Itzá in 1841 and took photographs of Maya ruins. The Baron Friedrichsthal and the Catherwood and Stephens expeditions made additional use of equipment by taking portraits of Mexicans. Friedrichsthal’s daguerreotypes were exhibited in London and Paris and are now housed in Austria’s National Library. Those taken by Catherwood were destroyed in a fire in New York City in 1842, but not before they had been shown in the United States. More importantly, engravers used the images to illustrate Stephens’s account of their travels. In addition to the illustrations for Stephens’s travel narrative, Catherwood published in 1844 a deluxe volume of 26 hand-colored plates titled Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan. Like the illustrations for Stephens’s text, these large-format color views of the ruins were modeled on prints of the Old World classical antiquities of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. The images are enhanced with the inclusion of elements that given the lengthy exposure times necessary to register an exposure would have been impossible to capture with the daguerreotype camera: startled wildlife taking flight, distant lightning bolts, and other details that heightened the drama. In spite of these romantic additions, certainly absent from the original photographs, Catherwood’s images are considerably more faithful than the engravings of Guillermo Dupaix, Jean-Frédéric Waldeck, and his other predecessors. In these earlier representations, the ruins often take on fanciful forms of a distinctly Egyptian, Assyrian, or Southeast Asian flavor. Waldeck, for example—convinced of the Hindu origins of the builders—mistook the long-nosed masks of the rain god Chaac for elephants and drew them accordingly.6 Although Maya art tends to rely heavily on certain aesthetic conventions, it is apparent from the images of European travelers who preceded Catherwood that these visitors were incapable of making visual sense of this alien visual practice. Faced with a vast and complex jumble of incomprehensible and alien information whose visual tropes clearly eluded them, these earlier travelers created images that were digestible by relying on more familiar Old World references. Catherwood, to his credit, did not. It is clear from Stephens’s text that this was not accomplished without a struggle, as he reports. He was standing with his feet in the mud, and was drawing with his gloves on to protect his hands from the moschetoes [sic]. As we feared, the designs were so intricate and complicated, the subjects so 18

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entirely new and unintelligible, that he had great difficulty in drawing. He had made several attempts, both with the camera lucida and without, but failed to satisfy himself or even me, who was less severe in criticism. The “idol” seemed to defy his art; two monkeys in a tree on one side appeared to be laughing at him.7 There is another element that frequently appears in Catherwood’s images: people. The only known image of Frederick Catherwood is not so much a self-portrait as it is a representation of his energetic figure in one of his own etchings, fully engaged in taking measurements for the purpose of mapping a landscape littered with ancient Maya structures and fragments. More often than not, however, the human figures that populate Catherwood’s illustrations are Maya—and here the contrast could not be more marked. Unlike the vigorous figures of Stephens and of Catherwood himself, caught mid-stride in purposeful activity, the Maya lounge in the midst of the traces of their faded glory. Some seem to sleep, others to sit, and some recline with their upper bodies propped up—resting an elbow or two on raised knees. Those engaged in activities are for the most part taking care of daily needs: fetching water, preparing food, or eating. The exceptions are those Maya

Fig. 2  Detail showing Maya Indians at Palenque; Frederick Catherwood, 1844.

the vegetative maya


clearly working under the direction of Catherwood and Stephens, such as the crew of stooped bearers hauling a large wooden architrave off to New York City—seen in the color lithograph of the general view of Kabah. The implications of the inactivity and slothfulness as characteristic of the Maya are repeatedly made explicit in Stephens’s text. Given the glory of their past, the Indians’ current degraded state is all the more striking. Unlike some previous commentators, who ascribed the authorship of the ruins to some long-extinct Old World invaders, Stephens’s is a Monroe Doctrine archaeology: America for Americans, European hands off, and the entire hemisphere for Washington, D.C. Earnest A. Hooton wrote: “We have set up for Aboriginal America a sort of ex post facto Monroe Doctrine and are inclined to regard suggestions of alien influence as acts of aggression. This is probably a scientifically tenable position, although I am afraid it has often been maintained in part by an emotional bias.”8 One of the prime movers of this ex post facto doctrine, Stephens argues at length that the buildings are the work of the Maya (ancestors of the current inhabitants) and not of some foreign invader. Once again, this is not a first; Dupaix and Juan Galindo had previously stated this belief. Stephens unequivocally places the blame for the Indian’s “changed, miserable and degraded”9 condition on the Spanish conquerors, and suggests a parallel decline had been experienced by the descendants of the European invaders. Whether debased, and but little above the grade of brutes, as it was the policy of the Spanish to represent them, or not, we know that at the time of the conquest they were at last proud, fierce, and warlike, and poured out their blood like water to save their inheritance from the grasp of strangers. Crushed, humbled, and bowed down as they are now by generations of bitter servitude, even yet they are not more changed than the descendants of those terrible Spaniards who invaded and conquered their country. In both, all traces of the daring and warlike character of their ancestors are entirely gone.10 The implication, which Stephens hints at broadly elsewhere in his text, is that this generalized state of ruin and decline makes the inevitable North American intervention all the more urgent. The significance of Catherwood’s images lies not simply in their accuracy but in the distribution they achieved. In the 1840s, there was no technology available to reproduce daguerreotype images in print. Although the audience reached 20

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in the exhibition of the original photographic plates was necessarily very limited, the lithographs that accompanied Stephens’s four volumes of Incidents of Travel introduced the architecture of the ancient Maya to thousands—including Frank Lloyd Wright, Robert Stacy-Judd, Désiré Charnay, and many of the other individuals who figure large later in this history.11 Stephens’s written account and Catherwood’s images brought the ancient Maya into the popular Western imagination, where they have resonated—sometimes fantastically, sometimes in more sober strains, but always evocatively—ever since. Following Friedrichsthal, Stephens, and Catherwood, an ever-accelerating stream of representations of the ancient Maya emerged from the Yucatán. Photography, antiquarian speculation, sporadic excavations, and looting kept close company throughout the rest of the nineteenth century in the Yucatán. In spite of the geographical isolation and the political instability, the photographs, molds, archaeological artifacts, publications, and chronicles by European visitors brought additional information about the Maya past to the West. The Hungarian political exile Pál Rosti traveled throughout Mexico in 1857 through 1858. His camera recorded landscapes, the modern capital city, and pre-Cortesian ruins. When he returned to Hungary, he published Uti Emlekezetek Amerikából (Memories of a Voyage to America)—in which he offered an account of the geography, flora, fauna, ethnology, and social customs of Mexico.12 The Austrian Teobert Maler came to Mexico in 1865 as a soldier in Maximilian’s army. He originally became interested in archaeology after the Empress Carlota’s trip to Yucatán, and chose to remain after the collapse of the failed imperial experiment to photograph the pre-Cortesian ruins. Maler moved to Paris in 1878, where he lectured on Mexican antiquities. After returning to Mexico in 1882, he dedicated himself to creating an exhaustive documentation of these ruins—collaborating with the archaeological division of the Peabody Museum.13 The Englishman Alfred Percival Maudslay photographed and excavated the Maya ruins at Palenque and a number of important Central American sites in a series of visits between 1881 and 1894, and printed his photographs in the oversize five-volume set Biologia Centrali Americana.14 Maudslay’s photographs were presented at the World Columbian Exposition of 1893, along with Claude Désiré Charnay and Edward H. Thompson’s casts of stele and photographs on loan from the Peabody Museum. Augustus and Alice Le Plongeon photographed and excavated on the peninsula for more than a decade in the 1870s and 1880s. Désiré the vegetative maya


Charnay worked in Mexico from 1858 to 1860, and then again from 1880 to 1882 and in 1886. His travels yielded an extensive photographic record of the ruins and several written chronicles of his travels. Once Charnay, Maler, Maudslay, Rosti, the Le Plongeons, Mérida’s Pedro Guerra, and others had photographed peninsular ruins, modern mechanical means of reproduction (and later, electronic and digital technologies) multiplied these representations at an ever-accelerating pace. As they traveled, these unmoored representations were continually reinterpreted and transformed. They circulated through the world and eventually returned to the peninsula, where (as we shall see shortly with the Catherwood engravings) they were reinterpreted once again. These multiple transformations were shaped by a fundamental political conflict between North and South, which would determine to what ends this usable past might be put. In the 1840s, the Maya past was of more use to the Anglos of the United States than it was to the Spanish-speaking residents of Mérida and its environs. It must be emphasized that Stephens and Catherwood were not the first to write about the archaeological marvels of the Yucatán. The writings of Antonio del Río, Charles Etienne Brasseur de Bourbourg, JeanFrédéric Waldeck, and Guillermo Dupaix—as well as the images of Waldeck and Dupaix’s draftsman, Luciano Castañeda—all predated Stephens and Catherwood’s trip. But these accounts, addressed to the fellow members of learned societies, were only available in rare and often expensive volumes of limited circulation. Stephens, in contrast, writes to a general audience in a breezy, anecdotal style that remains accessible and engaging over a century and a half later. In the 1840s, much of the information recorded by the conquistadors and the priests who accompanied them—such as Diego de Landa’s indispensable Relaciones de las cosas de Yucatán—remained buried in archives, unknown to all.15 Stephens and Catherwood are thus the central figures in the introduction of the ancient Maya to the outside world. Theirs was the first written account and the first images to reach a mass audience, and to capture the public imagination. Commercial attempts to exploit this public curiosity quickly followed Stephens’s publication. Stephens had repeated in print the account of a priest from Santa Cruz del Quiché of a surviving, stillunconquered Maya city hidden in the wilderness at the base of the Yucatán peninsula. Capitalizing on this suggestion, and on the public’s desire to see some curiosity related to the celebrated “lost cities” of Mesoamerica, P. T. Barnum exhibited two Central American microcephalics in the United States and Europe. Billed as “descendants and specimens of the sacerdotal 22

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cast (now nearly extinct) of the Ancient Aztec founders of the ruined temples of that country, described by John L. Stephens Esq., and other travelers,” and as the “Aztec Lilliputians from Iximaya,” an all too credulous scientific community studied these two Salvadorans. No less an authority than Paul Broca noted the similarities between their facial profiles and those carved in the reliefs of Palenque.16 Also in late nineteenth-century New York, the Globe Museum, the Orrin Brothers, and the Nichols Aztec Fair all exhibited “the last descendants” of this ancient race.17 This designation predicted the imminent demise of the Indian, recasting colonialism as preordained fate. The framing rhetoric positioned pre-Cortesian America as a heritage without living heirs and available to be claimed, embodying the climate of westward expansion and Manifest Destiny that shaped early American anthropology.18

Catherwood Revisited

Catherwood’s contribution and impact can be better appreciated by examining two living artists, Leandro Katz and Waldemaro Concha Vargas— whose work demonstrates the lingering influence of Catherwood’s vision. Specific images of these two artists resonate with this history of misunderstandings and misrepresentations in particularly rich and provocative ways. One can recognize in these especially resonant images traces of a century and half’s worth of Western representations—or, more often, misrepresentations—of “the Indians” and their monumental ruins. One such image is a contemporary ambrotype, an example of what the photography critic Lyle Rexer has called “the antiquarian avant-garde”—a photographic primitivist taking on the modernist primitivists.19 The Yucatecan photographer Waldemaro Concha Vargas deceives the viewer with his ambrotype image of Mérida’s Maya Revival fountain in the Parque de las Américas, yet at the same time divulges his own deception. The antiquated technology employed, with its very particular qualities— a negative image when held up in the light, a positive one when housed in its casing—and the marks of the obsolete artisanal process by which the emulsion was prepared and applied to the glass base (as evidenced by the imperfections and traces of the artist’s hand at work) announce the image to be one from the infancy of photography. The subject matter, on the other hand, is unmistakably twentieth century: an element of Manuel Amábilis’s neo-Maya park, an Art Deco fountain (discussed further in Chapter 3). That the image is self-contradictory and that its content undercuts the antiquity the vegetative maya


proclaimed by the (false) patina of age suggest provocatively that this is not a simple matter of deception or falsification—as with the forger’s attempt, typically motivated by the desire to profit financially—by applying a specious sheen of age to a latter-day production. Rather than a fraud, this ambrotype is the result of a sly and emphatically regional archaic yet contemporary art practice that makes reference to the history of early photography in the Yucatán (a subject about which Concha Vargas, himself a photo archivist and historian, is very knowledgeable and deeply invested) and to the histories of archaeology and Maya Revival architecture. These multiple references make the thin emulsion of Concha Vargas’ misleading retro-vanguardist photograph a rewarding site for further excavations of histories of what might be labeled “post–pre-Columbian.” The careful excavation and examination of that surface can reveal these layers—the traces of the contested histories, photographic and architectural—that Concha Vargas’ ambrotype engages. Fig. 3  Ambrotype of the Parque de las Américas; Waldemaro Concha Vargas, 1999.


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By choosing to make ambrotypes in the late twentieth and early twentyfirst centuries— roughly a century and half after their heyday (or their demise) and in the age of digital cameras, video streaming, and the instantaneous global circulation of images over the Internet—Concha Vargas revives a painstaking and cumbersome process as he casts a loving, backward glance at the origins of photography.20 The technique Concha Vargas uses, the ambrotype process, is a step closer to negative-positive processes of photographic reproduction than the daguerreotype utilized by Friedrichsthal and Catherwood but is roughly contemporaneous and nearly as unwieldy. Even as scientists and inventors of the 1830s conducted experiments that would lead to the invention of the daguerreotype, other pioneers were making the photographic discoveries that would later render it obsolete. These alternative photographic processes utilized a negative from which an unlimited number of virtually indistinguishable positives could be made, and thus promised a total break from the world of unique images. The Englishman William Henry Fox Talbot developed a system of re­­ cording a tonally reversed image on waxed paper treated with silver nitrate, silver iodide, acid, and potassium iodide. Once exposed, this paper could be processed (again with silver nitrate) to produce a negative from which positive contact prints could be made. Known as the calotype or Talbotype, the resulting image was grainy and lacking in detail—largely because of the fibers of the paper.21 The distinction between processes that yielded single unique images (such as the daguerreotype) and negative-positive processes (such as the calotype, which yield an infinite number of nearly identical prints) was described in one of the first Mexican newspaper accounts of photography, printed in 1839. [T]he light removes the black according to its degree of intensity, and the light does not touch those other parts that are protected by the shadow of the objects, which is focused by the camera obscura; this is the merit of the material employed by Mr. Daguerre: it traces nature, just the way it is, with its tones and half-tones . . . While the preparations in the previous attempts, and in that of Mr. Talbot of London, are white, and susceptible to turn black in the light, those parts which are covered in shadow by the objects reflected in the camera obscura remain clear, and thus one sees nature turned around. But the method used by Mr. Daguerre to obtain his marvelous effects, which he has been pleased to show to all of Paris, is a secret that should be guarded until the fate of his discovery has been decided. the vegetative maya


[Puesto que quita la luz a los puntos que toca, según su grado de intensidad, y que ella no toca a los protegidos por la sombra de los objetos, cuya imagen es proyectada en el foco de la cámara oscura; esto mismo constituye el mérito del material empleado por el Sr. Daguerre: con ella le es dado volver a trazar la naturaleza, tal como ella es con sus tintas y medias tintas . . . Mientras que en todos los ensayos intentados hasta aquí, y según parece en aquellos mismos del Sr. Talbot en Londres, la preparación empleada, siendo blanca y susceptible de ennegrecerse a la luz, las partes aclaradas se cubren de sombra y los objetos reflejados en la cámara oscura, se presentan como claros; y así se ve la naturaleza trastornada. Pero la preparación de que se sirve el Sr. Daguerre para obtener sus maravillosos efectos que ha tenido la complacencia de exponer a la vista de todo París, es un secreto que debe guardar hasta que se haya decidido la suerte de su descubrimiento.]22 Unlike the daguerreotype, which was conferred upon the world without restrictions, Talbot protected the calotype by copyright and controlled its legal uses. This copyright protection meant that it never became as popular as the daguerreotype (it probably never reached Mexico), but other negative-positive image-making techniques were soon widespread. Use of the daguerreotype continued after the war with the United States and into the second half of the century, but by this time wet collodion glass negatives, albumen negatives, and other processes challenged the monopoly the daguerreotype enjoyed during the first decade of Mexican photography. The first of these new techniques to catch on in Mexico was the ambrotype.23 The ambrotype was a transitional stage between the unique image produced by the daguerreotype and the negative-positive processes that soon became dominant. A variation on the collodion process, ambrotypes use a piece of glass sensitized with the same silver iodide and bromide emulsion and a collodion-binding agent. Once exposed and processed, the plate is mounted against a black surface to produce a unique positive image— rather than being used as a negative for printing. Ambrotypes were used principally for portraiture, and served as a less expensive (and less toxic) substitute for the daguerreotype. Like daguerreotypes, they were housed in ornamental cases—often lined with velvet or decorative metalwork—and were sometimes enhanced with hand coloring. The standard wet collodion process, invented by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851, used glass treated with the same emulsion as a negative for printing 26

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onto a light-sensitive paper. The wet collodion could yield an infinite number of prints from a single negative. It was thus a decisive advance, realizing the medium’s potential as first suggested by Talbot’s early experiments. The first mention of paper prints in Mexico appears in an 1851 newspaper ad for a store retailing what are misleadingly referred to as “paper daguerreotypes.”24 Although the paper daguerreotype represented a technological improvement, it was also an extremely awkward process. The exposure had to be made while the freshly mixed emulsion was still wet—a requirement that made photography outside the studio especially difficult. The most important archaeological photographer working in Mexico in this period, Désiré Charnay, described what was involved in wet collodion photography. My darkroom was installed in a large room in the middle of the [pre-Columbian] palace, eighty meters from the camera. This forced me to cover all my devices with moist cloths; I had the plate holder wrapped so that the collodion film would not dry out during the lengthy time of exposure and of coming and going between darkroom and camera . . .25 This same wet collodion process is what Waldemaro Concha Vargas em­ploys for the ambrotypes he takes in the Yucatán today. In contrast to Concha Vargas’s use of a nineteenth-century technology, Leandro Katz’s photographic essay “The Catherwood Project” (1984–1995) reinserts the lithographs of Incidents of Travel within the landscapes where they originate using several straightforward photographic techniques. The series is wonderfully suggestive of both the tourist’s longing to return to the primal scene of discovery and the way in which any subsequent views of the ancient Maya sites are framed and predicated by Catherwood’s missing daguerreotypes. Katz uses a variety of strategies to do this. In some of the images from this series, Katz creates diptychs of Catherwood’s engraving side by side with a photograph of the same view today. In others, he photographs the same ruins that Stephens and Catherwood visited with in the photograph’s foreground a paperback copy of Incidents of Travel opened to the engraving corresponding to the scene behind it. Katz’s own thumb or hand is often visible in the corner of the frame, positioning the volume. Over the ancient structures, viewed from the same position as in the engraving, one sees tourists climbing, listening to the tour guide, taking snapshots, and reviewing their guidebooks for a confirmation or explanation of what they see. At Tulum, one tourist appears toting a large shopping the vegetative maya


bag, as if directly coming from the malls of Cancún. These pilgrims of the transnational leisure class have interpolated themselves into Catherwood’s landscapes, usurping the position once occupied by the itinerant archaeologists. In contrast, the indolent Indians that lounge in the landscape in Catherwood’s images here have faded from view. Perhaps they have simply disappeared, as the designation “vanishing race” implies. On the one hand, Katz’s photographs highlight the contrasts between Tulum or Uxmal in the 1840s and the same sites in the 1980s. On the other hand, the photographs confirm the accuracy of the engravings in visual testament to Catherwood’s hand and eye and the enduring power of his representations. For Katz’s to capture some of his views, he worked at night—illuminating the expansive ruins with a series of photographic flashes over the course of a very long exposure. The ghostly image of his shadow appears repeatedly in the gloom along the edges of the artificial illumination, like the phantasms of Catherwood and Stephens lurking amid the structures. All of the images Fig. 4  El Castillo (Chichén Itzá), from The Catherwood Project; Leandro Katz, 1985.


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from Katz’s series remind us of Catherwood and Stephens’s centrality. Any and all subsequent views from this spot are prefaced on Catherwood’s images, these photographs suggest. Concha Vargas’s ambrotype of the fountain in Parque de las Américas also inevitably references Catherwood’s missing daguerreotypes. The dialogue between Katz and Concha Vargas on the one hand and Catherwood and Stephens on the other engages more than the hundred and fifty years that separate these individuals; it also spans the spatial divisions that separate the expansionist North from the subaltern South. These divisions in turn engage another set of hemispheric histories that resonate with Concha Vargas’s photograph.

Fig. 5  Iglesia (Chichén Itzá), from The Catherwood Project; Leandro Katz, 1991.

the vegetative maya


Katz writes of the moment of discovery: Overdressed, Stephens and Catherwood show up. Their voices muffled and framed by the metallic sound of their machetes hitting the steps. In a darkened corner of the chamber they find a wooden beam, exactly where the Count has left it. A replica? A repetition? They take it back to New York.26 From the Yucatán to Chicago; from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Chichén Itzá; from Washington, D.C., to Mexico City; from Manhattan to Uxmal— the axes of movement and transport, of influence and power, of import and export come into focus in the mid-nineteenth century. The question is not one of authenticity or accuracy, Katz’s text suggests, but rather of the establishment of points in a network of exchanges that were to remain unaltered over a century and a half or more.

Photography, Archaeology, and the Maya in the Peninsular Creole Imagination

The mid-nineteenth-century local elites had a complex relationship to the ruins that surrounded them. Stephens presses the point, emphatically and repeatedly, that these Creole inhabitants were hostile or oblivious to the archaic marvels in their midst. At Copán, he reports: “[I]t can hardly be believed, but not one of them, not even Don Gregorio’s sons, had ever seen the idols before.”27 Another hacienda owner commented to Stephens that were it not for their inaccessibility the ruins would make a fine source of cobblestones. Be that as it may, both an incipient nationalism (either Mexican or Yucatecan separatist) and the spirit of enlightenment did their part to foster an emergent spirit of antiquarianism on the peninsula.28 The works of Stephens and Catherwood did not introduce Maya archaeology to the literate public of the Yucatán, as it did in other places, for the residents of Mérida and its environs had some previous familiarity with the subject. The Stephens and Catherwood accounts are remarkable in that after being published abroad they were then brought back to the peninsula they described, where they circulated in ways both unpredictable and revealing. Soon after the publication of Incidents of Travel in Yucatan in English, Justo Sierra O’Reilly—one of the peninsula’s leading nineteenth-century intellectuals and liberal statesmen—translated it into Spanish. In his footnotes, 30

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Sierra O’Reilly entered into a bi-national dialogue with the author, and took exception to some of Stephens’s conclusions. Diffusionist speculation dominated early Mesoamerican antiquarianism. Assuming the Indian’s innate racial inferiority, a gamut of writers (from Kingsborough to Waldeck) had argued for the influence of Japanese, Balinese, Atlantean, Viking, or some other Old World culture on the advanced societies of the ancient Americas. The assumption was that the Indians were incapable of creating such marvelous structures on their own. Stephens makes note of these speculations, of theories of polygenesis and talk of sunken continents, and even saves a dismissive aside for Joseph Smith’s (then still new) addition to this clearinghouse of specious conjectures. By some the inhabitants of this continent have been regarded as a separate race, not descended from the same common father as the rest of mankind; others have ascribed their origin to some remnant of the antediluvian inhabitants of the earth, who survived the deluge which swept away the greatest part of the human species in the days of Noah, and hence have considered them the most ancient race of people on the earth. Under the broad range allowed by a descent from the sons of Noah, the Jews, the Canaanites, the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Greeks, the Scythians in ancient times; the Chinese, the Swedes, the Norwegians, the Welsh, and the Spanish in modern, have had ascribed to them the honour of peopling America. The two continents have been joined together and rent asunder by the shock of an earthquake; the fabled island of Atlantis has been lifted out of the ocean; and, not to be behindhand, an enterprising American has turned the tables on the Old World, and planted the arc itself within the state of New-York.29 Stephens’s own analysis is a significant departure from this pattern he lampoons here. After some equivocal statements earlier in the first volume, he concludes that the ancient structures were in fact made by indigenous builders—without the presence or aid of a colonizing power from the Old World. Sierra O’Reilly found this position unconvincing. His translation of Stephens’s text, like Concha Vargas’s revisiting of Catherwood’s photographs, functions as a response—a fragment from a dialogue in which the foreign characterizations of the Yucatán are then commented upon by the Yucatecan. His footnotes at several points take exception to Stephens’s the vegetative maya


statements, but never as emphatically as when Stephens attributes the ruins to the ancestors of the living Indians. Here he is damning. “When inductions are built upon conjectures,” Sierra O’Reilly quips, “everyone is free to give these the interpretation which best fits his own theory.” [“Cuando las inducciones se forman sobre conjeturas, cada uno es dueño de darles el valor que cuadre más a sus ideas.”]30 Sierra O’Reilly’s hostility to Stephens’s conclusions is informed by a dramatic turn of events that radically altered the political climate of the peninsula between the time of Stephens’s visits (1840–1842) and that of the Spanish-language translation of Incidents of Travel (1850). That transformative event was the Caste War, a bloody conflict that had begun with the rebellion of Maya in July 1847 and that continued into the twentieth century.31 This, the most successful Indian rebellion in the post-Conquest Americas, had transformed the Maya of the criollo imagination from a backward primitive to a bloodthirsty and murderous savage. Elsewhere, Sierra O’Reilly makes it clear that his understanding of the ruins is filtered through the bitter experience of that war: “The one race may very well have been destroyed and supplanted by the other. Was our race not just at the point of being exterminated and thrown out of the country by another conquered race?” [“La una raza pudo muy bien haber sido destruida y suplantada por la otra. ¿La nuestra, no ha estado a punto de ser exterminada y arrojada del país por la raza conquistada?”]32 If, however, Stephens’s thesis is in fact correct—Sierra O’Reilly notes— the Maya had degenerated dramatically from the heights evidenced by the ruins. There is no way around it, if the race conquered in the sixteenth century by the Spanish was the same one that constructed those monumental marvels, they had without a doubt fallen to the lowest point on the scale; it is more likely that this is the work of some other race, which the present race, so much more prone to destroy than to build, has destroyed. [No hay remedio, si la raza conquistada en el siglo XVI por los españoles fue la misma que construyó estas maravillas monumentales, no hay duda que habían caído hasta el último grado de la escala; pero lo más probable es que haya sido obra de otra raza previamente exterminada por la actual, que es tan propensa a destruir en vez de edificar.]33 32

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Thus, in the midst of the bloody Caste Wars (an ongoing armed conflict between Spanish speakers and Maya speakers) Sierra O’Reilly was illdisposed to think of the ancestors of his enemies as capable of producing (in Stephens’s words) the “architecture, sculpture and painting [which] had flourished in this overgrown forest; [the] orators, warriors and statesmen, beauty, ambition and glory” whose absence is marked by impressive traces in the wilds. Instead, Sierra O’Reilly posits that the origins of his own culture are Spanish and that the authorship of the ruins is a purely speculative matter—and emphatically distances the Indians from the archaeological record of their past accomplishments. Conjuring the specter of Catherwood’s vanished daguerreotypes, Concha Vargas’s photograph of the Parque de las Américas is significantly not simply a reinterpretation of an influential (if long absent) original but a distinctively Yucatecan response. It appears that only foreigners made daguerreotypes and ambrotypes of archaeological subjects in Mexico— traveling practition­ ers from the United States or Europe. There were Mexicans who utilized these early photographic technologies, but from the available information it seems their efforts were for the most part restricted to studio portraiture (typically done for hire). Concha Vargas’s photographic practice is a Yucatecan response to foreign characterizations of the Yucatán, much as the interjected commentaries at the bottom of the pages of Sierra O’Reilly’s translation. Unlike Sierra O’Reilly, Concha Vargas does not contest the assertions of the greatness of the ancient Maya or their autonomy from Old World influences, but it is as much a translation as it is a reconstruction—and a translation that carries with it new meanings absent from the original. An analogous image might be the Yucatecan Roberto Sánchez’s woodcut reproductions of Catherwood’s engravings. Technical limitations prevented the inclusion of illustrations with the first edition of Sierra O’Reilly’s text (1848–1850), but the second edition (printed in 1869 and 1870) included 19 of Sánchez’s reinterpretations of Catherwood’s originals.34 Here, Sánchez engages in an act of translation comparable to Sierra O’Reilly’s. Hoping to replicate the finely detailed lithographic reproductions of Catherwood’s daguerreotypes and camera lucida sketches, the Yucatecan created bold, roughly rendered reinterpretations that look more like the architecture of a crude German Expressionist netherworld than the prelapsarian tropical wonderlands depicted in the meticulous prototypes. What distinguishes Concha Vargas’s ambrotype from Sanchez’s imperfect replication of Catherwood and Sierra O’Reilly’s annotated translation of Stephens the vegetative maya


Fig. 6   Uxmal, after Catherwood; Roberto Sánchez, 1870.

(and rebuttal through footnotes) is that the former is self-consciously a meta-photograph, created by an artist as interested in the history of these representations as he is in the ostensible subject matter depicted. In spite of their differences of opinion on the crucial question of the ruins’ builders, there is common ground shared by Sierra O’Reilly’s vision of the Maya and that of Stephens. Both writers perceive the Maya of their own time as backward, listless, and dull. The relationship between either of the two authors and the object of their scrutiny is one of a superior looking down what is understood as a social and racial hierarchy. Perhaps the Maya had once possessed an advanced culture, or perhaps they were merely servants to a superior foreign power that directed their labors, but both authors concur that today the Maya would unquestionably need to strive mightily if they were to ever hope to catch up with Western civilization— if indeed this is possible. This attitude finds a vivid expression in Catherwood’s illustrations. Among the embellishments added to the daguerreotype views when they were reproduced as engravings are numerous indolent natives depicted relaxing amid the ruins, seemingly ignorant and unappreciative of the glories that surround them. Dark figures huddle and sleep. Languorous Indians vegetate all over. The Mexicans sleep, oblivious to their surroundings, 34

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not under a cactus but rather a pyramid. The Maya themselves have clearly fallen from grace, and are seemingly incapable of appreciating— let alone approaching—what might possibly be their ancestors’ stunning accomplishments. Significantly, the atypical images Roberto Sánchez chooses to reproduce represent the Maya differently. He depicts two human figures in two separate illustrations. In one, an image of the distant ruins of Uxmal atop a hill, the figure is identifiably a Maya man by his costume—and the other’s ethnicity is ambiguous. Both face the ruins, with backs turned to the viewer. The Maya man rests jauntily on a walking stick, gesturing grandly with one arm. Rather than slumbering in oblivion, his upraised arm and body language direct the attention of the viewer to the view as if to say, “Look at this!” Long before Roberto Sánchez, and before Catherwood, the inclusion of the human figure in European images of ruins was commonplace. More than a mere indication of scale, the frailty and brevity of any one human life comes into sharp relief when set against the tragic enormity of an entire civilization’s collapse. A melancholic longing for the sublime flourished in the European Romantics’ gaze on the detritus of fallen cultures, especially that of classical antiquities. Nineteenth-century Yucatecans, although surrounded by ruins and hardly immune to the allure of romanticism, did not indulge in this fascination.35 The past with which they sought to align themselves was European. Given the possible links to the rebel Maya with whom they were at war, the nearby ruins were certainly too troubling, too inaccessible, and too alien. Following the precedent set by Catherwood, the Maya continue to populate photographic records made at the ruins for decades after his daguerreotypes themselves were destroyed in a New York City fire. The range of ways in which these individuals are depicted, and the implied relations between ancient and modern Maya and between the Maya and modernity, reveal much about diverse attitudes and assumptions toward the subject. In much of the nineteenth-century photography of the ruins (such as many of Désiré Charnay’s photographs), the human figure is distant and rigidly posed—serving as little more than a suggestion of scale, indicating the size of the structures in relation to the human figure. However, in twentiethcentury photography often the compositions are designed to establish a visual link between the ancient builders and the inhabitants of today. With his iconic Maya Boy of Tulum (1942), Mexico’s premier modernist photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo balances a carved mask—set in the vegetative maya


the wall of the waterfront ruins of Quintana Roo—with a youth whose facial features echo the ancient carving. The two faces—one of stone, the other of flesh—share the frame equally. Equivalence is implied; a visual link that transcends centuries implies cultural continuity. In Giles Healey’s 1946 footage of the discovery of Bonampak, he repeats the concept (if not the same composition)—posing one of his Lacandon guides in profile in front of a stone relief to foreground the similarity of facial features. Images abound of the Indian transfixed in melancholic trance by the faded glory of the Maya ruins. The Carnegie Institute of Washington, while excavating and reconstructing the ruins of Chichén Itzá, hired local Maya from Pisté—dressed in speculative reconstructions of ancient Maya garb to pose for photographs and for a Fox Movietone newsreel.36 One of these photographs (no photographer is credited) serves as the frontispiece for Ann Axtell Morris’s Digging in Yucatan, a popular account of the Carnegie project. The caption makes explicit the subtext of these images: “[A] Maya youth before the shrine of his ancestors; in sunset reverie, dreaming, it seemed to me, of what might have been had he lived in the noonday of his race.”37 Laura Gilpin repeats the pairing in her photographic essay on Chichén Itzá, as does a photograph on the cover of Life magazine from 1947—a cover illustration for an article titled “Ancient and Modern Maya.”38 Popular postcards sold to tourists at the ruins offer variations of this costumed pageantry. Magazine illustrations and pageants for tourists all repeat this motif by placing costumed Maya in pre-Cortesian landscapes to create kitsch spectacles of Mesoamerican glory. By moving the archaeological object from its original context to a museum, the fragment becomes a metonym for the distant site and the culture that created it. Transposing the pairing of the Indian of today and ancient Mesoamerican artifacts into the museum setting, the California photographer and experimental filmmaker Sharon Lockhart’s large color photographic triptych Enrique Nava Enedina: Oaxacan Exhibition Hall, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City (1999) works within this photographic lineage of Álvarez Bravo and Gilpin.39 The three large-format images depict a laborer, clearly of indigenous ancestry, seated or kneeling on the museum’s floor behind a glass enclosure. He is a stonemason, engaged in repairs of the museum’s opulent marble tiles. Around him are his prosaic tools and supplies: a wheelbarrow containing mortar, a shovel, and a level. With these, in the first image of the sequence, lay a scattered and untidy collection of excavated rubble— looking as incongruous in the gallery space as one of Robert Smithson’s 36

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“non-sites” and contrasting with the artfully arranged pieces in the display case. The protective Plexiglas barrier that separates him from the camera (and from us, the viewers of the photograph) bars the museum visitor from the work site and echoes the glass-enclosed museum cases behind him. One transparent box contains and displays the Indian of Mexico’s past. The other contains and displays Enrique Nava Enedina, the Indian of today, remade as an urban proletarian by processes of industrialization and social revolution; in short, remade as a full Mexican citizen by the processes of modernization. The pairing of the two glass enclosures in Lockhart’s photographs— one protecting the archaeological artifacts and the other enclosing Nava Enedina—brings into sharp focus the relationship between Mexico’s ancient civilizations and its living indigenous population, represented in the structure of the National Anthropology Museum itself. Nava Enedina’s labor is quite literally excavating and then reconstructing the museum’s foundations. He is working, in the words of Douglas Crimp, on the museum’s ruins.40 This excavation can serve as a guidepost for another, more metaphorical, dig into the ideological foundations of the National Anthropology Museum—and more generally into the Maya modernism and Mexican indigenismo of the Cold War period it embodies. The setting of Lockhart’s photograph is Pedro Ramírez Vázquez’s spectacular and justly celebrated 1964 structure: the home of the National Anthropology Museum. The building is inspired by the quadrilateral of the Nunnery at Uxmal, and contains additional paraphrases of Maya architecture. It places the ancient Maya at the center of institutionalized Revolutionary nationalism. Half a century earlier, the Yucatecans had sought to secede—their role in the unfolding Revolution questionable, and their attachment to the rest of the nation precarious.41 By 1964, an official state-sponsored indigenismo had unequivocally claimed the Yucatecan Maya and their aesthetic achievements not simply as part of the national patrimony but at least in this instance as its centerpiece. It was, however, a troubled and contested claim—though now for reasons completely different from those that led to the chaos on the peninsula in the previous century. An excavation of the museum’s ruins and into the ideological rubble upon which it was built, following the example of Nava Enedina’s labors, proves a rewarding process by which to explore these relations. Buried below the museum’s foundations, these excavations uncover the transformations taking place in Mexican visual cultures during the decades the vegetative maya


Fig. 7   Nunnery quadrangle, Uxmal.

following the end of World War II: the ossification of the aesthetic vocabulary of the cultural renaissance, the emergence of a range of alternate engagements with the Maya past utilizing altogether different artistic languages, the evolving debates over universal and national frames of reference, and the shifting national and global contexts in which these visual cultures circulated. This excavation should start with the National Museum itself—an archetype of this particular strand within Maya modernism and a triumph of Mexico’s nationalist deployment of the archaeological past. The National Anthropology Museum does not utilize the type of literalminded historical revivalism—painted friezes of kitschy Chaacs or murals full of feathered serpents, corbeled arches, and walls full of make-believe glyphs—that characterized the earlier neo-Maya efforts of architects such as Robert Stacy-Judd (discussed in Chapter 5). Instead, the building uses a high modernist architectural language—sparing in its decorative elements and refined and simplified in its forms. Unlike the ancient Maya who built Uxmal—and their more flamboyant latter-day admirers—Ramírez Vázquez believes that less is more. The reference to the so-called Nunnery is nevertheless abundantly clear. This is achieved not through the mimicry of motifs but through the striking use of space and mass. The building defines a vast courtyard, an impressive enclosed quadrangle. The exterior and interior 38

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spaces feature the natural color and texture of the handworked marble of Santo Tomás, Puebla. These elements, not specific decorative figures and ornamentations, are for Ramírez Vázquez defining qualities of Maya architecture most useful for the contemporary architect: “The features of Mayan architecture which appear most frequently in Mexican architecture and town-planning today,” he writes, “are the use of color, texture and a generous sense of open space.”42 As at Uxmal, the lower walls of the courtyard are plain and set back. The overhanging exterior surfaces of the second floor are decorated with repeated geometric patterns made up of crisscrossed forms that reference (without resorting to direct quotations) the intricate mosaics of rattlesnakes, divinities, rulers, and intricate abstractions in the interior courtyard of the Nunnery. The museography similarly echoes the stratification of an archaeological site. The lower level is devoted to the archaeology of the Indian cultures’ ancient roots. The upper level houses the ethnographical exhibitions of contemporary expressions of indigenous Mexico: mannequins in the traditional garb of distinct ethnicities, frozen in time and confined to a series of dioramas representing Mexico’s “living roots.” Opened on September 16, 1964 (Independence Day) to much fanfare and critical acclaim, the building serves as a focal point for an analysis of the Mexican state’s use of ancient Maya forms. The power of the architectural accomplishment, and the size and quality of the collections displayed—of which only some fraction had been on display previously in the restrictive confines of the Museo Nacional, a colonial structure formerly used as the National Mint (Antigua Casa de Moneda)—could not however silence the questioning of the building’s political function. Writing in the bitter wake of the murder of untold hundreds of protestors at Tlatelolco Plaza on October 2, 1968, Octavio Paz located in Ramírez Vázquez’s design a myth of Mexico that “is crushing us.”43 The building, Paz wrote, suggests an “image of the pre-Columbian past which . . . is false.” That falsehood does not so much lie in the misrepresentation of the past or archaeological inaccuracies as it does in the distorted sense of identity it offers Mexicans: [T]he image it presents us of Mexico’s past obeys not so much the exigencies of science as the aesthetics of the paradigm. It is not a museum, it is a mirror—except that within its symbol crammed surface we do not reflect ourselves but instead contemplate the giganticized myth of México-Tenochtitlan, with its Huitzilopochtli and his mother Coatlicue . . .44 the vegetative maya


The false reflection that is produced, Paz argues, is one that effectively serves the interests of the centralist state. That state—undemocratic, repressive, corrupt, and authoritarian—had in the Museo Nacional de Antropología created for itself a “temple,” and “the cult propagated within its walls is the same one that inspires our schoolbooks on Mexican history and the speeches of our leaders.”45 Positing the single-party system that emerged from the Revolution as legitimate heir to the aesthetic triumphs of the ancients, the formal beauty of the National Anthropology Museum did not conceal its status as propaganda for a brutal and undemocratic state. Paz was not the only one to question the state’s evocation of the indigenous. A more general skepticism pervaded the nation’s intellectual and cultural elites. Mexican anthropologists, particularly relevant here as the appointed explicators of cultural difference, likewise opened an attack on the national school within their own discipline. A group of young professors from the Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historía (National School of Anthropology and History), housed on an upper floor of the new structure in Chapultepec Park, attacked the dominant strain of indigenismo in the manifesto De eso que llaman antropología mexicana [Of That Which Is Called Mexican Anthropology].46 In this collection of five individually authored texts, these radicals contest the conviction that justified their discipline in the decades since the Revolution. Since the times of Manuel Gamio, Mexican anthropology had been charged with the task of bringing the Indian into the national fold— preparing the excluded masses for the responsibilities of active citizenship. The 1969 manifesto makes the claim that their discipline’s role is a corrupt one: that of delivering the Indian to the authoritarian state for exploitation and co-optation.47 Even before Tlatelolco, the nationalist appropriation of the indigenous that reached its apotheosis in the National Anthropology Museum was besieged and under fire. The national school in the visual arts, coexisting in symbiosis with the paternalistic state, had by mid-century its share of irate vocal critics. By the late 1950s, the protagonists of the muralist movement were either dead or had their most important work behind them. Muralism and the Mexican school were sustained by subsequent generations, who seemed content to reheat the innovations of los tres grandes— Rivera, Siqueiros, and Orozco. A number of short-lived artists’ groups—the Interioristas, la Nueva Presencia, los Hartos—showed no interest in the social realism of the muralist school.48 International attention to muralism


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waned as well. In the Cold War climate, North American institutions and patrons were wary of the movement’s intimacy with radical politics. The campus of the National University (the Ciudad Universitaria campus of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, or UNAM, built 1950–1952) and the public art projects by Francisco Eppens, José Chávez Morado, and others that cover the sides of the campus buildings are a showcase of that style that embodies Mexican muralism’s superannuated phase. One after another, the monumental structures are covered with de­­ pictions of Indians building pyramids and in pursuit of scholarship. Juan O’Gorman’s library seeks an uneasy synthesis of functionalism in its structure and mytho-poetic narrative in its exterior mosaics, which cover the entire facade of the building. By then in its second generation, nationalist muralism had been converted into a stale orthodoxy that justified an undemocratic state. José Luis Cuevas had written of a fictional talented young Mexican artist who found that the only path to professional success in his country was a formulaic nationalism that betrayed his talents and ignored outside influences.49 This scerotic muralism had soured the once collaborative spirit of United States–Mexican cultural relations. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Mexican cultural renaissance attracted enthusiastic followers in the United States, but in the years following World War II, North Americans rarely looked south except through the distorting Cold War lens of East–West relations. As Eric Zolov has argued, during “this period of heightened cold war tension, when the ‘Third World’ emerged as the disputed terrain of superpower rivalries and Latin America appeared on the brink of revolutionary upheaval, Mexico had also become a model Latin American nation in the [mainstream] U.S. imaginary”—and the country simultaneously lost its appeal to North American modernists as a possible source of inspiration.50 The internal Mexican struggles with indigenismo, paternalism, and anthropology meant little or nothing to the cultural pilgrims who visited from the United States. An indication of the degree to which North American vanguards felt removed from Mexico’s nationalist archaeological project (and its North American allies) can see gauged by a letter written in 1951 from the small coastal town of Yerma, Campeche, by the poet Charles Olson—who ranted to Robert Creeley against: [T]he stupidity & laziness of the archeologists, both American & Mexican, which is that most culpable of all, intellectual carelessness.

the vegetative maya


I had the feeling, already in Merida, that the Peabody-Carnegie gang, whatever they may have done, 50, or 25 years ago, were, now, missing the job, were typical pedants or academics, and were playing some state & low professional game. . .51 Acknowledging his own position as an outsider to the archaeological community, Olson imagined himself uniquely positioned to understand the ancient Maya: “here I am, an aestheticist (which I have yet to be convinced any one of them, from Stephens on down, is).”52 Olson reaches his conclusion too quickly, expunging (or ignorant of) the roles of painter Jean Charlot reproducing murals for “Peabody-Carnegie gang,” Adela Breton’s meticulous Victorian watercolors of sites throughout the Maya region and beyond, Adolfo Best Maugard’s labors creating a method for artists rooted in ancient design elements, Harvey Fite’s work at Copán restoring carvings for the Carnegie, and other “aestheticists” within the official archaeological project he rejects hastily and indiscriminately. This ignorance exposed the degree of distance that existed between the Mexican and North American artistic communities. Gone were the days when the New Deal muralists replicated Rivera’s style in public buildings, when Paul Strand went to work for the Secretaría de Educación Pública, and Modotti and Weston shared with their Mexican counterparts.53 Some time around World War II, North American and Mexican artists gave up on the idea that they had much to learn from one another. In a 1944 cartoon by Ad Reinhardt titled “How to Look at Modern Art in America,” it is clear this already happened. The sketch presents a tree, its trunk identified as the major European modernists: Braque, Matisse, Picasso. This trunk supports the highest branches, bearing leaves identified as Reinhardt’s abstract contemporaries: Pollock, Baziotes, Rothko, and Gottlieb. Another branch, labeled “social surrealist,” is partially broken and teeters in danger of falling off of the tree altogether—where it would land amid corporate America (Pepsi-Cola, International Business Machines), middle-brow culture (Fortune, Life, Encyclopedia Britannica), and regressive figures in North American art (Grant Wood, Norman Rockwell, John Stuart Curry, Thomas Hart Benton). A number of weights burden this broken branch, pulling downward—threatening to break it from the trunk of modernism. One of these is identified in all capitals as the “MEXICAN ART INFLUENCE.”54 Reinhardt’s dismissal, Olson’s ill-informed generalizations, and Cuevas’s hyperbolic assault on the insularity of the Mexican art world—the celebrated 42

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“Cactus Curtain” diatribe—are significant as evidence of growing disengagement between the arts communities north and south of the U.S.–Mexico border. Within Mexico, however, the second-generation muralists who Cuevas skewered may have been the most patronized—but theirs was neither the only artistic project active nor the only one to draw on the ancient Maya. There were more than simply one indigenismo, and this broad project engaged both Mexican artists and foreigners—and encompassed much more than the state-sponsored social realism. A review of the art projects commissioned for the National Anthropology Museum reveals heterogeneous styles, each in its own way indebted to the indigenous past—suggestive of the multiplicity of artistic modes that coexisted in Mexico during the age of the ruptura.55 Some part of art installed in the new Museo Nacional does in fact come out of the indigenista muralist mold. José Chávez Morado, Raúl Anguiano, and Jorge González Camarena contributed figurative murals of an epic scope. Luis Covarrubias painted several of his characteristically meticulous maps highlighting ethnological and archaeological features of different regions, in the style of his late brother Miguel. But there is more than this: these second-generation muralists coexisted (and competed for state commissions) with surrealists, abstract artists, and others. Leonora Carrington, the exiled British surrealist who had lived in Mexico beginning in 1942, is represented with a mural titled The Magical World of the Maya. The painting depicts a visible world that coexists with that of dreams and the supernatural. The composition centers on a Maya religious procession in Chiapas, carrying a religious icon from the community church. Flying above their heads are a feathered serpent and assorted fantastical beasts—which make their way through a sky packed with other manifestations of the magical, real, and imagined: a fireball and a rainbow. The earth itself is cut away to reveal other enchanted creatures living below its surface. Other artists chose to work in abstract styles, again with pre-Cortesian referents.56 Manuel Felguérez contributed the jalousies of the interior courtyard’s second floor—metallic abstractions derived from the carved rattlesnakes of Uxmal’s grand quadrangle. Mathías Goeritz created rectangles, parallelograms, and other geometric patterns out of rope—echoing the art of the Huichol, though in more subdued colors. Carlos Mérida’s massive divider of stained glass continues the explorations of an IndoAmericanist abstraction he began earlier with the Estampas del Popol-vuh (1943) print series and in oil paintings. In fact, the contribution of each of the vegetative maya


these artists to the museum does not represent a one-time excursion into Mesoamerican themes but rather, in varied and individual ways, part of a sustained engagement with Mexico’s past. The point is simply that the conflation of indigenismo with Mexico’s closed, nepotistic art world and its endless repetitions of the nationalistic formulas of muralism—patronized and perpetuated by the state to the exclusion of anything else—is oversimplified, even misleading. The Mexican artists who found inspiration in ancient Mexican aesthetics, especially those of the ancient Maya, include many more than just those muralists who were still rehashing Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros’s innovations for commissions from the Partido Revolucionario Institucional. What Cuevas and Paz both rightfully condemn is the way in which that brand of latter-day indigenismo, like the museum that housed these commissions, played a conservative social role—perpetuating a monolithic, paternalistic, undemocratic state that misrepresented itself as champion of the Indians. But what had happened with this official indigenismo against which Paz, Cuevas, the anthropologists of the “Magnificent Seven,” and others had taken up arms—and how did it find expression in visual culture? In what way had the ideals of revolution been transformed (or corrupted) four decades after the cultural renaissance of the 1920s? To understand why the dominant construction of the Indian had become so troubling for so many, I turn now to Raíces—a film that makes visible many of the unstated assumptions of this construction, and that resuscitates the most problematic characterizations of the Indian proposed by Catherwood and Stephens.


Benito Alazraki’s 1953 debut feature Raíces provides unique insights into this uniquely Mexican formulation of the Indian within and yet apart from contemporary society. Raíces is a film of singular importance in national film history. Completed more than a century after the publication of Stephens’s Incidents of Travel, it also shows the durability of certain formulations of the Maya—and of the Indian more generally. Histories of the national film industry as diverse as Carl Mora’s Mexican Cinema, John King’s Magical Reels, and the countercultural rebel Sergio García’s Hacia el Cuarto Cine (Toward a Fourth Cinema) all cite Raíces as a significant landmark—the beginnings of an independent Mexican cinema.57 Four short stories by Francisco Rojas González, winner of the National Literary Prize (Premio Nacional de Literatura), serve as the basis for the screenplay.58 44

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The film was first screened at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival, where it was awarded the Critics’ Grand Prize. In the context of the post–Golden Age Mexican cinema—characterized by declining production values, an aversion to social criticism, and an ever-increasing reliance on sequels and ossified formulas—Raíces stands out as a rare and significant example of an “important” film aiming to address crucial contemporary issues and earning international recognition. Raíces gains added importance here as a (largely) Yucatecan film. The film’s producer was Miguel Barbachano Ponce, scion of Mérida’s elite casta divina. One of the film’s four vignettes

Figs. 8a–b  Raíces, Benito Alazraki, 1953 (courtesy of the Filmoteca de la UNAM).

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is shot in Mérida, using a local cast, and two of the vignettes are shot in the Maya region. But arguably more than a landmark in the history of a distinctively Maya modernism, Raíces reveals the way in which Mexican nationalism had perpetuated the subjugation of the Indian by updating and propagating a particular construction of the Indian’s essence. Although Raíces has its origins in four works of short fiction, and was scripted and acted without improvisation, it makes significant and explicit claims that are closer to those of a documentary than other narrative feature films. Following the opening titles, the viewer reads on the screen the following statement: “The interiors and exteriors of this film are authentic. No scene was shot in a film studio. The actors form a part of the Mexican people.” [“Los interiores y exteriores de esta película son auténticos. Ninguna escena ha sido filmada en estudios cinematográficos. Los actores son parte del pueblo mexicano.”] The techniques deployed are in fact less documentary than they are reminiscent of those of the Italian neorealists, utilizing location shooting and nonprofessional actors in the production of fictional narratives. In spite of the cast’s inexperience, the performances are convincing—and the effect is to give the film a heightened claim to the real. Raíces positions its articulation of the Indian essence in counterdistinction to anthropological formulations, albeit the anthropology it rejects was by 1953 an outmoded one. This critique of a social-scientific approach to the Indian occurs in the film’s second vignette, which tells of a North American anthropologist (Jane Davis) who visits the highland Maya region of Chiapas in and around San Juan Chamula with the intention of conducting fieldwork for her dissertation at an unnamed North American university. Although Davis is not presented in the film as a specialist in either physical or cultural anthropology specifically, her research seems to involve a bit of each of these. She is shown measuring the bodily dimensions of the villagers with calipers, and when the results prove remarkable she declares aloud in front of her subjects: “¡Qué cráneo más interesante!” [“What an interesting cranium!”]. These measurements are supplemented with information she gathers on how the Maya name their children, celebrate carnival, and respond to Western art. This last “experiment” involves soliciting responses from her subjects to reproductions of canonical high-art masterpieces, both Mexican and European—including José Clemente Orozco’s Zapatistas, a cubist portrait, and the Mona Lisa. When none of these works elicits a positive response, the anthropologist decides that such lofty pinnacles 46

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of Western aesthetics must be beyond the limited intellectual capacity of the Indians. Regardless of the methodology she deploys, her research always leads her to the same conclusions: “[Q]ue estos indios forman una de las razas más primitivas” [“[T]hat these Indians are one of the most primitive races”]. The Mexican physician who hosts her in Chiapas expresses skepticism regarding this thesis. He may just be a country doctor, he tells her—not a scholar like the learned Davis—but the Indians, he insists, are infinitely complex: “[H]e pasado mucho tiempo entre ellos y no los he podido entender” [“I have spent lots of time among them and do not understand them”]. Disregarding Dr. González’s urgings of caution and expressions of skepticism, Davis returns to the United States and publishes her results in a thesis whose title summarizes her interpretation: “La vida salvaje de los indios mexicanos” [“The Savage Life of the Mexican Indian”]. A year later, Davis returns to the village where she conducted her fieldwork, published thesis in hand. Her reappearance sparks chaos in the village, and the Indians inexplicably encircle her threateningly. Rescued by the village priest, she soon discovers the reason for this hostile reception. The reproduction of the Mona Lisa she had used in her experiment in Indian aesthetics has become an object of veneration for the Indians. They fear she has returned to repossess this image, and therefore greet her return with suspicion—even threatening violence. In conversation with the priest who has saved her and confronted with the da Vinci portrait—the portrait she

Fig. 8C  Raíces, Benito Alazraki, 1953 (courtesy of the Filmoteca de la UNAM).

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had claimed the Indians could not understand or appreciate, now placed as an object of veneration in an ostensibly Catholic shrine—she is forced to reevaluate her interpretation of the Indian. Reluctantly, she comes to understand that her analysis is misguided—and repentantly she rips apart her published dissertation. In lieu of this antiquated anthropological formulation of the Indian as a visually challenged savage with a characteristically undersized brachycephalic cranium, Raíces frames the Mexican Indian in other terms—articulated most clearly in the film’s prelude, over footage of the ruins of Uxmal, Teotihuacán, and Tula: “The Indians are truly the germinating roots of Mexico. We will now see living faces similar to these, expressive of the intrinsic virtues of the race: abnegation, a sense of beauty, stoicism and dignity.” [“Los indios son verdaderamente las raíces de México que germina. Veremos ahora sobre rostros vivos semejantes a éstos, expresadas las virtudes intrínsicas de la raza: la abnegación, el sentido de belleza, el estoicismo, la dignidad.”] The purported abnegation and stoicism of Mexico’s Indian is not Alazraki’s innovation. There is, rather, a continuing motif in nationalist discourses predating the Revolution. The Indian is a central figure in an ongoing discussion of “national character,” often framed in terms of lo mexicano [Mexican-ness]. Roger Bartra’s brilliant study La jaula de la melancolía traces the development of this construction.59 The 1950s were the heyday of this discourse—an era that saw not only the release of Raíces but the publication of the essays that subsequently made up La fenomenología del relajo by Jorge Portilla (who, with members of the Hyperion Group, had earlier introduced French existentialism to Mexico). There was a fortuitous convergence during the 1950s of the discourse of a Mexican national character with an imported existentialism—a convergence from which Octavio Paz’s celebrated meditation on lo mexicano, El laberinto de la soledad,60 emerges. Paz uses the metaphor of solitude, an existential lonesomeness, to explain the Mexican soul. Unlike Camus’ Sisyphus, who defiantly takes action (however meaningless) in futile protest against an indifferent world, Paz’s Mexicans (like Catherwood’s hunched-over Indians) suffer in manly silence. Stoicism, for Alazraki and for Paz, is the paramount virtue for the Mexican. Accepting an unjust fate, like Mexico’s perpetually excluded Indian, is seen as heroic. Our history is full of expressions and incidents that demonstrate the indifference of our heroes toward suffering or danger. We are taught from childhood to accept defeat with dignity, a conception 48

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that is certainly not ignoble. And if we are not all good stoics like Juárez and Cuauhtémoc, at least we can be resigned and patient and long-suffering. Resignation is one of our most popular virtues. We admire fortitude in the face of adversity more than the most brilliant triumph.61 Martín Luis Guzmán, one of the foremost novelists of the Revolution, identifies this submissiveness as characteristic not simply of the Mexican but of Mexico’s Indians. Half a century before Paz’s Labyrinth and Alazraki’s Raíces, he wrote: From the Conquest of from Pre-Cortesian times, in this case it is the same—the Indian is there, prostrate and submissive, indifferent to good and evil, without consciousness, with a soul that has been converted into a rudimentary bud, incapable even of hope. [Desde entonces—desde la conquista o desde los tiempos precortesianos, para el caso es lo mismo—el indio está allí, postrado y sumiso, indiferente al bien y al mal, sin conciencia, con el alma convertida en un capullo rudimentario, incapaz hasta de una esperanza.]62 This formula perhaps takes on its most elaborately developed form in Jorge Segura Villán’s 1964 Diorama de los Mexicanos. This study summarizes its psychological model of the Mexican with a flow chart that tracks the progression from resentment to inferiority complex, from self-hate to anguish—explaining the origins of the nation’s disorder, lack of productivity, dishonesty.63 Ironically, although it may sound like the ravings of a bigoted xenophobe, it is in fact the formulation of a Mexican nationalist. Alazraki is but one of the visual artists in service of the Revolution who has perpetuated the dominant formulation of the “stooping Indian.” There is no better example of this than Rómulo Rozo’s El pensamiento (Thought, 1931). Columbian by birth, trained in France and Spain, Rozo made Mexico his home for the last three decades of his life—living most of that time in Mérida. The image of beret-wearing Rozo in his Paris studio, sculpting a feather serpent, suggests an allegiance to ancient Mesoamerican aesthetics that overshadowed any affiliations to modernism. Rozo’s bestknown work, El pensamiento, is the icon of the sleeping Mexican: head bowed and covered with a large sombrero, knees raised, wrapped in a large serape, and dormant. the vegetative maya


Fig. 9   Diorama de los Mexicanos, Jorge Segura Villán, 1964.

In contrast to Rodin’s active The Thinker (1880–1881)—deep in thought, aggressively wrestling with ideas—Rozo’s figure is withdrawn, disengaged, passive, and sunken deep into a vegetative state. Striking a chord with audiences both Mexican and foreign, the figure has been reproduced ad nauseam—to the point where it is no longer a Pan-American icon of indigenista aesthetics so much as a racist cliché. Like Diego Rivera’s 50

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wide-eyed Indian children batting piñatas, eating tacos, and performing the folkloric, Rozo’s icon—today so politically incorrect—initially emerged from affirmative, celebratory impulse. The visual representation of the passive, inert Indian in film and sculpture found affirmation in the social science of the likes of Jorge Sergura Millán, the writings of Paz and Guzmán, and the first feature film of Benito Alazraki. The “abnegation” and “stoicism” associated with Mexico’s Indians is brought into sharp focus by Raíces’s Yucatecan segment. The vignette significantly makes the visual central to the Indian’s ambivalent redemption. The sequence, called “El torto,” examines the plight of a one-eyed Maya boy from Mérida. He is frequently the victim of the cruel taunts and beatings of his peers. His mother brings him to an H-men, a traditional Maya healer, whose pseudomedicine fails to restore the boy’s sight. This failure does not convince the mother of the superiority of medicine over superstition, but rather leads her to seek out a more powerful supernatural intervention. She and her son embark on a pilgrimage to Izamal, where they petition the Three “very miraculous” Kings for aid. After much praying, lighting of candles, and climbing of stairs on one’s knees, a tragedy ensues. An errant firecracker, launched by another reveler also marking the day of the Three Kings, hits the young pilgrim in his good eye—blinding him. Returning to Mérida with his mother, the boy despairs and says he wishes that he would die. His mother’s consolation puts him at ease: though many people mock a one-eyed individual, everyone treats the blind with kindness. This, then, is the indigenista redemption: though things may be bad, the Indian can always look forward to a turn for the worse. The purported abnegation and stoicism of Raíces’s Indians, the sleeping Mexican of Rozo’s sculpture, and the crouched figure on a million tourist souvenirs taken home from Mexico to every part of the planet are all descendants of the first images of the Maya to achieve mass distribution: the passive, oblivious natives of Catherwood’s illustrations made more than a hundred years earlier. On one level, the ideologies these formulations serve are radically different. Stephens and Catherwood represent the advance guard of a growing nation the western and southern borders of which were not yet defined. Curtis Hinsley, Roy Tripp Evans, and others have outlined the multiple intersections of the North American republic’s imperial and expansionist ambitions and the early years of Mesoamerican archaeology.64 Stephens’s own writing makes these links explicit. He purchased Copán, transported numerous artifacts back to New York, and proposed that just the vegetative maya


as “the casts of the Parthenon are regarded as precious memorials in the British Museum . . . casts of Copan would be the same in New-York.”65 In this context—and in the aftermath of annexation of Florida by the United States, the independence of Texas, and the articulation of the Monroe Doctrine—the depiction of the local Maya inhabitants as lacking energy implies that their land, heritage, and resources are there for the taking. In contrast, Raíces’s similar construction of the Indians of southern Mexico comes more than three decades after the triumph of the Mexican Revolution. In spite of the fact that the largely indigenous peasantry created a social upheaval in which they placed themselves for the first time in the role of a historical subject, there is a bitter irony in that the revolution paved the way for the triumph of an ideology that cast them once again in the role of passive, stoic, vegetative objects. Although Raíces rejects the nineteenth-century protoanthropology of Stephens and Catherwood’s days with its language of “savagery” and fixation on cephalic indexes, it does so only to replace these with the characterization of the Indian’s innate abnegation and stoicism—and with a repertoire of images, characterizations, and scenarios that conspires to deprive them of the agency they so emphatically claimed for themselves in the first social revolution of the twentieth century. In this sense, it is an exemplary product of this post-Revolutionary Mexican discourse of lo mexicano. The crouched forms of docile, long-suffering Indians links the post-Revolutionary discourse of Raíces and the imperial gaze of Stephens and Catherwood, the indigenista fervor of Rozo, the narrative vignettes of the Indian’s defeat in Alazraki’s feature, and Segura Villán’s pseudo socialscientific flow chart. All exile the Maya from history and relegate them to a timeless prison house of melancholic, vegetative stasis.


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Chapter 2

Maya Modernism Without the Maya


n the context of rural Yucatán, where Catherwood sketched and photographed and where Alazraki filmed, the presence of the contemporary descendants of the Maya cannot be ignored. They constitute the majority of the population, and their daily lives—conducted in close proximity to the ruins—are an inescapable presence. As archaeological artifacts and representations of the ruins circulate further and further from this place of origin, it becomes easier to separate pieces of ancient Maya visual culture from their living heirs—the Maya themselves. When that separation is complete, we arrive at a Maya modernism without the Maya. As predicted by the notion of “vanishing race,” the Maya themselves have disappeared. The objects the ancient Maya produced are reduced to pure form. Whereas in the anthropology museum the objects are accompanied by explanatory texts providing dates or ranges of dates, places of origin, and speculative interpretations of objects’ meanings, functions, or importance, in the art museum and gallery space they sit on white plinths—divorced from all such attempts to explain. They are beautiful objects embodying formal ideas, not cosmological, dynastic, political, military, calendrical, or mathematical ones. With this recontextualization, these formal ideas are free for all to borrow and build on—without preoccupations regarding the fate of the living Maya and all of the complicated political entanglements this implies. Both Mexican and foreign artists, collectors, and curators have engaged in such recontextualization. This chapter examines one such instance: a project, and in some ways an atypical one, of an enormously successful contemporary Mexican conceptual artist who revisits an apolitical formalist appropriation of ancient Mexican sculpture and engages with this history of modernist primitivism. 53

Photogravity, Gabriel Orozco’s 1999 project for the Philadelphia Mu­­ seum of Art, revisits the modernist appropriation of ancient Mexican objects and forms. Orozco’s commission consisted of a series of large-scale black-and-white cutout photographic reproductions of objects—some contemporary and some pre-Columbian—mounted on stiff board backing. These boards are in turn supported by playful, biomorphic iron stands that give a sculptural form (at least when viewed from the rear or the sides) to the otherwise two-dimensional objects derived from photographs. The images on the faces of these objects fall into two categories. Roughly half represent previous sculptures by Orozco, with among them some of his better-known works: Yielding Stone (1992, a large plasticine ball bearing the traces and impressions of its having been rolled through the street), La Déesse (1993, a Citroën DS sports car with its midsection removed), and Four Bicycles / There Is Always One Direction (1994, an improbable eight-wheeled cycle).

Fig. 10A   Photogravity, Gabriel Orozco, 2000 (courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Marian Goodman Gallery).


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The other half reproduce objects from the Walter and Louise Arensberg collection of ancient Mesoamerican sculpture, which today forms part of the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. By pairing flattened representations of his own work with cutout replicas of these ancient Mesoamerican stones, Orozco interrogates the history of modernism and its relation to non-Western aesthetics. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, with its canonical holdings from the Arensberg collection, functions as a politically and historically charged arena in which Orozco may play. The success of his project rests on an ambiguous interrogation he manages to instigate—directed at the museum space and at his own work—on the modernist project he references, on an implicit postmodern critique, and on his own neo-Duchampian practice. But first, to better understand what is at stake here, some background on the Arensberg collection is helpful.

Modernist Primitivism

Donated to the museum in 1954, the Arensberg collection consists of about a thousand objects accumulated over half a century through the aggressive (though intermittent) collecting practice of the couple Walter (1878–1954) and Louise (1879–1953) Arensberg. The larger portion of the collection consists of early twentieth-century paintings and sculptures—many of them from France. Particularly well represented are Marcel Duchamp (theirs in fact is the most exhaustive collection of his work anywhere), as well as Braque, Picasso, and Brancusi. Other important Europeans (Kandinsky, Miró, Klee, Mondrian) are also included, as are modern artists from the United States (Alexander Calder, Charles Sheeler) and Mexico (Roberto Montenegro, Rufino Tamayo). A smaller number of non-Western objects complete the collection. This group includes about two hundred pre-Columbian objects, as well as a smaller number of objects (mostly sculptures) from African, Oceanic, and diverse North American Indian cultures. The Arensbergs purchased these “primitive art” objects from pioneering dealers instrumental in their aesthetic reevaluation, including the gallerist (their next-door neighbor during their years in Los Angeles) Earl Stendahl and the Mexican caricaturist, gallerist, writer, and filmmaker Marius de Zayas—who sold the couple their first pre-Columbian piece in 1915.1 As an acknowledgment of the acquisition of the unrivaled Arensberg collection, the Philadelphia Museum published (also in 1954) a two-part maya modernism without the maya


catalogue—one volume documenting their holdings of twentieth-century art and the other of their pre-Columbian collection. The twin tomes— matching in size, binding, and design—showcase the two components of the Arensberg donation and establish a type of equivalence between the two collections. Each volume features black-and-white reproductions.2 Gabriel Orozco’s Photogravity plays on a number of intersections with the Arensberg collection and the two museum publications that document it. Orozco’s choice of black-and-white photography evokes the images in the catalogue. In fact, his pre-Columbian pieces are enlargements of reproductions of photos from the 1954 publication; that is, photographs of photographs.3 Other elements of Photogravity conjure forms reminiscent of individual artworks, such as the curvilinear iron supports that echo the lines of the Miró oil paintings contained in the collection. Orozco’s circular rubber attachments that connect the flat photographs to their sculptural metal supports not only strengthen the evocation of Miró’s Female Torso (1931, item 148 in the Arensberg catalogue) but recall the multiple discs and circles that occur elsewhere in Orozco’s work.4 Just as there are echoes of these seminal modernists in Orozco’s work, connections might be made between Orozco and pre-Columbian sculpture—as farfetched as these may be. For example, in 2000 the blockbuster-style survey exhibition of several millennia of Mexican visual culture Soleils mexicains—installed in the Petit Palais, Musée de BeauxArts de la Ville de Paris—juxtaposed a carved snake from the ancient Yucatecan Maya site of Uxmal [including a human figure (or divinity with human form?) emerging from its open mouth] with Orozco’s Serpent (1991), a winding serpentine form made of rusted iron refuse. Benjamin Buchloh’s problematic suggestion that the Yielding Stone (1992) references the Maya ball game betrays a lingering essentialism be­­ hind one of the most sophisticated art critic’s approach to a “Third World artist”: When is a sphere not just a sphere but a reference to pre-Columbian ritual?5 Answer: When the artist in question is Mexican. But more pressing than any of these specific links, the central concern here is the formal equivalence implied between the pre-Cortesian and the contemporary— a coupling that evokes the Philadelphia Museum’s two catalogues of the Arensberg collection, and more generally evokes the gesture that brought these ancient objects into the art museum and gallery in Philadelphia and elsewhere. Orozco’s pairing of contemporary and ancient Mesoamerican objects points backward to the practices of tastemakers such as de Zayas and the 56

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Fig. 10B   Photogravity, Gabriel Orozco, 2000 (courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Marian Goodman Gallery).

Arens­­bergs, who first orchestrated an aesthetic reevaluation of objects that had previously been understood strictly as scientific specimens. Westerners were often reluctant to find aesthetic merit in ancient Mesoamerica, although reactions to it were by no means uniform.6 But even among the Europeans who admired the beauty of the Mesoamerican objects sent home from the newly conquered colonies those objects had no influence. A fundamental asymmetry mirrors the dynamics of Iberia’s military and spiritual conquest of the Americas: indigenous sixteenth-century artisans in Mexico did their best to reproduce European imagery, but the Europeans (even those who admired Mesoamerican objects) did not revise their aesthetics as a result. The beginning of the twentieth century, however, marked a watershed in the Western perception and reception of the material culture of its (both former and remaining) colonies—a transformation spearheaded by that era’s artistic vanguards. As we have seen, the original social context in maya modernism without the maya


which these ancient Mesoamerican objects were created and the dynamics of the modernist reevaluation of their aesthetic merits diverge in some important ways from the experiences of African, Oceanic, and other Native American material culture. For this reason, they were largely excluded from accounts such as Robert Goldwater’s seminal Primitivism in Modern Art and from the 1984 “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).7 Pre-Columbian cultures rarely evoked the exaggerated sexualized vitality associated in the Western imagination with African objects and black bodies, although Sergei Eisenstein’s eroticized vision of the Maya (discussed in Chapter 4) stands out as the exception here. The accomplishments and recognition achieved by Mexico’s modern artists allowed them to participate in the construction of an image of the ancient Maya—in contrast with the prevailing scenario with other Western modernist appropriations of the “primitive.” In spite of these and other significant differences, when rendered with broad strokes significant aspects of the modernist appropriation of ancient Mexican forms conform to a general pattern: none of these non-Western objects, collected and exhibited as art objects, was created simply for aesthetic contemplation and yet twentieth-century modernists—in their search for new muses—have reframed them as art. Although art historians have meticulously documented many chapters of this history, there is striking divergence among views on how this aesthetic reevaluation ought to be interpreted.8 Does modernist primitivism “broaden our humanity”9 or re­­ produce “hegemonic Western assumptions rooted in the colonial and neocolonial epoch”?10 Evocations of decontextualized “affinities,” the premise of MoMA’s ex­hibition “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, buttress modernist claims of universality. That much-criticized exhibit functions as a touchstone for a large part of the subsequent debate. Although unquestionably valuable scholarship included in the catalogue provides detailed information on individual artists featured, the exhibition and the publication both irresponsibly ignore the social and political context that brought these cultures together: the European imperial expansion that carried home so much loot. The recurring use of imagery of an artistic “discovery”11 echoes the language of the colonial project of expansion and conquest, and suggests continuity with the imperial projects that first brought these non-Western objects into European collections.


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Critiques of these dominant paradigms, such as James Clifford’s essay “Histories of the Tribal and the Modern,” reconnect the modernist appropriation with Western colonialism and racial politics.12 Affinities, after all, are defined as affiliations made by choice—as distinct from those one is born into. The choice to align the “primitive” and the “modern” was surely not a mutual one. Henry Moore may have chosen to take a lesson from the Chacmool. But the Maya, first deprived of this piece of their cultural heritage and then subjected to a subsequent formal appropriation, surely do not exercise the same freedom of choice here as did Henry Moore.13 Furthermore, as we have seen, the process by which these objects enter collections in the United States and Europe is tied to a struggle to establish a territorial claim to the riches of the hemisphere.14 The movement of these objects echoes the asymmetrical power relations that characterize the exchanges between North and South. Orozco returns to a specific moment in that history, when Mesoamerican objects leave the circus sideshow—the cabinet of curiosities and anthropological museum—and enter the sanctified space of the art gallery. But rather than interrogating the ideological, colonial, and racial underpinnings of this movement—in the spirit of James Clifford, Holly Barnet-Sánchez, Virginia Domínguez, and others—Orozco offers us another set of decontextualized, ahistorical, and sometimes quite comical or absurd juxtapositions as yet another set of affinities.15 The publication that accompanied the 1999 Philadelphia exhibition, less of an exhibition catalogue than artist’s book documenting Orozco’s process, makes the gesture of pairing very clear.16 For example, a two-page spread places side by side a frontal view of La Déesse and a large feathered serpent head (item 37 in the Arensberg Collection catalogue) in a way that underscores their similar shapes. These couplings of the ancient and the contemporary are repeated throughout the publication. Given these improbable pairings, what precisely are we to conclude from these affinities? How is a contemporary work of art, derived from the slicing and regrafting of a Citroën sports car, like a feathered serpent representing a powerful Mesoamerican deity? In the 1984 MoMA exhibition, William Rubin distinguishes three types of affinities—three types of relations between modern and primitive objects—based in and described as “direct influence,” “coincidental resemblances,” and “basic shared characteristics.” For example, the evocation of ancient Mexican forms in Carlos Mérida’s Clay Figurines (sometimes called Three Dancing Figures, 1931) in

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the Arensberg collection (item 148 in the Arensberg Collection catalogue) is an instance of William Rubin’s first category of affinity (direct influence). The figures in Clay Figurines are modeled after pre-Columbian ceramics, perhaps those made by the ancient cultures of western Mexico. Although they are rendered in a different medium and carry none of the originals’ (lost) significance, they are nonetheless directly mimicking these earlier forms. They represent part of a conscious celebration of Mesoamerican aesthetics Mérida developed along with the other muralists and artists working on a nationalist project in post-Revolutionary Mexico. But the affinities between Orozco’s assisted readymades and the pre-Columbian objects in the Arensberg collection are of another sort. That the “palmate stone” (from Mexico’s eastern coast) in the Arensberg collection shares the same general outline as Orozco’s 1992 photograph Horse is apparent. To draw conclusions regarding the significance or origins of either the photograph or the sculpture based on that shared form would be fallacious and irresponsible.17 Many of the Orozco sculptures paired with preColumbian objects are in fact readymades with the most simple of shapes. The form in Elevator (1994) and a fragment of a carved Aztec slab from the Arensberg collection have the same shape. They are both rectangular. In contrast with Mérida’s painting—wherein the modern forms are inspired by, and in fact modeled after, ancient ones—what Orozco is highlighting is a banal coincidence, an inevitability. The history of Western commentaries on ancient Mesoamerican objects is full of extravagant claims made on the basis of such meaningless formal convergences. Over the centuries, numerous imaginative diffusionists used such similarities to speculate on the origins of the Maya. In the nineteenth century, Jean-Frédéric Waldeck equated the snout-nose of the rain god Chaac with the trunk of an elephant and concluded that South Asians had colonized Mesoamerica. At Palenque, Désiré Charnay—though typically more level headed—reached similar conclusions, arguing: “[A]nyone who is acquainted with sacred Japanese architecture would be struck with the resemblance of this structure to a Japanese sanctuary.”18 Archaeologists have convincingly articulated the logical pratfalls of this type of methodology.19 Although Orozco makes no explicit claims on the basis of the formal resemblances he highlights, this dubious history is enough to caution us with regard to any significance derived from these types of parallels. Orozco returns to the preoccupation with affinities because they are central to the aesthetic reevaluation of non-Western material culture. It is precisely these types of meaningless formal equivalences we are led to 60

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once we give up on any effort to think about what these objects may have meant in their original context. The religious and political functions of these objects are not only lost to us but are in the context of the art museum not even treated as worthy subjects for informed speculation. The captions for the 1954 Philadelphia Museum publication give minimal contextualization. Many pieces are identified with captions as tentative and elementary as “Mask. Granite. Guerrero? 63/4" high. Southwestern Mexico? Late?” This is the strategy characteristic of the art gallery or museum, which frames these objects (excavated without any archaeological protocol or documentation) for aesthetic contemplation rather than as a source of insight into a no-longer-existent world and its beliefs. The last section of the Philadelphia Museum catalogue, titled “Unclassified,” features reproductions of objects that confound even this lax taxonomical scheme. But none of this should matter if our interest in these objects is strictly aesthetic. The installation of the objects nudges us toward a preferred way of looking at them. The original context is forever lost, and we will never see and understand these objects the way they were seen and understood by their creators. A new context suggests new meanings. Photographs by Charles Sheeler and Beatrice Woods of the Arensbergs’ New York apartment in the late 1910s, and Fred Dapprich’s photographs of their Hollywood home, give us an idea of how this couple installed their extensive collections of ancient and modern objects. Although filled with artifacts and art objects, theirs was first and foremost a space for living. Cubist and abstract paintings hang above chairs, and African carvings reside alongside sofas and Mesoamerican sculptures. The installation bears no heed to the chronological or geographical categorization schemes employed in the displays in museums of archaeology or anthropology, nor is the placement of objects necessarily conducive to easy and unobstructed viewing. In fact, one writer characterized the installation as violating “every museum precept of height, space, and light.”20 Not only are the juxtapositions striking—as furniture, sculptures, paintings, and ancient and modern objects all rub shoulders—but the density of the installation is remarkable, bordering on clutter. Nothing could be further from the pristine white cube generally favored by the modern art museum and gallery, although both approaches typically lack the most rudimentary data on archaeological contextualization. The Arensbergs’ practices of collecting and installation are unique, and the contrast with another pioneering couple’s collection of ancient Mexican maya modernism without the maya


objects—also understood and exhibited as art objects—reveals an opposite extreme in mode of display. Dumbarton Oaks houses the collections of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, he being a career diplomat and admirer of Byzantine, modern, and Mesoamerican art. Whereas the Bliss collection of Eastern Orthodox art is displayed in a domestic environment, within the couple’s grand Federal-style mansion from the early nineteenth century (with several later additions), the pre-Columbian objects are housed in a small, exquisite annex built especially for this purpose by Philip Johnson. Where Sheeler’s photographs of the Arensberg home suggest a crowded lived-in space filled with fortuitous and improbable juxtapositions, here we have a very different extreme—a pristine space defined by undulating lines and that functions as a rarified sanctuary for aesthetic contemplation. It is a place for looking, not living. Even the shelving, cases, and other mechanical supports of display seem to disappear in the air. The Johnson structure, not completed until a year after the death of Robert Woods Bliss (Mildred Bliss outlived him by seven years), is by all accounts true to his understanding of these objects as art. As a collector, he is said to have “had no interest in the anthropological or historical aspects of Pre-Columbian art, he only acquired items that appealed to him as works of art.”21 Although the contrast with the Arensberg living room could not be greater, both installations urge us to consider these objects as beautiful forms rather than as scientific specimens or archaeological evidence— through juxtapositions or through the objects’ isolation. As different as they may be, both spaces are those of aesthetics rather than of hermeneutics or archaeological elucidation. Whether set in front of a Kandinsky or placed in Johnson’s illuminated shrine, it is the beauty of the objects that is featured—not their meaning. The installation of the Arensberg collection—whether interspersed with the Picassos, sofas, and Brancusis in their home or set in the handsomely (and more spaciously and conventionally) installed galleries of the Philadelphia Museum—encourages us to contemplate these pre-Columbian objects as art, even though it is all but certain that the concept of “art” was an alien one to the objects’ creators. In his critique of the MoMA “Primitivism” exhibition, Thomas McEvilley made a provocative comparison. In New Guinea in the ’30s, Western food containers were highly prized as clothing ornaments—a Kellogg’s cereal box became a hat, a tin can ornamented a belt, and so on. Passed down to us in 62

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Fig. 11   Johnson Wing, Dumbarton Oaks, Georgetown, Virginia, 1963 (courtesy of Dumbarton Oaks, © Dumbarton Oaks, Pre-Columbian Collections, Washington, D.C.).

photographs, the practice looks not only absurd but pathetic. We know that the tribal people have done something so inappropriate as to be absurd, and without even beginning to realize it. Our sense of the smallness and quirkiness of their world view encourages our sense of the larger scope and greater clarity of ours. Yet the way Westerners have related to the primitive objects that have floated through their consciousness would look to the tribal peoples much the same way as their use of our food containers looks to us: they would perceive at once that we have done something childishly inappropriate and ignorant, and without even realizing it.22 The lesson here is that the category “art” is not a timeless or neutral one. In fact, it was quite likely alien to a nineteenth-century Puuc artisan whose handiwork later entered the Arensberg collection. Nor is it a stable category—one whose meaning will not change over time. The entry of non-Western objects into the art museum testifies to the instability of the category “art.” New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art declined the maya modernism without the maya


first time Nelson Rockefeller offered to donate his pre-Columbian (and other non-Western) collections, referring him across Central Park (and across the art/artifact divide) to the American Museum of Natural History. Three decades later, and long after the taxonomical shift that recategorized these objects as art, the same offer was accepted—and the collection now forms the core of the museum’s Michael Rockefeller wing.23


Gabriel Orozco’s Photogravity project functions on a number of levels, and the links to the history of modern art and of collecting are multiple. The flat photographic renditions of his earlier sculptures tie Photogravity to those experiments in modern paintings that toy with the rendering of three-dimensional objects on a plane. Cézanne wrote to Emile Bernard, in an oft-quoted letter, “You must see in nature the cylinder, the sphere, the cone.”24 In fact, by flattening the simple shape of his Yielding Stone (1992)—essentially a sphere—to a disc or reducing the Empty Shoebox (1993) to a trapezoid Orozco revisits the apples on tabletops that populate the canvasses of Matisse and Cézanne in the Arensberg collection. Orozco’s 2006 mid-career survey at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City includes several of the artist’s workbenches, installed to foreground the repetition of these common forms. But my focus here is not as much the relationship between Orozco’s work and the canonical modernists who make up the twentieth-century component of the Arensberg collection as it is the ways in which Orozco addresses the modernist appropriation of the “primitive.” Photogravity engages in a dialogue not only with the Arensberg collection but with the larger context of art museums and their institutional politics. This institutional critique is best approached by way of the link between Orozco’s project and the modern artist Marcel Duchamp, the central figure in the Arensberg collection.25 The relationship between Walter Arensberg and Duchamp was much more than simply that of a patron and a preferred artist. Although upon moving to New York Duchamp stated that his intention was to take up residence in a skyscraper—a paradigmatically modern, North American structure—in the end he moved into an apartment the Arensbergs rented for him in their building (a unit connected to their own). Duchamp was stimulated by Walter Arensberg’s interest in cryptography, and their conversations clearly deepened a shared interest in language— especially regarding anagrams, word games, and puns. At times the two 64

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functioned as collaborators on objects, as was the case concerning With Hidden Noise (1916).26 It was at the behest of the Arensbergs that Duchamp first replicated his own work. Arensberg regretted that when he had arrived (late) at the 1913 Exhibition of International Art (better known as the “Armory Show”) the notorious oil Nude Descending a Staircase, Number 2 (1912) had already been sold.27 Obligingly, Duchamp painted a (nearly) identical watercolor version (with ink, crayon, and pastel as well) atop a full-scale photograph of the previous version. This initiated what would become a central practice for Duchamp: the reproduction of earlier projects as a subversion of their status as unique objects. Some of these reproductions are substitutes for lost or destroyed originals. Most are smaller and more portable, and perhaps made of different materials. Some are altered (or paradoxically not altered) in playful ways (e.g., L.H.O.O.Q. rasée, 1965, a postcard reproduction of the Mona Lisa but without a mustache), and others are so close to the original they have been mistaken for the prototypes.28 Critics have pondered the significance of this replication for an artist who once stated, “[T]he idea of repeating, for me, is a form of masturbation.”29 There is no question that, masturbatory or otherwise, during the later part of Duchamp’s life one of his central activities was the manufacture of suitcases filled with reproductions and miniatures of earlier paintings and readymades. Boîte-en-valise (Box in a Valise)—also known as de ou par MARCEL DUCHAMP ou RROSE SELAVY (from or by MARCEL DUCHAMP or RROSE SELAVY) in various editions, from 1935–1941 to the posthumous 1969 version authorized by his widow— exemplifies this. Orozco’s decision to create more portable, though not necessarily smaller, editions of his earlier sculptures in Photogravity recalls this practice of Duchamp’s. In fact, we find an antecedent for Orozco’s photographic sculptures in one of the miniatures of the Boîte-en-valise—as described by Dawn Ades, Neil Cox, and David Hopkins. The solution to the problem of reproducing the semi-readymade Why Not Sneeze Rrose Sélavy introduced a new form, “somewhere between the second and the third dimension,” as [Ecke] Bonk put it. Duchamp varnished a photograph by Man Ray of the birdcage poised over a mirror to reveal the title-inscription below, then stamped out the image and pasted it onto a three-dimensional plaster “mould,” based on the perspectival view of the readymade in maya modernism without the maya


the photograph. This fourth miniature replica, a “three-dimensional photography,” was placed at the centre base of the Large Glass in the Boîte.30 Here, then, is an antecedent for Photogravity’s three-dimensional photographic facsimiles. More generally, the displacement of the sculptural object with the photograph is for the conceptual artists a central strategy.31 This—as well his interests in language, appropriation, and replication—is central to the concerns that make Duchamp such an important figure not just for the conceptualists and for Gabriel Orozco but for so many contemporary artists. More specifically, Duchamp is crucial in directing artists’ attention toward museums as institutions.32 His Boîte-en-valise, with its implied critique of authenticity and emphasis on the collection as practice, might be thought of as the antecedent for the offerings of Marc Dion, Marcel Broodthaers, and any of a number of other artists whose work has addressed the institutional and ideological mechanisms of collection and display. Although there is a subversion of one treasured modernist conceit, the cult of originality, in his readiness to create replicas of his work and to “authorize” replicas made by others, Duchamp was more open to the premises of modernist primitivism.33 Although not a major part of his own work, Duchamp concurred with the modernist turn toward non-European sources for usable lessons. At the 1949 Western Round Table on Modern Art symposium in San Francisco, Duchamp took exception to some of Frank Lloyd Wright’s more provocative and homophobic statements. In spite of his own significant debt to both Japanese and Maya architecture, at this panel discussion Wright characterized the modernist interest in non-Western aesthetics as “degenerate” and then linked this supposed degeneracy to the prominent role of “homosexuals” in modern art. In doing so, Wright echoes a range of conservative critiques of modernism— from Max Nordau to the infamous Nazi Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition of 1937. Responding to Wright’s invective as if taking the bait, Duchamp demurs—countering Wright’s position by stating that one “seek[s] in the primitive what might be good to take.”34 Later, Duchamp challenges the assumptions on which Wright’s calls to “go forward” rest: “There is no progress in art. There might be progress in civilization—which I don’t believe at all—but, in art, I am sure it does not exist; so I respect the primitive no more and no less than I respect the contemporary.”35 This exchange is a revealing one, exposing not only differences but a fundamental consensus. Frank Lloyd Wright’s engagement with pre66

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Columbian architecture over the course of his long and fruitful career has been explored very methodically elsewhere, and there is no need to rehearse these connections here.36 Wright’s own characterizations of that relationship merit closer scrutiny here as a reflection of the level of disengagement from the sources as an outcome of the “vanishing race” paradigm. Loath to acknowledge influence, Wright embraced and promoted his own status as original genius. He stated that “resemblances are mistaken for influences . . . to cut ambiguity short: there never was external influence on my work, either foreign or native,” though he later accedes to a debt to certain poets.37 As to the pre-Columbian and Japanese architecture that seem to anticipate some elements of Wright’s work, these are “but splendid confirmation.”38 When is a spiral-shaped building such as New York’s Guggenheim Museum just a spiral and not a reference to Chichén Itzá’s observatory? Answer: When the architect is not Mexican. Writing of another canonic modern architect, Le Corbusier—who harbored a fixation with Josephine Baker and the anonymous architecture of North American grain silos— James Clifford generalized that “a redemptive modernism persistently ‘discovers’ the primitive that can justify its own sense of emergence.”39 This is precisely the strategy deployed by Wright here: “confirmation” suggests that the formal resemblance is not evidence of an appropriation but rather of ante-corroboration with Wright’s canon—an affirmation from a distant era of his work’s universality and merit. Wright’s use of Maya forms is premised on a unilinear model of human progress (a concept examined in Chapter 3) and further assumes that the place of the now-vanished Indian is at the very earliest stages of that grand narrative. As if looking over his shoulder into the ancient past, Wright spoke of the “nature-cultures of the redman, lost in backward stretch of time, almost beyond our horizon—the Maya, the Indian, we may learn from them.”40 The Indians’ presumed disappearance leaves their culture free for the taking. In this sense, Wright’s position is little different from Duchamp’s—whose rejoinder to Wright was the aforementioned suggestion that we take from “the primitive what might be good to take.”41 If Wright customarily tended to dissimulate his very apparent debt to the Maya, he perhaps came closest to acknowledging this in an unsigned typed response to the first scholarly inventory of these formal resemblances: Dimitri Tselos’s 1953 article “Exotic Influences on Frank Lloyd Wright.”42 Writing to the editor of the journal in which the text appeared, Wright stated: maya modernism without the maya


[H]ad I not loved and comprehended pre-Columbian architecture as the primitive basis of world-architecture, I could not now build as I build with understanding of all architecture. Only with that understanding could I have shaped my buildings as they are.43 But acknowledging this, he immediately backpedals. What links the ancient prototypes to any Maya Revival structure—whether designed by Wright or by one of the architects (such as Robert Stacy-Judd and Manuel Amabilis) discussed in later chapters—are the generalized forms and decorative elements. The layout of interior spaces of any modern structure are certainly different from the cramped and dark interiors of the pyramids, just as the functions and construction techniques of the revival structures are inevitably worlds apart. Wright points to these distinctions between ancient and modern architecture: “[O]f all ancient buildings, wherever they may stand or whatever their time, is there one of them suitable to stand here and now in the midst of our time, our America, our machine-age technique? Not one.”44 Orozco’s position is likewise ambiguous. Is his a critique of modernist primitivism and the politics of the museum institution, in the tradition of the Guerrilla Girls and Hans Haacke, or reiteration of that appropriation of the ancient sculpture that brought ancient Mesoamerican objects into the art museum at the beginning of the twentieth century? If it is an institutional critique, it is a gentle one—far less likely to offend the museum board members than, say, Haacke’s outing [in Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings—A Real Time Social System, As of May 1, 1971 (1971)] of one trustee of the Guggenheim (where Haacke was scheduled to exhibit) as a slumlord. If we seek the critical project Clifford calls for, a historicized inquiry into the taxonomical shift that brought non-Western objects into the art museum, Orozco’s project certainly falls short. As much as Orozco’s gesture urges the viewer to scrutinize the appropriations of the modernist primitivists, it is also a belated replication of this same strategy. Although the gesture of pairing the contemporary with the ancient links Orozco’s project with that historical project, the attitude is very different. Orozco’s tone is ironic and playful, ripe with contradictions. Replicating the unique objects of the museum holdings by mechanical and photographic means, he creates not infinite multiples but another set of unique objects. Whereas critics have periodically commented on what Olivier Debroise calls Orozco’s perennial “resistance—although ambiguous—to the idea of ‘representing the nation,’”45 here he returns to the 68

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fountainhead of mexicanidad to align himself and his earlier work with the ur-Mexico celebrated by earlier generations of nationalists. Photogravity is neither a postmodern critique of the museum space of the type associated with Fred Wilson, Andrea Fraser, and Hans Haacke— who typically use performance or installation to interrogate the institution’s power dynamics, elisions, and ideologies—nor simply a continuation of the modernist formalism associated with so many of the painters represented in the Arensberg collection (the type of art Duchamp would dismiss as “retinal”). Orozco’s Photogravity, rather, echoes the contradictions of Duchamp himself—someone whose work both challenged the assumptions of the art museum and worked for the establishment of institutional support for modern art.46 In order to direct our attention to the modernist appropriation of the preColumbian past, by deploying strategies reminiscent of those of the seminal modernists the Arensbergs collected Photogravity creates an elegant tension from the excavated fragments of those histories. Any reference to the contemporary descendants of the creators of these objects is absent. In doing so, Orozco—like the Arensbergs before him—separates the cultural patrimony of Mexico from its contemporary social inequalities and from twentiethcentury Indians, with whose heritage he plays these formal games. The moment Orozco—or any other Maya modernist, for that matter— sets foot in Southern Mexico, he or she must confront another political reality absent from the Arensbergs’ well-appointed living room in the Hollywood foothills. The very present legacy of centuries of struggle, armed and otherwise, stretching from the Conquest to the Caste Wars—from the rebellious followers of the “talking cross” to the Mexican Revolution and on to today’s Zapatista rebellion—reframes the apolitical formalism in the context of a violent battle for self-determination and the control of resources (principally land). The high-modernist formalism of the Dumbarton Oaks collection, and the Arensbergs’ primitive-modern juxtapositions and Orozco’s update of the same—as well as those of the host of other arts institutions that exhibit Maya sculpture as art—all fail to speak to this reality. There was, as we shall see shortly, another group of modernist artists—filmmakers and architects who directly confronted the politics and deprivations of twentieth-century Maya life. Most typically, this was framed by one of the West’s most treasured myths—that of progress.

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Chapter 3

Progressing Toward a Maya Modernity


n 1927, at the behest of Mexico’s ambassador to France, Ángel Zárraga

painted a series of large allegorical canvases to decorate the Parisian em­­ bassy. In one of these, we see a Caucasian woman standing with outstretched arms as she guides a crouching Indian woman—who comes to her feet and begins to walk. Titled La civilización cristiana acogiendo a una joven aborigen (Christian Civilization Receiving a Young Indigenous Woman), the painting embodies the dominant ideology of post-Revolutionary Mexico: that a paternalistic altruism, invariably guided by the state, will rouse the stooping Indians from their slumbers and bring them into the forward march of human progress (as defined by the Mexicans of European descent). This conviction has motivated and informed a vast range of public endeavors in twentieth-century Mexico—from social policies to education, from public works to the abundant rhetorical flourishes that inevitably accompany the unveiling of these projects. Even a first glance at the history of the Maya makes it readily apparent that the treasured Western narrative of progress is singularly ill fitting. Today, the descendants of the builders of Uxmal’s stunning Nunnery quadrangle and of Chichén Itzá’s monumental Castillo largely live a life of subsistence in one-room thatched huts of mud and sticks—the most rudimentary of constructions. Today, the descendants of the painters of murals at Bonampak, of the sculptors of Lord Pacal’s breathtaking jade mask, and so much more either work in maquiladoras or churn out tourist souvenirs that seem largely formulaic and uninspiring—degraded caricatures of their own past made for export. Is this progress? The deteriorating Maya ruins, testament to their past glory, hover somewhere on the downward slide from culture to nature—the assiduous 70

restorations of archaeologists temporarily suspending the inevitable decay of only a handful of the better known sites. The majority of these sites, spread throughout Mexico’s southeast and in Central America, host mostly overgrowth and the occasional looter. Mexican modernists have thus had to struggle hard to fit the Maya into the grand narrative of humanity’s upward climb. Yet there are innumerable visual expressions of the conviction that the Maya are not simply progressing toward modernity but that their arrival will be heralded by a modernity of a distinctively Maya appearance. These heterogeneous expressions all imagine and wish for some variation on the scenario that Zárraga depicted: that of the Indian entering the fold of Western civilization. Some of the visual depictions resulting of this paradigm resemble, at least superficially, those of the other categories. There are buildings by the Yucatecan architect Manuel Amábilis (discussed later in the chapter) that would not have been out of place in Stacy-Judd’s portfolio of grandiose unrealized projects and fevered dreams. The recontextualization of preColumbian antiquities as art objects took place not only in the Arensberg’s West 67th Street apartment and in the exquisite galleries designed by Philip Johnson for Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss’s Dumbarton Oaks but in Mexico as well. Consider the introductory text that greets visitors at the Museo de Arte Precolombino de México Rufino Tamayo in Oaxaca. The ancient art of Mexico possesses, without a doubt, immense importance as archeological, historical and cultural document. But, first and foremost, they exist today for their independent artistic value, accessible to anyone with a receptive sensibility. The Rufino Tamayo Museum of Pre-Columbian Mexican Art is the first to exhibit these works from Mexico’s indigenous past as art, as an artistic phenomenon. If the anonymous authors of the works exhibited here had not been artists, had their hands not been guided by the creative spirit, these works would be forgotten today, they would have disappeared with their original function. If today the figures and objects in the niches of this museum impress the visitor, it is not for religious reasons, as the religion of ancient Mexico has disappeared. No: what causes emotion is the esthetic value of the works, their beauty and rigor, their originality and the rhythm that governs them. [El arte antiguo de México posee, sin duda, una imensa importancia como documento arqueológico, histórico y cultural. Pero, ante progressing toward a maya modernity


todo y sobre todo, hoy existe como valor artístico independiente; accesible a cualquier sensibilidad despierta. El Museo de arte precolombino Rufino Tamayo fue el primero en exhibir obras del pasado indígena mexicano como arte sin más; como fenómeno artístico. Si los autores anónimos de las obras aquí exhibidas no hubiesen sido artistas, si sus manos no hubiesen sido guiadas por un espíritu creador, estas obras estarían hoy olvidadas; habrían desaparecido en el momento en el que desapareció el fin al que servían. Y si hoy las figuras y objetos en los nichos de este museo impresionan al visitante, no es por razones religiosas, ya que la religión de México antiguo nada le dice. No: lo que emociona es la categoría estética de las obras, su belleza y rigor, su originalidad y el ritmo que las rige.]1 Leaving aside the accuracy of these claims, and in spite of the resemblances between the aestheticizing gestures of Tamayo and the Arensbergs, the two phenomena are quite distinct in their contexts, assumptions, motivations and ends. Rufino Tamayo’s collection is on view in a public institution in Oaxaca, not in a private New York home, and remains accessible to a broad Mexican public at a low cost (and free on Sundays). Tamayo’s project speaks to a project of cultural nationalism fostered by the post-Revolutionary state; the Arensbergs’ vision is of an internationalist modernism with pretensions of universalism. This cultural nationalism, as represented by the artist Tamayo’s decision to amass and display such a collection, reflects an ideological context that has its roots in the Mexican Revolution. Before turning to any of the specific illustrations of this paradigm, a brief examination of the intellectual heritage of that revolution is required. The diverse participants in the Mexican Revolution—urban and rural, liberal and radical, bourgeois, proletarian, peasant, and agricultural laborers—were united in their rejection of the Porfirian status quo, and in little else. The nineteenth-century dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz had promoted positivism in social thought, unbridled capitalism in its economic policies, and growth through foreign investments on terms so advantageous to international capital that national interests were frequently subverted. Victorian theories of racial hierarchies, criminology, social Darwinism, and the nascent discipline of anthropology were imported and embraced, articulated, and developed further by Mexican intellectuals who served as handmaidens to the state’s repressive force. The Revolution marks a turning point in the nation’s intellectual history—the moment when Mexican adaptations and translators of Western 72

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social thought were challenged by native Mexican developments. This does not mean, however, that the Victorian prejudices that marginalized and degraded the Indian as backward, passive, primordial, and inferior were replaced immediately following the Revolution with a more enlightened egalitarianism. On the contrary, Alexandra Minna Stern has argued that “it is difficult, if not impossible, to plot the history of racialization in twentiethcentury Mexico as a narrative of progress and increasing emancipation from racialized stereotypes and resonances.”2 Instead, we see a multiplicity of explanations and attitudes toward racial diversity coexisting in relative constancy—and seemingly incompatible attitudes reconciled. Competing among numerous models of Mexican social change is the notion that the Maya—and more generally, the Indians—are to join modernity, albeit somewhat belatedly, and that their ancient art and architecture will provide a blueprint for a distinctively Mexican incarnation of modernity. The intellectual foundations of the post-Revolutionary cultural renaissance are found in the works of philosopher and novelist José Vasconcelos and of Manuel Gamio, patriarch of Mexican anthropology and disciple of Franz Boas. Gamio rejected racist orthodoxies in his celebrated Revolution­ ary polemic Forjando patria: “The Indian has the same aptitudes for progress as the White, he is neither superior nor inferior.” [“El indio tiene iguales aptitudes para el progreso que el blanco; no es ni superior ni inferior a él.”]3 Education was held up as the key to realizing that potential. Gamio wrote: “I do not mean merely teaching the Indian how to read. I mean teaching him that he walks on rich soil and that there is a world around him.”4 This education was to prepare the Indian for the modern world: “the Ford, the sewing machine, the phonograph come heralding the modern civilization and penetrate the most remote Indian villages. It is not enough, however, to provide the Indians with modern machinery,” Gamio continued; “unless a . . . fusion takes place . . . they will have been merely passive additions to Indian life.”5 The objectives of Gamio’s project were assimilationist and unifying rather than multicultural. The central contradiction is that Gamio’s call for a celebration of Mexico’s diversity was intended to unite the nation in a homogenized mestizo whole. This, then, defined the post-Revolutionary indigenista project for the decades that followed. “Our Indian problem is neither to conserve the Indian as Indian, nor to Indianize Mexico, but rather to Mexicanize the Indian” [“nuestro problema indígena no está en conservar indio al indio, ni en indigenizar a México, sino en mexicanizar al indio”], declared President Lázaro Cárdenas at the Congreso progressing toward a maya modernity


Indigenista Interamericano of 1940.6 To become Mexican, the Indian first had to become modern. With the exception of some modest if intriguing forays into ethnographical filmmaking, Gamio’s activities steered clear of the production of visual culture and focused principally in the areas of archaeology, ethnography, and government administration and policy. However, his colleague, philosopher and writer José Vasconcelos, introduced this revolutionary ideology into the realm of the visual by patronizing one of the outstanding achievements of modern Mexican art.7 In terms far more mystical, spiritual, and hyperbolic than Gamio’s, Vasconcelos also advocated a homogenizing miscegenation in order to unify Mexico. Echoing the negative assessments of Max Nordau’s Degeneration (1896) and Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West (1922–1923), Vasconcelos understood Europe and North America as both spinning hopelessly and irrevocably in a downward spiral—propelled by their materialist and competitive drives past the apex of the curve of progress and into a slow but accelerating decline. The cultural and racial synthesis he saw characteristic in Latin America offered an alternative, and promised to usher in nothing less than a promising new age for humanity. Standing all existing exultations of racial purity on their heads, his was a celebration of racial mixtures. The emergence of this new mestizo race demanded an aesthetic project. A monument should be raised that in some way will symbolize the law of the three states: The material, the intellectual and the aesthetic. All this was to indicate that through the exercise of the triple law, we in America shall arrive, before any other part of the world, at the creation of a new race fashioned out of the treasures of all previous ones; The final race, the cosmic race. [Debía erigirse un monumento que en alguna forma simbolizara la ley de los tres estados: el material, el intelectual y el estético. Todo para indicar que mediante el ejercicio de la triple ley, llegaremos en América, antes que en parte alguna del globo, a la creación de una raza hecha con el tesoro de todas las anteriores, la raza final, la raza cósmica.]8 Aesthetics are in fact central to Vasconcelos’ program. The emergence of the “cosmic race,” that glorious new being of mestizo lineage, would synthesize the best qualities of all humanity and render all racial distinctions 74

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obsolete. With this, the human species would enter a new era he called the “aesthetic age”—a type of mystical state of cosmic union characterized in the most unearthly terms. Again inverting the conventional hierarchies, Vasconcelos proposed that Latin America—with its long history of the amalgamation of diverse races instigated by the Conquest—was for the first time poised to take the lead in humanity’s development. As a cabinet minister (he served as the Secretary of Public Education from 1921 to 1923) under President Alvaro Obregón, Vasconcelos had the opportunity and resources to sponsor projects in concert with his grand aesthetic plans—preparations for the exalted move into the ultimate state of mystical unity. His patronage of the muralists led to the movement’s earliest and most spectacular accomplishments: notably the frescos of Diego Rivera, Xavier Guerrero, Amado de la Cueva, and Jean Charlot (decorating the Secretariat of Public Education), and of David Alfaro Siqueiros, Ramón Alva de la Canal, Fernando Leal, Fermín Revueltas, Charlot, and José Clemente Orozco in the National Preparatory School (better known today as the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso, an important exhibition space for the arts). Vasconcelos also fostered the use of ancient Maya references, leading in December 1921 to a trip to Chichén Itzá (just before the Carnegie Institution began its excavations there) and other archaeological sites in the Yucatán with an entourage that included Rivera, Roberto Montenegro, and Adolfo Best Maugard. That same year, Siqueiros had directed artists of the Americas: We must get close to the works of the ancient inhabitants of our valleys, the Indian painters and sculptors (Maya, Aztec, Inca, etc.); our climatological proximity to them will help us assimilate the formal vigor of their work, in which there exists a clear, elemental knowledge of nature which can function for us as a point of departure. [Acerquémonos por nuestra parte a las obras de los antiguos pobladores de nuestros valles, los pintores y escultores indios (mayas, aztecas, incas, etc.); nuestra proximidad climatológica con ellos nos dará la asimilación del vigor constructivo de sus obras, en las que existe un claro conocimiento elemental de la naturaleza, que nos puede servir de punto de partida.]9 Pre-Columbian murals were positioned as the immediate antecedent for the government sponsored frescos. Vasconcelos could only imperfectly progressing toward a maya modernity


control, however, the content the murals these independent-minded artists produced. When conflicts with the artists arose, Rivera expressed his discontent in paint. Rivera ridiculed Vasconcelos’s arcane cerebrations by incorporating a portrait of his sponsor in one of the panels at the Public Education building. Vasconcelos is depicted seated on a white marble elephant and wearing a tin funnel on his head. This is the Rivera that had yet to sink into sclerotic Marxist pieties. Later, he would disavow indigenismo altogether, dismissing the formulation of an “Indian question” as obfuscating the larger issue of class struggle: “In what is called Latin America, the so-called ‘indigenous’ question or ‘Indian problem’ has been utilized by the aristo-bourgeois or petite bourgeois politicians to mask with an ethnological definition what is in reality a class issue.” [“En lo que se llama América Latina, la llamada cuestión del ‘indio,’ o ‘problema indígena’ ha sido empleado por los políticos aristócratas-burgueses o pequeños-burgueses para enmascarar por medio de una denominación etnológica lo que no es en realidad sino cuestión de clase.”]10 It is in the context of the emergent muralist movement that indigenous aesthetics are vindicated, or at the very least attempted—not simply indigenous subject matter rendered in a borrowed European style, such as the noble neoclassical images of Cuauhtémoc and Montezuma that periodically appeared in academic canvases of the previous century.11 Although there are clearly major debts to European traditions, from cubism to early Italian Renaissance religious painting, the depth of the nationalistic and indigenista passions can be surmised by the artists’ use of nopal juice in paint—supposedly replicating the technique used in pre-Columbian frescoes. One participant in the muralist movement, and its most articulate contemporary commentator, characterized the moment in this way: [T]he Aztec pyramids, spheres, cubes, and cones, far from retaining, as did the cubist ones, a whiff of classroom dampness, were cogs, pistons, and ball bearings that one suspected had cosmic functions. They sublimated another fetish of Paris, the machine. Aztec theogonical sculptures, Coatlicues, great serpent heads, blood basins, sacrificial and calendar stones suddenly appeared as classical performs, illustrating the fiercely rational trend that had just rid painting of all the bootblacks shooting craps, the cardinals eating lobster, and the naked women that passed for art only a generation before.12


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What this description elides is that the muralists were by no means all unified in their approach to pre-Cortesian sources and subject matter. José Clemente Orozco attacked the use of pre-Cortesian imagery unequivocally. [T]here was a small group bent on exhuming from the Archaeology Museum the decorative motifs of the magnificent art worlds of the indigenous antiquity, endeavoring to give them all kinds of uses and applications . . . The archaeological style of seven years ago was replaced by another similar one, which is the prevailing style at present. It consists in attributing to the pure indigene, now in a state of complete degeneration and in the process of disappearing, or pretending to attribute to him, the beautiful objects of the minor folk arts that are the natural product of the creole and the mestizo of the rural areas. It also consists of imposing on the creole and the mestizo of the cities an aesthetic that he neither feels nor can falsify by suppressing and ignoring his own aesthetic facilities . . . These ideas induced me to abjure, once and for all, the painting of “huaraches” and dirty cotton pants, and naturally I wish with all my heart that those who use them will discard them and become civilized, but I do not glorify them, just as one does not glorify illiteracy, pulque, or the heaps of trash that “adorn” our streets.13 For Orozco, the Indian’s progress was contingent on discarding the past— on becoming “civilized.” There was no place in his art for the jingoistic celebration of glories from Mexico’s indigenous past. His images of drunken Indians stumbling blindly out of the pulquerías and of curious tourists photographing hideous natives with monstrous features are antidotes to the prevailing sensibility. Like Catherwood and Alazraki, Orozco understands the Indians of today as a passive, degraded people, “now in a state of complete degeneration and in the process of disappearing.” Yet in this regard Orozco was in the minority, and even he must hold out the possibility that the Indian may perhaps not vanish but rather join the forward march of progress and “become civilized.” On the walls of public buildings, the celebratory images of Indians multiplied. Even Vasconcelos reached his limit. The artist Emilio Amero— like Charlot a participant, eyewitness, and chronicler to many of the controversies that ensued—reports:

progressing toward a maya modernity


[T]hat same day in the afternoon, Licenciado Vasconcelos came to pay us a call and in his usual direct way told me to stop painting. I asked what his reasons were, and he became angry and said that he did not have to give me any; he was the Secretary, and he was tired of so many painted Indians. He went on to say that if I wanted to go on painting I would have to choose a subject more important than Indians—for example Homer’s Iliad, with classical Greek figures, or Cervantes’ Don Quixote . . .14 What concerns us here is not so much sorting out the contrasting positions of the different participants of the muralist movement but tracing the proposed relationship between the machine Charlot identifies as the fetish of Parisian modernists—a synecdoche for modernity—and the Indian rival fetish of so many of the Mexican modernists at that particular moment.15 Near the entrance of the Public Education building, Rivera does depict the stereotypical sleeping Indian—knees raised and hunched over in a deep slumber beneath his sombrero and serape—anticipating Rozo by nearly a decade. It becomes clear, however, as the mural series progresses around the two courtyards that these same Indians will in time be roused, exploited, humiliated, and beaten. They will rise up in righteous rebellion, hold their blond capitalist bosses at gunpoint, and take over the helm of industry. To envision a Maya modernity, the Indian and the machine are reconciled by means of a nationalistic revision of Marxist orthodoxies. Again the question for Rivera and his contemporaries is: How might one imagine the Maya as full participants in modernity, rather than eternally absent references (as per Gabriel Orozco’s Photogravity, the Arensberg collection) or sleeping bystanders (per Catherwood, Rozo’s Pensamiento, Alazraki’s Raíces, and so on)? What does a Maya modernity look like with the Maya actively engaged in the forward march toward a better, mechanized future? To answer this, we must return to the Yucatán.

Triumph of the Maya Will

The first five days of February 1939 saw a grand sporting event take place in Mérida, Yucatán. The Primeros Juegos Deportivos Peninsulares involved athletic competition among contestants from southeastern Mexico. The event inaugurated the Campo Deportivo Salvador Alvarado, a stadium named in honor of the revolutionary hero whose short and tumultuous rule as the Yucatán’s governor (1915–1918) introduced Marxist reforms to the 78

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geographically isolated peninsula. To mark and document both the sporting events and the unveiling of the new athletic facility, the Yucatecan state commissioned a film crew of top professionals brought in from Mexico City—including filmmaker Emilio Gómez Muriel and cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa—to create a 14-minute newsreel (a documentary short) about the event. With Redes (The Wave, codirected by Fred Zinnemann, 1934), Gómez Muriel had already proved himself to be an adept practitioner of a Sovietinflected indigenista cinema of social struggle. Gabriel Figueroa’s camerawork for Janitzio (Carlos Novarro, 1934) had similarly established his prime role in the glorification of indigenous faces on the screen. The newsreel embodies one ideological variant on a recurring trope in the discourses about Mexico’s Indians: the redemption of the Indian through modernity. The Conquest, colonization, and perpetual exploitation have degraded the Indian and have destroyed self-respect and community. Modernity and industrialization represent not the final nail in the Indian’s coffin but the mechanism of the Indian’s deliverance. In this case, modernity arrives by way of a mass assembly with totalitarian overtones. The newsreel of the Primeros Juegos Deportivos Peninsulares begins not at the stadium to be inaugurated, the Campo Deportivo Salvador Alvarado, but at the ruins of the ancient city of Chichén Itzá. Over establishing shots of the ball court, the narrator speaks of the ancient Maya athletic events that once took place there. Mimicking the relay that brings the Olympic flame from Greece to the city designated to host the modern games, not an ancient tradition but one invented for the 1936 Berlin games by the Nazi athlete and administrator Dr. Carl Diem, a Maya athlete lights a torch from the belly of the Chacmool. Half a dozen beautiful light-skinned “Maya” maidens guard the sacred flame. A series of long-distance runners then take turns in carrying the torch from the scene of untold acts of heroic sportsmanship at Chichén Itzá to the modern stadium in Mérida, where these ancient Maya glories will be brought back to life. The landscapes traversed by this relay race, the newsreel’s narration suggests, stand in for the history of the peninsular Maya. Leaving the archaeological site, the first runner passes through an area devoted to subsistence agriculture—the small plots of slash-and-burn production for domestic consumption that structured Maya economic life from the collapse of their indigenous empires until their forced entry into the global marketplace centuries later. These eastern woods [“bosques orientales”] are inhabited by “cultivators of corn” [“cultivadores de maíz”], the narrator intones, progressing toward a maya modernity


Fig. 12   Still frames from Los Primeros Juegos Deportivos Peninsulares; Emilio Gómez Muriel, 1939 (courtesy of the Filmoteca de la UNAM).


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beyond the reach of the capitalist economy. The landscape, essentially devoid of signs of human intervention, stands in for the state of the postConquest Maya empire’s backwater—saved from more egregious forms of exploitation by their isolation, by their impoverished environment, and above all by the lack of precious mineral resources. Moving closer to the city, the torch is passed in Holtún—and on through henequen fields, “now property of the Yucatecan peasants” [“hoy propiedad de los campesinos yucatecos”]. Here, the landscape represents the monoculture economy that dominated the life of the Yucatán from the late nineteenth century until a collapse in prices decimated the agricultural export market for what would have been all of recent memory at the time the newsreel was made. Although there is a reference to the pre-Revolutionary exploitation of the henequen haciendas and their export-oriented economy, the narration makes a point of noting that these lands are now liberated (through the intervention of the government that commissioned the newsreel) and are controlled by the workers who labor there. Finally, the torch arrives in the city (entering through the eastern gate of the city’s old walls) and at the stadium the newsreel celebrates. Leaving the rural past behind, we enter the triumphant architectural spaces of modern Mexico. The governor, mayor, and a host of functionaries and military officers (along with several thousand spectators) are all there to greet the torch of ancient Maya athleticism and witness the rekindling of this ageold flame. The scene that follows exemplifies the then-current vogue for what Siegfried Kracauer called the mass ornament, the choreographed spectacle “composed of thousands of bodies, sexless bodies in bathing suits.” The stadium itself is designed to show off the regularity of these synchronized bodies in formation, “cheered by the masses, themselves arranged by the stands in tier upon ordered tier.”16 Writing in 1927, Kracauer characterized the politics of these displays in terms that eerily anticipate their deployment by the Nazis on a heretofore unprecedented scale. Physical training expropriates people’s energy, while the production and mindless consumption of the ornamental patterns diverts them from the imperative to change the reigning order. Reason can gain entrance only with difficulty when the masses it ought to pervade yield to sensations afforded by the godless mythological cult. The latter’s social meaning is equivalent to that of the Roman circus games, which were sponsored by those in power.17 progressing toward a maya modernity


Writers, including Elias Canetti and Rubén Gallo, have indicated that the athletic stadium is the preferred site for demagogic—and especially for totalitarian leaders’ stagings of exaggerated rites of mass adoration.18 With its misty evocations of mythological origins, row upon row of athletes giving straight-armed salutes, and grand celebrations of the cult of the body executed on a monumental scale, the Yucatecan short inescapably echoes Leni Riefenstahl’s epic pair of Olympic documentaries released one year earlier: Fest der Völker and Fest der Schönheit (together referred to simply as Olympiad, 1938). The bodies may be short and dark, rather than tall and Aryan, but there is no mistaking the shared sensibility. What frustrates the Yucatecan attempt to create a “triumph of the Maya will” is not the ambition but the paucity of resources. Most famously, the diving sequence from Riefenstahl’s fascinating fascist record of the notorious 1936 Berlin “Nazi Olympics” is masterfully assembled from an abundance of footage—shot from every conceivable angle and run forward and backward at normal speed and in slow motion so that the athletes seemingly triumph over gravity and exultantly float off the screen. In contrast, the diving sequence in the Mexican film consists of a mere seven shots—all taken from one of two camera positions. Olympiad continues to astonish today in part because of the flexibility and innovation in shooting, subsidized by the generous Nazi underwriting.19 Cameras were operated from pits dug alongside the sand pits where the jumpers landed, mounted on a dirigible, placed in boats, and suspended by balloons above the stadium—and some even fitted with customized devices that enabled a continuous shot to follow divers below the surface as they entered the water. This dazzling array of multiple and unconventional perspectives all contribute to Riefenstahl’s undertaking. With hours of material and two years in the editing suite, Riefenstahl transcends the banalities of the athletic newsreels. Primeros Juegos Deportivos Peninsulares, however, emphatically does not. Decades later, the flamboyant young artist José Luis Cuevas, selfappointed spokesman for artists of the ruptura (“rupture”), wrote an influential critique of the isolation and rigidity of the Mexican art world and the nationalist school of public art. While lambasting the lack of openness to international currents and to innovations from all parts, and censuring the Mexican artists’ perennial dependence on the government for support and commissions, Cuevas’s satire singled out indigenismo as particularly detrimental form of provincialism with a barbed hyperbole that hits its mark dead-on. 82

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Hitler was wrong: if he had known the Mexican race with its dark skin, straight blue-black hair, almond eyes and labial speech, he would have changed his doctrine. The superior race was in Teno­ chtitlán and environs, and it was the indisputable possessor of absolute truth.20 Transplanted from the Central Valley to the Maya region, the Yucatecan newsreel embodies the nationalist excesses that Cuevas attacks and leads inevitably to the fascist analogy—however overstated. The athletes who march through the enormous stadium, acknowledge their leader with a Nazi-like salute, and fill the field with their well-disciplined bodies—all performing identical movements in perfect synchronization—seem poised to celebrate the master race of Mesoamerica. The post-Revolutionary Mexican government commonly used sporting events and athletics as a strategy to integrate the Indian into the national fold—leading to these hypernationalistic public spectacles of the native body trained and disciplined, ready to serve the nation. Prior to the Revolution, organized sporting events were largely a restricted arena in which elites would rush to embrace Western diversions—readily adopting imported markers of status in their abundant leisure time.21 Following the Revolution, Western-style athletics lost these connotations of exclusivity and increasingly became a key strategy to incorporate and discipline the Indian body.22 State-sponsored sports programs were charged with bringing these bodies, fit and uniformed, onto the athletic field in coordinated formations. Pre-Cortesian imagery and revivals abounded at these Revolutionary athletic spectacles. In November 1941, in another echo of Dr. Diem’s invented tradition, a group of Yucatecan Maya runners set out toward the border of Campeche—where they passed the torch to another relay team. Simultaneously, a group of Yaquis from the Northeast carried another torch from the Northwest. The two relayed torches converged at the opening of the Día de la Revolución sporting events. Under the sponsorship of the Departamento Autónomo de Asuntos Indígenas, the games themselves included competitive matches of the ancient Maya ball game—as well as archery, tampuche (an ancient game from Nayarit, similar to tennis), and other pre-Columbian sports.23 In the newsreel, the runner’s movement from Chichén Itzá through Holtún to Mérida parallels another contemporaneous trajectory of progress—this one defined not by a revolutionary government with totalitarian progressing toward a maya modernity


undertones but by North American social science. The anthropologists Robert Redfield and Alfonso Villa Rojas define a route from the countryside to Mérida that differs only slightly, starting in the village of Tusik in Eastern Quintana Roo and progressing through Chan Kom (just south of Chichén Itzá) northward and westward to Dzitas and on to Mérida. Their narrative of progress is just as explicit as that of the government newsreel, and the points along the way are again presented as archetypes of social organization: from tribal village, to peasant village, to town, and then to city. A series of ethnographies detail these gradients along a folk-urban continuum, funded by the Carnegie Institution and in conjunction with their excavations at Chichén Itzá.24 The points studied define not simply a trajectory through space but through time, of the progress from “archaic” to “modern.” The geography becomes a timeline, as Redfield writes: “Yucatan, considered as one moves from Mérida southeastward into the forest hinterland, presents a sort of social gradient in which the Spanish, modern, and urban gives way to the Maya, archaic and primitive.”25 Within this opportune pattern of striation, a trajectory southeast from Mérida makes visible the spectrum of the modern-archaic continuum— transversing emblematic points that were to be understood as not fixed. Redfield would have us believe that Chan Kom, the archetypical peasant village, moved itself forward along that symbolic pathway toward the city he refers to by the rather numinous label “the road to the light.” This road travels parallel to the route of the torch carrier bound for Campo Deportivo Salvador Alvarado, but the movement is propelled forward by keen leadership and collective will rather than by the intercessions of the revolutionary state. Significantly, this Anglo spacialization of progress has an ultimate destination that differs from the Revolutionary newsreel. The “road to the light” starts out toward Chicago rather than toward Mexico City. The changes in Chan Kom are in the direction of North American or cosmopolitan urbanized life rather than in the direction of Latin culture. By learning Spanish, people in Chan Kom are enabled to read about scientific horticulture, child care, and the prices of commodities in foreign markets. The language has not so far been a way to Latin culture. The two zestful sports, business and baseball, are surely not Latin in nature or origin.26 Redfield’s textual construction of progress as well as the elision of his own team’s role in the changes he documents have been analyzed and critiqued 84

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by generations of anthropologists.27 The project here is not to deconstruct the discursive edifice Redfield calls Chan Kom’s progress but to establish three important points by comparing it to the runners’ route depicted in the newsreel. First, the similarity rests not simply in the paths of these twin trajectories but more importantly in the common notion of progress motivating both. Second, we ought to contrast the ultimate destinations suggested (Mérida versus Chicago)—as well as the explanations provided for these changes: state control of agricultural lands and the revolutionary government’s revival of past Maya glories in the case of the newsreel, initiative vision, and the adoption of Protestantism in the case of Redfield’s modernist anthropological vision. Finally, to understand the impact of the image of Maya modernity we must search to see how distinctly Maya images of progress did in fact travel not simply to Mérida but to the skyscrapers of Chicago, New York, and beyond. In other words, we need to see not how the Maya village was remade, either textually or in government film propaganda, in the image of progress but rather how the Western notion of progress was remade in the image of the Maya. What is the relevance of the spectacle of triumphant Maya will, as orchestrated by Governor Canto Echeverría and filmed by Figueroa and Gómez Muriel, as it travels beyond the isolated peninsula of Yucatán? The answer to this question depends of course on the context in which it is asked.

Maya Blueprints for the Future: Maya Revival Architecture

Plans for the first Mexican skyscraper were published in 1927. The architect wrestled with both the North American and the Maya heritages of the skyscraper in his explanation of the project. “From the tenth floor upward,” writes another José Luis Cuevas (not the author of “The Cactus Curtain”), “the building narrows in the form of a truncated pyramid, recalling the lines of the buildings of our aborigines.”28 Yet the term skyscraper is so associated with “those buildings of innumerable floors which they construct in the United States now” that he hesitates to embrace the word unambivalently, and declares that he prefers to call his project Mexico’s “first tall building.”29 Cuevas’s project was never built, but soon the Tikalinflected outline of the Edificio La Nacional (Manuel Ortiz Monasterio, Bernardo Calderón, and Luis Ávila, 1932) made the Mexican skyscraper a reality—pioneering the use in Mexico of reinforced concrete and other innovative construction techniques. progressing toward a maya modernity


The ascent of these structures into the skies of major cities all over the world depended on any number of factors: technological know-how, financial backing, new technologies, and new materials. Architectural historians have traced the outlines of how zoning and building codes, elevators and steel girders, concrete and finance all made possible (even necessitated) the skyscraper—that paradigmatically North American architectural expression of the twentieth century.30 These new structures often came dressed up in historical costumes, and the references were wildly eclectic: most commonly generic classical elements, but at times also incorporating quotations of anything from the Campanile from Venice’s St. Mark’s Square (in the case of the Metropolitan Life Tower, New York, 1909) and Italian Renaissance architecture more generally (as with innumerable McKim, Mead, and White skyscrapers) to Gothic religious architecture, in the case of the Woolworth Building (New York, 1913) and the Chicago Tribune Tower (1925). A minority, the staunchest less-is-more modernists felt that these historicisms were unnecessary (even detrimental) to the buildings’ overall success. Mies van der Rohe wrote in 1922: Skyscrapers reveal their bold structural pattern during construction. Only then does the gigantic steel web seem impressive. When the outer walls are put in place, the structural system which is the basis of all artistic design is hidden by a chaos of meaningless and trivial forms. When finished, these buildings are impressive only because of their size . . . Instead of trying to solve the new problems with old forms, we should develop the new forms from the very nature of the new problems.31 It would not be until after World War II that the world would pay heed to van der Rohe’s plea and functionalism in skyscraper design would finally triumph, displacing Art Deco and eclectic historical quotations as the dominant idiom of their design. In advocating their cause over the use of other historical sources and styles, the advocates of the Maya Revival skyscraper deployed aesthetic, moral, political, and social arguments that spoke to the inherent qualities of tall buildings universally and to the specifics of national dilemmas that arise within the Mexican context. The first of these arguments to be articulated was the pragmatic motivation for the pyramid-like design of skyscrapers. Early in the twentieth century, New Yorkers discovered that the proliferation of ever-higher buildings left their streets sunless nearly all day long. Monolithic towers shaded the 86

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street of all natural light, except for those brief moments at midday when the sun was directly overhead. In 1916, the city’s first zoning legislation aimed to address this with the establishment of what was called the zoning envelope. These guidelines set a maximum height a building’s exterior walls could rise above the sidewalk, after which it must be set back at a prescribed angle. No limit was set on overall building height, but this tower could only occupy one quarter of the building’s footprint at the center of the site. More than a few commentators noted the similarity between the setback form dictated by the zoning envelope and the profile of pre-Columbian structures. Use of Maya-inflected decorative elements thus became almost a historical inevitability: “[I]t is almost a law of architectural necessity that the Americans in stretching their buildings skywards should come to the same treatments of flat surfaces, set-backs and ornamental silhouettes.”32 Unlike the work of Robert Stacy-Judd (discussed in Chapter 5), this was not the position of a marginalized eccentric but of Alfred C. Bossom—an unreservedly mainstream and sought-after English practitioner. His specialty was the design of skyscrapers for banks—institutions not known for their ready embrace of radical new ideas. Bossom’s established place on the conservative side of American architecture’s mainstream between the World Wars reinforces the inevitability of the conclusion: from the perspective of Jazz Age Manhattan, the Maya pyramid seemed irrefutably “the original American skyscraper.”33 From this formal resemblance, derived from practical necessities, many suggested an ornamental scheme they deemed more appropriate than the classical, Romanesque, or any other Old World style more commonly employed. Bossom asked rhetorically: “[I]t is desirable, however, that the skyscraper of today should have some attractive outer garments and since this is so, why not have them native American?”34 In choosing indigenous motifs as the basis for a decorative scheme, some of the skyscraper architects argued that they had done nothing less than resume and extend the interrupted progress of the Maya and other indigenous cultures. If Mound Builders, Mayas, Toltecs, Aztecs, the subjects of the Incas, had not been put out of their stride by certain Europeans who “discovered” them, they would have probably gone onward and upwards and developed more of art, literature, science and all the finer embellishments of civilization than any other people. Then there would have been an American style in construction independent of progressing toward a maya modernity


all orders, and developed without light from any other lamps of architecture kindled in other climes.35 For a British practitioner like Bossom, employed mostly on the U.S. East Coast, that progress “onward and upwards” may have been conceived strictly in architectural terms—but for Latin Americans working within the Mexican context, with its racial divisions and tumultuous post-Revolutionary politics, circumstances gave a different urgency on the question of “progress.” Con­ sequently, these latter practitioners—though they began with premises not unlike Bossom’s—take the question of the skyscraper in distinctive, newer directions. There are several Latin American architects and architectural theorists who independently propose ideas strikingly similar to Bossom’s. Francisco Mujica saw both pre-Columbian and European architectural history as narratives of progress, though oriented in opposing directions. The Conquest interrupted the development of the former and imposed European styles in a climate and landscape that did not suit them. “The soul of America [was] taken captive.”36 For Mujica, a return to the line of exploration instigated by the ancient Americans was a “necessary reaction”37 against imported styles—a reorientation that twentieth-century architects were morally obligated to pursue. In a reversal of the standard paternalism, the imperative is not simply a question of redeeming the Indian but of allowing the Indian to redeem the rest of us. The Indian, he argued, was guardian of this “soul of America”—ready to emancipate us as soon as we are ready. The spirit of those primitive artists who gave us their very souls in the search for truth as expressed in the infinite emotion of art still vibrates in the subtle atmosphere of ruined palace and temple; and their voices, echoing through the solitude and oblivion of time, still speak of their impotent struggle. Their descendants, the indigenes who still subsist on our soil, have heard the call of these great souls who in the darkness of the Ultimate Beyond still suffer the tragedy of misunderstood endeavor. And if we have done nothing, if we have forgotten everything, these indigenes have consecrated themselves to the ancient cult.38 By heeding this call of the authentic American arts, we—all Americans, North and South, red, brown, white, yellow, and black—will create a refuge our spirits “recognize as truly our own, [for] it is [in] the American 88

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landscape, with its flora and fauna, and the last link of aboriginal art, at the moment of its destruction where we must seek the radiating centers of our future paths.”39 Mujica goes on to propose several structures that exemplify what he calls an “American renaissance style.” Although he refers to a range of Native American cultures of North, Central, and South America in his writings, the references employed in his proposed buildings are specifically Maya. As an illustration of how these might be deployed, he proposes a “Temple to the Glory of American Art”—a highly ornamented museum palace with corbeled arches and bold neo-Maya stele. The iconography of the peninsular athletic competition and of the first years of the muralist movement suggest that before the ossification of the PRI’s monopoly on power and the concurrent return of the pre-Columbian ruins (populated by sleeping Indians unredeemable by history) the Mexican state endorsed and sponsored the iconography of Maya modernism as part of a grand narrative of progress—one component of a bold cultural program. The Mexican government patronized the codification of Maya architecture’s characteristic traits so that nationalist practitioners might employ these more easily and accurately. Sent to Mexico’s southeast in 1927 by the sponsorship of the Secretary of Public Education and the National University’s rector, Francisco Mariscal pursued this study with the same enthusiasm he had shown for the revival of the architecture of the Maya’s historical antagonists (the colonial californiano style, or what in the United States is called the “Mission Revival” or “Spanish” style). In the resultant publication, Estudio arquitectónico de las ruinas mayas: Yucatán y Campeche, Mariscal makes it clear the intended end is not simply to amplify archaeological knowledge but to provide a blueprint for a modern American architectural practice. As he writes: “[I]t must be definitively resolved to what point may these notable ruins be taken advantage of in the creation of a national or American architecture in our time.” [“(S)e debe resolver de manera definitiva hasta qué punto pueden aprovecharse esas notables ruinas, en la creación de una arquitectura americana o nacional en nuestros días.”]40 Fortuitously, the repeated geometric patterns traced from the Puuc and Rio Bec structures converged with the moderne styles brought in vogue by the Exposition of Decorative Arts in Paris (1925). In 1928, Mariscal responded to his own challenge—building in downtown Mexico City an Art Deco Chichén Itzá–inspired auto showroom for Durkin Reo Motors, a structure regrettably no longer standing.41 Later, on a more modest scale (though within a more prestigious structure), he would progressing toward a maya modernity


be given the task of adding more distinctively Mexican elements to the Díazera plans for the partially built Palacio de Bellas Artes—a building whose construction had been interrupted by the chaos of the Revolution. He did this by adding Deco-style masks of the Maya rain god Chaac and the Aztec deity Tlaloc in the lobby of this grand Italianate palace. Even a Beaux-Arts wedding cake rendered in imported marble could be redeemed and nationalized with the strategic placement of the right pre-Columbian forms. Within this category of Maya Revival buildings that stand as icons of progress, the strategies and results vary widely. There are state-sponsored Mayan Revival structures in North America and in Mexico, monuments to Pan-Americanist (in the former case) or nationalist spirit (in the latter). The Pan-Americanism impulse is less urgent, even absent, in the many North American movie theaters of this style. They are spaces of fantasy and whimsy. The numerous Maya theaters (sometimes called Aztec, but generally rather indiscriminate Mesoamerican pastiches in terms of their stylistic references) are vaguely evocative of something mysterious, distant, and exotic. Then there are those structures informed by spiritual, mystical, esoteric, or theosophical beliefs (discussed in Chapter 5)—such as Mexico City’s Mormon Temple and Stacy-Judd’s Philosophical Research Society in Los Angeles and North Hollywood Masonic Temple. Finally, there is the fantastical architecture of contemporary theme parks—at which neo-Maya pyramids still proliferate. This includes the cocktail of Mesoamerican references that comprise the Mexican plaza at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center and the spurious caricatures of history and culture housed within (updating the pageant plays of 1915 San Diego), the architectural reconquista of the pyramids of Salou’s Port Aventura, or the Maya sacrificial waterslide that thrills tourists at an island casino in the Bahamas called “Atlantis.” What unites and what distinguishes these diverse efforts in distinct and largely independent efforts at reviving Maya architecture in Mérida, Mexico City, Los Angeles, and beyond? Is there a common narrative of progress leading from Chichén Itzá’s Castillo to Manhattan’s skyscrapers, to Mérida’s athletic field or elsewhere? These questions can be answered with a schematic topography of the Maya Revival style. Located a few kilometers northwest of the center of Mérida, the Parque de las Américas is the work of Manuel Amábilis Domínguez—working in collaboration with his son Max Amábilis. The former is the outstanding regional practitioner of the Maya Revival style and the leading architect of Yucatecan modernity. Amábilis fashioned himself and his Yucatecan countrymen “descendents of the builders of the only American civilization that 90

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Fig. 13   Parque de las Américas, Mérida, Yucatán; Manuel Amábilis Domínguez and Max Amábilis, 1945.

has existed, heirs of the blood and the spirit of the Atlante-Toltecs of the peninsula of Yucatan.” The park incorporates the fountain of feathered serpents depicted in Waldemaro Concha Vargas’s ambrotype (discussed in Chapter 1), the José Martí Library, and an open-air amphitheater lined by decorated columns reminiscent of both the pre-Columbian ball court and Chichén Itzá’s “Thousand Columns.” Throughout the park there are stele bearing the names of the nations of the Americas, one for each of the hemisphere’s republics, as well as a freestanding arch modeled on the one found at the ruins of Labná. Behind the library, there is a twentieth-century Chacmool. It is the most extensive complex of Maya-styled structures built since the Conquest—a veritable post-Columbian Maya site. Throughout his professional life, Manuel Amábilis Domínguez urged a return to the Maya past. Nowhere else was he able to carry out his vision on the scale of Parque de las Américas. Amábilis’s training was neither in archeology nor focused on a specifically national dynamic. A graduate of the École Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris, he was schooled in the BeauxArts style—the type of lavishly ornamented imported style that dominated the high-status building during the Porfiriato.42 progressing toward a maya modernity


When he returned to Mérida in 1913, on the eve of the Revolution’s belated arrival there, his interests shifted to the contemporary uses of ancient Maya architecture. Working in this style, he built—in addition to the Parque de las Américas—private residences in Mexico City and the Yucatán, Mérida’s Monumento a la Patria (in collaboration with the sculptor Rómulo Rozo), and the Mexican Pavilions for the International Fair in Mexico in 1925 and Seville’s 1929 Ibero-American Exposition. He also taught at the National University’s school of architecture, and published extensively on archaeological, esoteric, and architectural subjects.43 In one corner of the Parque de las Américas, not visible in Concha Vargas’s ambrotype, a stele representing the United States bears that nation’s

Fig. 14   Stele for the United States from Parque de las Américas, Mérida, Yucatán; Manuel Amábilis Domínguez and Max Amábilis, 1945.


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seal and—rendered in one of the distinctive fonts used throughout the park to give a pre-Columbian inflection to the Latin alphabet—the country’s Spanish-language abbreviation EE.UU. Here, Amábilis effectively stood past appropriations of the Maya on their head. The Maya ruins are not an intriguing source of rootedness, mystery, heritage, and authenticity waiting to be claimed by the empire of the north. On the contrary, the United States is imagined as a colonial outpost of a new Maya empire. If a house, in Le Corbusier’s famous axiom, is a machine for living—Amábilis’s park is a machine for dreaming, for imagining the Maya conquest of the Americas. The Mayan stele representing the United States in Mérida might be suggestively paired with Richard Requa’s Federal Building (today the San Diego Hall of Champions Sports Museum), built for San Diego’s 1935 California Pacific International Exposition. Housing the exhibitions of federal government agencies, that structure’s exterior is modeled on Uxmal’s Palace of the Governor. The building is a substitute for a cancelled project that appears on preliminary plans for the 1935 Exposition: a replica of Chichén Itzá’s Castillo (sponsored by Standard Oil). How is it that both a Yucatecan architect with state government sponsorship and the Federal government of the United States both chose to represent Washington with Maya Revival structures? It is only in the context of the Good Neighbor policy—the World War II–era redefinition of U.S.–Latin American relations—that either structure could have been built. Art historian Holly Barnet-Sánchez writes: The United States government was not only seeking a rapprochement with all of Latin America but was also pursuing this policy within a clearly defined language of shared histories and cultures. Thus, by 1933, “the Other” had in effect become one of “us.”44 With Requa’s building, the U.S. federal government had gone fully Maya. Juan Larrinaga, a Mexican art director with Hollywood experience building sets for Cecil B. DeMille, provided a frieze of plywood and beaverboard derived from George Oakley Totten’s reproductions of Uxmal. On each corner a hook-nosed Chaac revived the Puuc style. A mural derived from carvings at Palenque shows a standing priest, staff in hand, looming over a submissive prisoner above the central corbeled arch. Requa’s use of the Maya elements in the Federal Building is a piece of his larger visions for the California Pacific Exposition palisades in San Diego. Once again, the theme is that of progress. The promenade begins at the Maya Revival–style progressing toward a maya modernity


Federal Building and leads to the futuristic Ford Motor Building, a ninetyfoot-high tower surrounded by illuminated vertical blue fins. For a North American audience, the Maya’s place in the narrative of progress was at the beginning—a point of departure for a story leading to, and dominated by, the United States (a reversal of Requa’s schema). The display of casts, replicas, and reconstructions of pre-Columbian structures at World’s Fairs and international expositions in the United States was nothing new. In the nineteenth century, these displays were often exhibits of models, human specimens, casts, and loot extracted unbeknown to (and often in violation of the laws of) the Mexican government. The results of the archaeological efforts of Edward H. Thompson and Désiré Charnay, exhibited at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, represent rival North American and French attempts at turf staking through antiquarianism. In this exhibition, Edward H. Thompson’s archaeological casts included a life-size copy of the arch at Labná. Standing guard by the arch, frozen in time, was Désiré Charnay’s cast of a Maya man—the petrified form of the vegetative Indian.45 All of these individuals clashed with the Mexican government over questions of cultural patrimony. Thompson—who bought the ruins of Chichén Itzá and smuggled gold and jade from its cenote to Harvard’s Peabody Museum—was subsequently vindicated in the Mexican courts, although the Peabody nonetheless felt obligated to return the objects in question. Augustus Le Plongeon—who harnessed his Maya laborers to the stone Chacmool in an aborted attempt to drag the object to the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia—and Charnay (accused of looting) did not fare as well. The three embody this acquisitive age. Charnay supported the French intervention in Mexico, the conservatives’ ill-fated experiment of imperial rule, predicting that Mexico would be for his homeland what India had been for England.46 The removal of archaeological loot went hand in hand with the search for raw materials, new markets, and land. As we have seen with Stephens and Catherwood, the 1823 Monroe Doctrine set the tenor for an American foreign policy premised on the belief that the hemisphere belonged to the United States.47 The replicas of Maya ruins in Chicago constitute the origins of the revival style that served as part of the symbolic turf staking that buttressed this imperialist notion.48 Requa’s Federal Building represents a different type of appropriation. It belongs alongside the twentieth-century Maya Temple and the concurrent display of the “Monte Alban Treasure” at Chicago’s Century of Progress 94

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(1933)—as well as the New York Museum of Modern Art’s American Sources of Modern Art (1933) and Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art (1940)—as a self-conscious effort to forge a common hemispheric tradition. Juxtaposed with the stele for the United States in the Parque de las Américas, it is clear that Pan-American unity carries different meanings north and south of the border. For Amábilis’s Maya-centric vision, the United States is imagined as a distant satellite of a latter-day peninsular empire. For Requa and his Washington patrons, the Maya are part of a Pan-American heritage joined together under the banner of the United States. Uniting these two architectural expressions are not simply their Maya Revival forms but the shared faith in the path of progress that leads from Chichén Itzá to the industrial future. As with so much of U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America, the agenda was to a great extent shaped by events outside the region. The major impetus for Washington’s redefinition of its role from one of the perennial invader to that of a “good neighbor” was the rise of fascism in Europe—and the fear that the Axis might gain a foothold in the New World by way of inroads in Latin America. The Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, headed by Nelson Rockefeller—himself an avid collector of preColumbian objects—orchestrated a multidisciplinary effort to construct a shared hemispheric cultural heritage that united the Americas against the Nazi threat. The United States acknowledged that its repeated invasions of Central America, the Caribbean, and Mexico in the second half of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century had made much of Latin America suspicious of and hostile toward the colossus to the north. Hoping to stem this tide of ill will, the Good Neighbor policy of the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations championed policies of mutual respect, cooperation, and nonintervention. Hollywood studios, art museums, and archaeological exhibitions all played a role in this effort.49 The fight against fascism made for strange bedfellows. It was a cause in which capitalists and communists both enlisted. The radically alien aesthetic of ancient Mesoamerica momentarily obscured these differences, and functioned as a banner under which diverse interests might unite in a popular front. A poster from Mexico City’s leftist Taller de Gráfica Popular advertises a radio address by the socialist leader Vicente Lombardo Toledano on the fascist threat. The poster’s graphic shows a crocodile covered with swastikas menacing a large Golem-like pre-Columbian (is it Totonac? Maya?) figure wearing a six-pointed Star progressing toward a maya modernity


of David on its chest. This, then, is the context in which a Maya Revival construction could represent Washington both for Richard Requa in San Diego and Manuel Amábilis in Mérida. The pairing of Requa’s neo-Maya Federal Building and Amábilis’s stele for the gringo state contrasts with another pair of buildings, again located in San Diego and Mérida. One of these is Amábilis’s first Maya Revival structure: the Masonic Temple in Mérida’s central district. Amábilis’s project is in fact a conversion, not an original construction. It is a remodeling of a structure built in the 1680s to function as a Catholic church—called alternatively the Templo del Dulce Nombre de Jesús or La Sagrada Familia Jesús, María y José. In Colonial Mexico’s racially stratified society, this temple served those at the bottom of the social pyramid: blacks and “pardos” (in the highly developed racial taxonomy of New Spain, a pardo was an individual of mixed Indian and African ancestry). As such, it was a relatively modest structure—with a nave, mosaic floors, and rounded arches but none of the exuberant Baroque excess so characteristic of viceregal religious architecture. When the Mexican Revolution arrived in Yucatán somewhat belatedly in 1915, the socialist governor Salvador Alvarado—notoriously hostile to the Catholic Church—seized this along with other religious properties. The Cathedral of Mérida was converted into the cavalry’s stable; crucifixes, bibles, and figures of saints were burned or stolen; and most of the clergy were expelled from the peninsula. Alvarado, in his utopian vision of a progressive and socialist Yucatán of the future, imagined the region liberated of Catholic superstition and clerical authority. In the manner of the anticlerical excesses depicted in Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory, Alvarado’s government’s frontal attack on the ecclesiastic imperium seized hundreds of churches, chapels, monasteries, and other religious structures and destroyed much of the religious paraphernalia, literature, and symbolic objects. Amábilis was charged with the conversion of one particular building, the Templo del Dulce Nombre de Jesús, to its new secular use as a Masonic lodge. This process involved the replacement of the original Romanesque facade with two large feathered serpents that framed the main entrance. The rounded arches were replaced with corbeled ones, and decorative Mayan elements were added to the friezes and cornices. Mérida was built on the site of the Maya city of T’Ho. Like many colonial Mexican cities, the pre-Columbian structures were not simply razed at the time of the Conquest; their masonry was recycled for use in the construction of the new colonial architecture. On the southern exterior wall of the Iglesia 96

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Fig. 15  Masonic temple, Mérida, Yucatán; Manuel Amábilis Domínguez, architect, 1915.

de la Tercera Orden, for example (also in the city’s central district), several bricks decorated with characteristic pre-Columbian abstract patterns are plainly visible. Thus, it is not at all unlikely that Amábilis’s Masonic Lodge was in fact a destroyed Mayan temple reassembled as a Catholic church and then (three centuries later) once again converted back into a latter-day facsimile of a Maya temple. Amábilis, symbolically at least, had undone the Conquest—transforming the Hispanic heritage into a Masonic neo-Maya one, replacing imported style with an autochthonous one. What place does a Masonic Lodge hold in a revolution that is ostensibly based on overturning medieval superstitions and replacing these with progressing toward a maya modernity


the “scientific socialist” analysis of dialectical materialism, one might well ask?50 Amábilis—as well as Madero, Carranza, Obregón, Alvarado, and many of the other Revolutionary leaders—were all Masons. The former understood the Revolution as having a distinctly spiritual component, which he elaborated in his Mística de la Revolución Mexicana. In this context, Amábilis’ recuperation of the ancient Maya was not simply of regional variant on the emergent current of nationalist indigenismo but the continuation of an ongoing Masonic fascination with the ancient Maya and their architecture—perpetuated by some of the most eccentric figures on the fringes of Mexican archaeology.51 Later, Amábilis strayed further from the mainstream of the archaeological establishment and into the murky netherworld of Ignatius Donnelly, James Churchward, and Lewis Spence by locating the common origins of Maya and ancient Greek cultures on the sunken continent of Atlantis. But then this was, after all, a Revolution whose first leader was a spiritualist in regular communication with his deceased brother—one in which scientific socialism and the esoteric clearly did not conflict.52 The Masonic Lodge can be provocatively juxtaposed with Bertram Goodhue’s California Building, also of 1915—built for San Diego’s PanamaCalifornia Exposition. From the exterior, they have little in common. Goodhue’s is a revival of the Churrigueresque style, a Southern California copy of the Church of San Francisco Javier in Tepotzotlán, Hidalgo. As a concession to the elevated construction costs, the carved stone of the colonial prototype is rendered in molded concrete. The inside of the California Building, however, was not colonial at all but rather a cornucopia of Maya replicas, casts, and reinterpretations. It was, in the words of exhibition director Edgar Lee Hewett, “the first time in the history of Expositions an entire building [had been] devoted to Ancient America.”53 On the main entrance’s interior were once again the feathered serpent columns of Chichén Itzá, like those framing the exterior entrance of Amábilis’s Masonic lodge. Above the doorway was the date of the opening of the California building written using the then-recently decoded Maya calendrical system. Within the rotunda, casts of monumental Maya sculptures were on display. Carlos Vierra’s murals depicting Uxmal, Chichén Itzá, Copán, Tikal, Palenque, and Quiriguá in a partially ruined state54— above Jean Beman Smith’s bas-relief, equal in its dimensions, Hewett notes, to the Parthenon’s frieze—represent Maya ritual life in an Egyptianinflected style.54


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Fig. 16  California Building, PanamaCalifornia Exposition, San Diego, CA; Bertram Goodhue, architect, 1915.

Mexico did not participate in either of the two California expositions of 1915: the San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exposition and the San Diego Panama-California Exposition. Francisco Madero’s revolutionary government had hoped to employ the Porfirian team, so successful in Paris in 1889, to present the world an image of Mexico as a newly liberated and progressive nation.55 These plans stalled when Madero was betrayed, overthrown, and executed by Victoriano Huerta and Félix Díaz—a treasonous plot abetted by the U.S. ambassador Henry Lane Wilson. Internal chaos prevented the subsequent administrations from following up on

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Madero’s plans. U.S.–Mexico relations reached a low not rivaled since the War of 1848. General John “Black Jack” Pershing’s aborted hunt for Francisco Villa and the U.S. military occupation of Veracruz form the background for the public presentation in San Diego of the “noble works of the Mayas” never before “presented in such perfection.”56 A series of events that mixed the mode of ethnographical spectacle common to the Victorian-era international expositions with a proto-Disney sense of the ersatz-historical mythologizing complemented the California Building’s Maya exhibit. The ground-breaking ceremony, for example, included a historical pageant in­­ corporating “The Aztec Priests’ Sacrifice to the Gods of War,” “The Fall of the Aztec Dynasties and the Rise of Christian Rule,” and “Raising the First American Flag at Old Town San Diego.”57 Here, the Conquest was not undone but rather restaged—with the gringos as the inevitable victors. The spoils of Aboriginal America, North and South, went to the “Americans”— which of course in San Diego means the United States. The contrasts between the two 1915 structures in San Diego and Mérida are multiple and revealing. If Mérida’s Masonic lodge was a colonial Catholic church disguised as a Maya temple, Goodhue’s California Building could be thought of as its mirror image—a temple dedicated to the Maya disguised as (and housed within) a fake colonial Mexican cathedral. The two pairs of buildings from San Diego and Mérida—Amábilis’s Parque de las Américas and Requa’s Federal Building, and Amábilis’s Masonic temple and Goodhue’s California Building—define four points in space and time (North and South the “Big Stick” era, and the Good Neighbor policy) that frame the Maya Revival style. As Amábilis’s esoteric beliefs suggest, in the background lurks the specters of theosophy and mysticism—a theme that returns in Chapter 5 of this text. As architectural phenomenon, the Maya Revival involved much more than is suggested by the outline defined by Amábilis, Goodhue, and Requa. There is the work of George Oakley Totten and Francisco Cornejo, the elegant modernism of Luis Barragán and Teodoro González de León, and the contemporary fantasy pyramids in places such as Cancún and elsewhere. But the two buildings of Amábilis—the park depicted in Concha Vargas’s ambrotypes and the now-destroyed Masonic temple, and the two structures in San Diego—define the fundamental axes on which the Maya Revival in the first half of the twentieth century may be located. In Mexico, this involves the articulation of the official nationalist school of indigenismo, positioning the state as heir to the ancient empires and their 100

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glories (while perpetuating the marginalization of the Indians of the day). In the United States, this involves the (temporary) abandonment of the empire’s Big Stick and Monroe Doctrine archaeology in favor of the invention of a shared hemispheric heritage—an exigency in the fight against fascism. As hard as Redfield and Villa Rojas may have tried, if North Americans imagined the Maya as part of a narrative of progress it was as a starting point—a uniquely American point of origin for an evolution that would quickly leave them behind.

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Chapter 4

The Aoristic Maya


n 1969, the North American earthworks artist Robert Smithson traveled through the Yucatán southward toward Chiapas—where he settled the question of Maya Revival architecture without constructing anything more substantive than an argument, a case for reconsidering vernacular Mexican building styles as part of a long-standing local tradition. In doing so, he articulated (albeit in a circumlocutory and sometimes satirical way) a fourth paradigm of Maya modernism—that of the aoristic Maya. Elsewhere (in film, painting, and photography) we can find other expressions of a similar idea—distinct and divergent expressions coming from individuals not at all like Smithson in their sensibilities, concerns, and artistic production yet all united by the conviction that there is some set of fundamental traits (however defined) that unites the ancient Maya with their contemporary descendants. These diverse works seem to suggest that perhaps there is no sense in placing the Maya, ancient and modern, along some sort of grand timeline of human progress. The very notion of linear evolutionary history is rejected in favor of repetition, seriality, and unexpected links across ages. Perhaps all of the questions of whether and how the Maya might be able to enter modernity—whether they are destined to disappear with modernity’s arrival or if they will sit out this momentous change, slumbering in their passive, hunched-over positions—are misguided and poorly conceived inquiries. Instead, these artists have emphasized the points of continuity that link the contemporary Maya to their ancient heritage. They place the Maya outside questions of history (or at least linear versions of history) not by exiling them—casting them as atavistic fossils from the distant past—


but rather by bringing that past into the present and the future in ways that confound all linear chronologies.

Modernism Is Elsewhere

Driving south from Mérida, Robert Smithson and his entourage zoomed along the highway through the flat, sun-baked landscape of the peninsula on their way toward Chiapas. Early on in the journey, it was already abundantly clear that the Maya past would repeatedly make intrusions into their contemporary world—and that the explanations and platitudes of pundits, popularizers, and scholars were all due for their fair share of criticism. On the cover of Victor W. Von Hagan’s [sic] paperback World of the Maya it says “A history of the Mayas and their resplendent civilization that grew out of the jungles and wastelands of Central America.” In the rear-view mirror appeared Tezcatlipoca—demiurge of the “smoking mirror.” “All those guide books are of no use,” Tezcatlipoca said.1 The purpose of Smithson’s trip was neither to confirm nor to rewrite these orthodoxies and heterodoxies about that “resplendent civilization” (or their pop bastardizations) told over and over again in innumerable treatises, tourist guides, and popular treatments—some of which were lying on the back seat of the rented Dodge Dart alongside the vacationing Mexica deity. Smithson was traveling in order to create a series of temporary site-specific installations involving partially buried 12-inch-square (non-smoking) mirrors in remote locales not far from the Maya ruins he visited for this project—places such as the one he described as “a suburb of Uxmal, which is to say, nowhere.”2 Ephemeral by design, today the project survives only in Smithson’s witty, dense account of both his travels and the construction of these installations—and in the photographic documentation he made during the work’s brief existence. In these photos, the mirrors disrupt the coherence and solidity of the landscape with reflected patches of sky and foliage— making visible what is beyond the camera’s frame. The work functions on multiple levels: as temporal meditations, as references to pre-Columbian cosmologies, and as the documentation of a formalist spatial game displacing sky into earth and light into darkness. the aoristic maya


Fig. 17   Yucatan Mirror Displacement (B), Robert Smithson, 1969 (courtesy James Cohan Gallery, New York, Copyright © Estate of Robert Smithson/Licensed by VAGA, New York).

Smithson’s trip and the works that came from it are all imbued and preoccupied with the history of Maya modernism. His writings from the trip are peppered with references to readings that range from arcane specialty publications to mainstream travel guides, from spurious suppositions to the classical authorities. Citations of Ignatius Donnelly’s Atlantis, the Antediluvian World mingle with quotes from articles popularizing Maya archaeology appearing in National Geographic. References to Plato, Bernardino de Sahagún, William Scott-Elliot, and George Santayana mix with allusions to volumes titled Animals without Backbones and Stratigraphy and Life History. The title of his narrative, “Incidents of Mirror-Travel in Yucatan,” mirrors and updates the seminal writings of John Lloyd Stephens—or more generally the history of European and North American protoarchaeologists 104

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who in the centuries following the Conquest employed the Yucatecan ruins as sites for excavation, photography, speculation, and plunder. But perhaps more so than Stephens and Catherwood, it is Augustus Le Plongeon or Edward H. Thompson—representatives of a now-extinct breed of largerthan-life gentlemen-adventurers directing a more flamboyant, if not problematic, type of archaeological endeavor—who were Smithson’s inspiration and point of reference. Smithson wrote: “The first investigations of the Yucatan were really brought by some scientist’s curiosity in Atlantis.” Thus his “Incidents of Mirror-Travel in the Yucatan” became a “kind of reflection of [these expeditions], but it’s an anti-expedition.”3 Atlantis held a lifelong fascination for Smithson, as evidenced by his installations presented as speculative maps (the “Hypothetical Continents”) of nonexistent places and the myriad of references to what one scholar has dubbed the age of “fantastic archeology”—suggesting a fanciful link between his work and the antics of this earlier generation of travelers.4 But, as the self-designation of “anti-expedition” suggests, Smithson’s aims are in the end very different: he comes not to excavate but to bury (mirrors). After all, his party traveled in a rental car full of tourist guides, not on litters covered with mosquito netting and borne by Maya porters. Although Smithson mirrors these predecessors and their preoccupations, many of their movements are in fact reversed—as in a reflection. Reading any of Smithson’s Maya-related texts, one striking difference from his antecedents is immediately apparent. In contrast to Augustus Le Plongeon’s sanctimonious tone of indignant omniscience, condescending to speak to the multitude of disbelieving fools, Smithson’s writings make it clear that he does not pretend to understand or explain the Maya. Early in his “Incidents of Mirror-Travel” essay, he sets the tone by telling of an initiatory cross-cultural encounter—a variation on the anecdote that begins this text, as an instance of failed intercultural communication that gave the peninsula its name. “UY U TAN A KIN PECH” (listen how they talk)—EXCLAIMED THE MAYANS ON HEARING THE SPANISH LANGUAGE  .  .  .  “YUCATAN CAMPECHE”—REPEATED THE SPANIARDS WHEN THEY HEARD THESE WORDS. A caption under all this said “Mayan and Spanish First Meeting 1517.”5 Instead of explanation and interpretation, Smithson offers a collision of the quotidian and the supernatural, of the Western and Indian worldviews that the aoristic maya


do not meet in a cross-cultural exchange but, like the participants in that early sixteenth-century encounter of two worlds, miss each other in a fog of mutual misunderstanding. On the most simplistic level, Smithson’s attraction to the region derived from certain affinities (to use William Rubin’s term) between the ancient Maya objects and the minimalist sculpture coming out of the New York contemporary art world of which Smithson was an integral part. Smithson wrote: “‘The Jaguar in the mirror that smokes in the World of the Elements knows the work of Carl Andre,’ said Tezcatlipoca and Itzpaplotl at the same time in the same voice.”6 Mirroring this formulation, Smithson’s proposed Museum of the Void (1967) knows Chichén Itzá’s Castillo—whereas his Glass Stratum (1969) is perhaps more indebted to the Zapotec ruins of Monte Alban. But these types of superficial formal likenesses are rather like the optical illusions done with smoke and mirrors. Writing of earthworks, Rosalind Krauss warned against the “sleight of hand” that aims to build “genealogies out of data of millennia rather than decades. Stonehenge, the Nazca lines, the Toltec ballcourts, Indian burial mounds—anything at all could be hauled into court to bear witness to this work’s connection to history.”7 More fundamental to Smithson’s attraction to the Yucatán and the Maya is an abstract temporal question that does not rest at all on real or perceived similarities of form. Consider Smithson’s dialogue from the following cross-cultural encounter between ancient Mexico and the West—an imagined exchange between Coatlicue and Chronos. Coatlicue: You have no future. Chronos: And you have no past. Coatlicue: That doesn’t leave us much of a present. Chronos: Maybe we are doomed to being merely some “lightyears” with missing tenses. Coatlicue: Or two inefficient memories.8 Although the gist of this back-and-forth remains unclear, it clearly points toward some type of temporal conundrum. References to timelessness abound, but not the usual type of platitudes about the eternal mysteries of the timeless ruins found in the travel guides on the car’s back seat. Here, Smithson’s prose—described by one commentator as “equal parts concrete poetry and hallucinatory rant”9—does more to befuddle than elucidate. In the case of these mirrors, they are (Smithson states) timeless: “If one wishes 106

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Fig. 18   Hotel Palenque (slide 1), Robert Smithson, 1969 (courtesy James Cohan Gallery, New York, Copyright © Estate of Robert Smithson/Licensed by VAGA, New York).

to be ingenious enough to erase time one requires mirrors.”10 Erase time? What is Smithson’s temporal agenda? This all becomes clearer upon leaving the peninsula and arriving at the town of Santo Domingo Palenque, Chiapas—a small community that offers services and accommodations for tourists visiting the nearby archaeological site known simply as Palenque. Here, Smithson (like the nineteenth-century adventurers his narrative references) “discovered” a “Maya site” that held an uncanny fascination for him. The ruins he found, however, were not those of an ancient Maya city but of a dilapidated twentieth-century hotel. At first glance, the hotel seems an utterly prosaic example of Mexican vernacular architecture—an unremarkable structure that clearly reached its the aoristic maya


current state only after multiple remodelings, renovations that left traces throughout of distinct earlier stages of the building’s life. Smithson shot numerous slides of the hotel, and presented these at a lecture for the architecture program at the University of Utah in 1972. Whereas his account of the mirror installations channels the voice of the nineteenth-century travel narrative, here—in his close reading of the hotel’s architecture—he replicates and parodies the interpretations archaeologists develop of ancient sites, at the same time poking fun at the tour guides, travel books, and illustrated slide lectures that popularize and bastardize these explanations for the general public. Smithson’s appropriation of the didactic slide lecture on Mesoamerican architecture is ironic, even comedic, yet his ends here involve much more than just a laugh. What he offers is an interpretation of a prevalent form of popular architecture that (prior to Learning from Las Vegas, published in 1972) would almost always escape any type of serious commentary or analysis—a building clearly erected without the aid (or interference) of trained architects and devoid of all architectural pretensions. In Smithson’s analysis, however, the building merits scrutiny and celebration as a contemporary concrete expression of an enduring Maya sensibility: “[T]his hotel is built with the same spirit with which the Maya built their temples.”11 Unlike the tour guides, or the archaeologists whose discourses they mimic, Smithson again disavows any understanding of the modern ruins that he has “discovered”—much as he did in his “Incidents of MirrorTravel.” Instead, he repeatedly asserts that the hotel’s architecture is “completely random” and reflects “no logic at all”—or perhaps some logic that is simply “impossible to fathom.” The structure, according to our interlocutor, “defies all functionalism”—although he speculates that the hotel’s “intertwining snaking” structure may reflect Palenque’s designation as the “City of the Snake.” Multiple parallels link features of the hotel and those of the nearby “real” (which is to say, pre-Columbian) ruins: the stairway likened to that within the nearby Temple of the Inscriptions (in the ancient site of Palenque), the rooms compared to the burial chambers, and the hotel’s empty pool equated with the sacred cenotes (used for human sacrifices) from the peninsula. But more than simply an opportunity for a sustained series of jokes, the Hotel Palenque holds a real fascination for Smithson— and it is without irony he states that the building is “more interesting” and shows “more imagination” than anything out of the contemporary art world in New York City. 108

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The reasons this vernacular construction is so “interesting,” Smithson’s lecture suggests, are multiple. In part, it is the “unconscious dangerous violence lurking everywhere” that attracts Smithson. Citing Maya rites of infant sacrifice and Hart Crane’s untimely end by his own hand just off the coast of Mexico, Smithson claims that there is a “concealed violence about the landscape.” Linking the project to his earlier celebration of “non-sites” amid mundane locations in the wastelands of industrial New Jersey, there is—Smithson says—a “sense of de-architecturalization that pervades.” This claim is supported by his enumeration of vernacular building techniques often visible throughout Mexico, and by more idiosyncratic features resulting from the building’s multiple renovations. As is often done in these modest, working-class constructions, rebar is left extending though roofs or walls in anticipation of future additions. It is an architecture of optimism, anticipating its own amendment. Abandoned sections of the structures are not dismantled in their entirety but left partially intact, to be cannibalized later for building materials. Repairs and revisions are left visible—exposed reminders of the structure’s continuous evolution. Like the ancient pyramids—to which new layers, renovations, and expansions were added with each new ruler—the hotel is always an unfinished building, perpetually in flux. Throughout the structure, there is never any room for “fussy compulsive over-meticulousness.” Finally, there is for Smithson also a special relationship to time evident in the structure. He repeatedly identifies elements that suggest either “some kind of permanence,” or “transitory time,” or perhaps even “a sensuous sense of something extending in and out of time.” Prior to his travels in the Yucatán, Smithson had meditated on the setback forms of Manhattan skyscrapers—and while apparently unaware of the writings of Francisco Mujica and Alfred C. Bossom, he correctly identified their links to Mesoamerican pyramids and ancient ziggurats. From his 1963 essay “Ultramodernism,” it seems that it was little more than intuition that led him not simply to make this connection but to believe that these were fragments of a larger history—of a different strain of modernism, distinct from the ruling orthodoxies of Clement Greenberg as these appeared in Partisan Review, The Nation, Art News, and other periodicals. Improbably, Smithson identifies this alternate modernism with Latin America—specifically with “the Ultraísmo of the thirties,”12 a group of vanguard poets in Spain and Argentina. As we saw in Chapter 3, many of the participants in the various Latin American vanguards were as enchanted with the idea of progress as the aoristic maya


modernists anywhere else—but Smithson proposes that so-called “ultramodernism” discards linear history in favor of repetition and seriality: “[T]he Ultraist does not reject the archaic multi-cycles of the infinite. He does not make history in order to impress those who believe in one history.”13 The characterization of this Spanish-language vanguard of the early twentieth century is vague and peppered with some fundamental factual errors (Ultraísmo did not make it into the 1930s, it effectively ended with the last issue of Martín Fierro in 1928; nor was it a Latin American movement in its origins but rather imported to Argentina by another devotee of ruins, Jorge Luis Borges), but Smithson is quick to concede his ignorance, sounding a little like Edward H. Thompson writing on Atlantis: “[W]hat is fascinating about South America is that practically nothing is known about it. Like India it is a tangle of endless unknown or lost cities—look in any World Atlas.”14 Smithson’s omnivorous readings (apparently restricted to Englishlanguage sources—a major handicap here) do not seem to have led him to Ultra, Prisma, Proa, Grecia, Alfar, Plural, or any of the other early twentieth-century small literary magazines in which the Ultraistas published their manifesto and poetry. In addition, Smithson misses the mark by not recognizing the considerable contributions of artists and thinkers outside Latin America who also do “not reject the archaic multi-cycles of the infinite”—alongside which, in retrospect, his own contributions rightly belong. What Smithson does recognize very clearly, however, is that Latin American avant-gardes can challenge the unilinear structure and geographical blinders that define most accounts of modernism’s history. The direction of “art-time” since the fifties tended toward France, along the line of progress from the avant-garde, but that line appears to be shifting away from France and Europe towards South America and India. In fact the one line of the avant-garde is forking, breaking and becoming many lines.15 One of those forks leads to a Pan-American modernism that imagines and finds vindication in the aoristic Maya. Anita Brenner pinpoints this aoristic vision when she writes of Jean Charlot. An apprentice archæologist reading Charlot’s conclusions about the Mayas whose art he records and describes, will be discomforted; because these conclusions, which tally with data found by 110

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respectable archæological method of pick and shovel, are based on the unasserted calm view that all artists think alike . . .16 This aoristic paradigm is rooted in a model of time that sounds strikingly like some of Smithson’s neo-Maya mirrored sculptures—a reflective geometric form of his Four-sided Vortex (1965) or, in his words, time made visible as “an infinite pyramid with a mirrored interior.”17 The story of this “tangle of endless unknown or lost cities” that is PanAmerican modernism intersects at points with the more familiar narratives of modern art in the New World: the one José Luis Cuevas champions— in which the outward-looking artists of the ruptura follow his lead and topple the prevailing tenets of second-generation muralism and its clichéd evocations of the Indian—or the story of “how New York stole the idea of modern art” from the European centers devastated by World War II (an idea that it in turn exported to the rest of the Americas).18 In Olivier Debroise’s filmic essay Un banquete en Tetlapayac (Banquet in Tetlapayac, 2000), on Eisenstein’s Mexican experience, Cuauhtémoc Medina speaks of a “secret history” connecting the dissident wing of surrealism (associated with the periodical Documents and Georges Bataille) to Latin America and the muralists, and linked through the tropical experiments of Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier. Eisenstein’s unfinished Mexican film, Medina continues, is a key text for that history—the censored connection between transgressive European avantgarde and a Mexican aesthetic undercurrent derailed by the state-sponsored nationalist project and Soviet totalitarianism. Like César Paternosto’s explorations of the shared Andean sources of abstract art of North and South America, it is a chapter of this history that (as Smithson understood intuitively if imprecisely) complicates and revises the dominant narratives of modernism and that—while not precisely hidden in the buried archives of lost cities—is one that has been explored only partially.19 More specifically, when looking at modernist primitivism it can be seen that Latin American vanguards were at least as likely to use primitivist motifs as their European counterparts—and to use these in very diverse ways, as evidenced not only by many of the examples previously discussed here but by Mário de Andrade’s Macunaíma (1928), the Ultraist quest for “prehistoric” poetry, Oswald de Andrade’s redeployment of images of cannibalism in his antropofagia manifestos, and Joaquín Torres García’s evocation of ancient Andean foundations for his constructivism (to name but a few examples). the aoristic maya


Fig. 19   Surrealist map of the world, from Contemporáneos.

The simple binaries, such as Smithson’s suggestion that the Western penchant for linear progress and evolutionary narratives of development contrasts with the Latin American appreciation of cycles and repetitions, fall apart after even the most cursory scrutiny. But what also becomes apparent is that there is a strand of modernism—rooted in Latin America but conceived by practitioners of many nationalities—that in Vicky Unruh’s words celebrates “the very old that was also very new: a primeval world of unprocessed experience where inaugural events . . . had happened once and could therefore, paradoxically, happen again and again, always for the very first time.”20 Although I do not mean to outline the course of this “secret history,” I will look closely at two films that exemplify some of the preoccupations as well as differences within this particular strand of modernist primitivism—that of the aoristic Maya.

Racial Memories

An exceptionally centralized movement, in terms of leadership and geography, surrealism paradoxically remained forever fascinated with the margins. Southeastern Mexico figured large in the surrealist imagination. A surrealist world map from 1929 erases the (insufficiently surreal) lower 48 states and most of Canada and divides the North American continent 112

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into three segments: Alaska, Labrador, and Mexico. In each case, it was the indigenous culture of the place that earned this recognition. The Mexico surrealists celebrated was an imaginary one. Upon his arrival, the discrepancy between the primitive alterity he had expected and the modernization he encountered led Artaud to condemn the country as insufficiently Mexican. In his Messages revolutionnaires, Artaud wrote of the art he saw as prevailing: “I have come to Mexico to search for the indigenous art and not an imitation of European art” [“Je suis venu au Mexique pour y chercher l’art indigene et non une imitation de l’art europeen”].21 Most of his cohorts were not as harsh in their judgments, and the landmarks of the surrealist movement’s engagement with Mexico include the 1939 Mexican issue of Minotaur magazine (no. 12–13); the 1940 surrealist exhibition at the Galeria Arte Mexicano (organized by Breton during his visit); Breton’s Mexico exhibition at the Galerie Renou et Colle (1939) in Paris; the long exiles of Leonora Carrington, César Moro, and Benjamin Péret; and Wolfgang Paalen’s short-lived periodical Dyn (1942–1944)—which opened by announcing its departure from surrealism but never really strayed very far from the fold.22 The surrealist text I have chosen to submit to analysis here is hardly a canonical or celebrated one, and comes from a curious place marginal to the universe of surrealist cultural production—Hollywood. Alfred Lewin’s 1958 feature film The Living Idol translates the surrealist fascination with “primitive” ritual and mythology and with the pre-Conquest Yucatán into the form of a feature-length narrative film. Hollywood and surrealism’s mutual fascination was conflicted but long-standing. Early on, the European vanguard had identified and celebrated the unwittingly surreal elements in the work of a handful of treasured stars and directors—such as Mack Sennett, Todd Browning, Merian Cooper, and Ernest Schoedsack. The dreamlike state of the film spectator, awake yet fully immersed in a collective hallucination; the ability of the film camera to render a poetic, transcendent value to the most common of objects; and the opportunity to contradict the prevailing values of elite “good taste” all made popular film appealing. Beyond this, some small number of individuals from the surrealists’ inner circle found themselves employed in Hollywood at one point or another—where they often discovered that their working relationship as hired contractors proved thornier than a detached appreciation from a safe distance across the Atlantic. Salvador Dalí created the backdrop of floating eyeballs for the dream sequences from Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945), the aoristic maya


and even collaborated with Walt Disney on the aborted short animation Destino (1946, completed 2003). Man Ray, who sat out World War II in Los Angeles, captures some of the atmosphere of mutual reservations in a passage from a letter to a friend: “Tonight I address the audience at a showing of my old films. It’s not so much fun in Hollywood. They watch you as you talk, saying ‘screwball’ to themselves, and note carefully any leads that can be redigested into bread and margarene [sic].”23 More often than not, it was a relationship that functioned best when it remained an unreciprocated, disengaged admiration from afar. Joseph Cornell, hidden in his basement studio in Queens, created fetishes out of the glamorous faces of Garbo or Bacall—but his was a sensibility that had no place in the world of commercial film production, as was the case with most of his band of outsiders. Alfred Lewin occupies the oxymoronic category of Hollywood intellectual, and holds an exceptional (even unique) place in the story of the encounter of surrealism and Hollywood filmmaking. Unlike the experimental shorts made by Germaine Dulac, Man Ray, and their cohorts, Lewin’s films have coherent plots built on characters, a series of causal narrative links that lead to a resolution, and all of the other characteristics of the classic Hollywood narrative—although these are occasionally disrupted by some brief and bizarre interjection of the fantastic. At their best, they strive for a surrealist cinema akin to Buñuel’s Mexican films: created within the boundaries of the commercial industry of narrative cinema but disrupting those circumscriptions with the incongruous incursion of illogical and rhapsodic elements. Unlike the films of the Marx brothers or Henry Hathaway that some from the surrealist group frequently championed, Lewin’s were movies made by a director fully aware of surrealist precepts. Lewin was a Hollywood insider, a successful screenwriter and producer (or associate producer) of films—including The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941), The Good Earth (Sidney Franklin, 1937), and Oscar winner (for best picture) Mutiny on the Bounty (Frank Lloyd, 1935). After graduate studies in literature and economics at Harvard (M.A., 1916) and Columbia (A.B.D.) and short periods of employment as film critic for a Jewish newspaper and junior faculty at the University of Missouri, Lewin arrived in Southern California in 1922. Within a brief period of time, he progressed from reader to screenwriter to head of MGM’s story department and one of MGM’s producers. Except for short periods at Paramount and as head of his own production company, Loew-Lewin Productions, he remained associated with MGM for more than thirty years. 114

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Fig. 20A   The Living Idol, Albert Lewin, 1958 (courtesy University of Southern California, Cinematic Arts Library).

Lewin had a passionate interest in surrealism, which found expression in his personal collection of artworks (paintings by Leonora Carrington, Alice Rahon, Wolfgang Paalen, Paul Delvaux, and Remedios Varo, as well as many pre-Columbian artifacts) and in lifelong friendships with Man Ray (who he met at a dinner given by Walter and Louise Arensberg), Dorothea Tanning, and Max Ernst. Modernist primitivism was also an enduring topic of interest. Lewin’s first directorial effort was an adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s fictionalized biography of Paul Gauguin, The Moon and Sixpence (1942). Beyond this, in the handful of films he directed he sought to introduce self-consciously surrealist elements: preexisting or specially commissioned artworks integrated into the mise-en-scène (e.g., the jarring insertion of a color shot of an Ernst painting spliced into the middle of the black-andwhite period piece set in the nineteenth century, The Private Affairs of Bel Ami, 1947), compositional quotations in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) that borrow from the paintings of Ernst and Giorgio de Chirico and from the photographs of Man Ray, and the aforementioned incursions into the aoristic maya


the fantastic (all at the expense of the Hollywood narrative norms these films generally respect). In addition to these eccentric interjections and compositional quotations, thematically all of his films reflect an enduring interest in a host of surrealist preoccupations: dreams, amour fou, the irrational, cruelty, the “primitive,” perversity, and the subconscious mind. Lewin’s twin fascinations with surrealism and the ancient Maya come together in his last film as a director, The Living Idol (1957)—a picture he described as “a high-brow horror film.”24 It was, by Hollywood standards, a personal project—one on which he was not simply the director but associate producer, scenarist, and screenwriter. In Lewin’s own words, “[I] set out to do nearly everything myself except play the romantic lead. Twenty-five years in pictures have left me too white-haired and wrinkled for that.”25 As Lewin narrates it, the production of the film can be attributed to irrationality, whimsy, and chance. The night my Picture of Dorian Gray opened in New York, I went to a party. There a fortune teller told me I was to take a trip to Mexico. It was a thought that never had entered my mind. But she also flattered me outrageously, and, being a vain man, I wanted her to be remarkably right about me. To such lengths did my vanity go, I went home, packed a couple of bags and set off for Mexico to prove her right.26 That trip took him to the Yucatán, to Chichén Itzá and Uxmal, where the idea of The Living Idol was hatched. The Living Idol opens at Chichén Itzá, where a team of archaeologists is excavating under the direction of Manuel Acosta and Alfred Stoner. The latter, a professor from Mexico’s National University (UNAM), has unearthed the hidden interior stairway within the Castillo—which leads to the cramped interior chamber housing the spectacular jade-encrusted statute of a red jaguar. When Professor Stoner brings a visiting North American journalist, Terry Matthews, and his colleague’s daughter Juanita to see this discovery, the young woman (“of pure Indian ancestry”) reacts fearfully— fleeing in terror down the pyramid’s narrow stairs and running back to the expedition’s base camp in a panic. Later that day, the cause of her reaction provokes disagreement and debate. Manuel faults his friend Alfred for not having adequately prepared his daughter for what she was about to see. Professor Stoner, apparently already notorious among his co-workers for his penchant for “unscientific” theories, proposes a more implausible 116

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Fig. 20B   The Living Idol, Albert Lewin, 1958 (courtesy University of Southern California, Cinematic Arts Library).

explanation: Juanita bears within her a “racial memory” of her ancestors’ practice of human sacrifice to the fearsome jaguar god. The following evening, at a village fiesta attended by the archaeologists, a masked Maya dancer in a jaguar costume shows a bizarre attraction to Juanita—further fueling the professor’s unempirical speculation on an ancient connection linking her to the wild cat. Juanita declares her love for Terry, and Manuel gives them his blessings. Terry states that he must go to Korea to work as a war correspondent, but vows to return to be with her. Before he leaves Chichén Itzá, however, a tragic accident interrupts the excavations: a giant stele, covered with ancient carvings of a jaguar devouring a human heart, falls on Manuel—killing him and making Juanita an orphan. Professor Stoner and his wife Elena adopt Juanita and return to Mexico City. Upon returning from his Korean assignment, Terry learns from Elena that Juanita has been afflicted with bouts of melancholy—diagnosed as “loss-of-soul sickness”—and that Professor Stoner has become increasingly preoccupied with his research on the practice of human sacrifice. Juanita and Terry go to the zoo in Chapultepec Park, where they find the professor the aoristic maya


speaking in Maya to the captive jaguar named Balaam. The animal becomes extremely agitated at the sight of Juanita. Juanita and Terry decide to marry and announce their plans. At the newly inaugurated Ciudad Universitaria campus of the National University (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), Stoner lectures on the global history of human sacrifice—using slides of watercolors by Carlos Mérida to illustrate his overview. The professor asks his adopted daughter Juanita to join him at the lectern and to don the garb of a Maya maiden ready for sacrifice to the jaguar god. Juanita reluctantly agrees, and the film then takes us from the lecture auditorium to reconstruction of the ancient Mesoamerican rite (or perhaps a flashback of Juanita’s “racial memory”) of the human sacrifice that ends with her fainting at the front of the class. That evening, the professor seeks to test his unorthodox hypothesis with a bold—if potentially murderous— experiment. Back after hours at the Chapultepec zoo, he releases Balaam from its cage. The fierce feline promptly mauls the scholar and takes off for the professor’s house in the south of the city, where Juanita sleeps obliviously. Troubled by the scene at the professor’s afternoon lecture, Terry heads to the same destination to check on his fiancée. After transversing the National University’s modernist neo-Mexica campus, the animal enters the professor’s residential compound—where Terry wrestles the beast to its death, stabbing the animal with an ancient obsidian blade that had been stored in the living room (in a scene with several shots that paraphrase Man Ray’s photographs and paintings). The professor expires from the jaguar’s wounds, and Terry and Juanita marry in a sumptuous Catholic ceremony full of pomp and ritual. In contrast to Alazraki’s Raíces, Diego Rivera’s murals, Amábilis’s Parque las Américas, and so many of the other incarnations of Maya modernism considered previously, The Living Idol is not concerned with questions specific to Mexico. The incessant references to the sacrifice of Iphigenia, William Blake, Saint George and the dragon, Plato, Abraham’s substitution of a ram for Isaac in Genesis, and so on all indicate that the dilemma presented is to be understood as universal—not uniquely local or national in any way. Lewin is indisputably a director who liked the Freudian content of his films so insistently evident that it can only just barely qualify as the repressed subtext. The specter of Doctor Freud haunts all of Lewin’s cinema, and a penchant for a ham-fisted psychoanalysis is fully evident in The Living Idol. The film is greatly indebted to Freud’s celebrated 1919 essay “The Uncanny.” That text begins with a long etymological exploration of the word uncanny (unheimlich) and its equivalent in a number of languages—an 118

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exploration that leads to Freud’s assertion that what distinguishes the “uncanny” from other unfamiliar or frightening things is a link to its opposite, “heimlich,” translated as “familiar” or “belonging to the home.” In Freud’s words, “heimlich is a word the meaning of which develops towards an ambivalence, until it finally coincides with its opposite, unheimlich.”27 As opposed to other types of frightening things, the unheimlich is at once familiar and startling. This insight leads to a discussion of doubles, building on Otto Rank’s study of doppelgängers in literature, and an analysis of a variety of stories about lifelike automatons and carved animals that magically come to life. Paraphrasing Rank, Freud states that the double “was originally an insurance against the destruction [of] the ego,” or “a preservation against extinction.”28 Juanita’s doubling is at the center of The Living Idol. In the professor’s library, referred to in the film as “the museum,” he keeps a Maya bust (presumably recovered during his excavations at Chichén Itzá) that bears an uncanny yet undeniable resemblance to Juanita. The blue paint from the pyramid’s corridor that once adorned the human sacrifices and then brushes off on Juanita’s dress centuries later, the headdress she dons during the professor’s lecture, and her role as human offering to the jaguar god in the extended flashback sequence all lead us to believe that in ancient times she was a Maya sacrificial victim. The jaguar similarly is a direct echo of Freud’s text. One of the examples Freud uses in his analysis of the uncanny is a “thoroughly silly story”29 that appeared in Strand Magazine about a young couple who move into a furnished apartment. Among their furnishings is a table adorned with carved crocodiles, which in time come to life. It is the stone figure discovered in the depths of Chichén Itzá’s Castillo that comes to life—first as the masked dancer at the Yucatecan fiesta who menaces Juanita, and then of course in the form of the captive Balaam—that fatally wounds the professor and hunts down Juanita in its instinctive search for a virginal sacrificial offering. The professor, convinced of the limits of ra­­ tional explanations, believes all of this evidence of reincarnation and marks in his copy of Plato’s Phaedo the passage that serves as the film’s epigraph: “A soul can wear out many bodies.” Lewin’s case is a more modest one, arguing for the enduring power of myth to shape experience and to access the repressed with its eternal archetypes. Lewin’s film, as atypical as it is of both Hollywood and surrealist cinema, points to the contradictions of that artistic movement’s politics. Emphatically anticolonialist, enthusiastic in the embrace of non-Western aesthetics, surrealism nonetheless replicates certain racial—and racist—paradigms that the aoristic maya


Fig. 20C   One of Carlos Mérida’s illustrations for The Living Idol, Albert Lewin, 1958 (courtesy University of Southern California, Cinematic Arts Library).

seem to have been too enduring and too embedded to be shaken off. Juanita, in spite of her university education and her upbringing as a distinguished academic’s child, remains an impulsive, irrational, sexualized, and melancholic figure—driven more by her racial memories and predispositions than by reason or thought. Although the psychoanalytical impulses and interracial romance aim to be liberatory, the end result unwittingly replicates predominant racist assumptions without questioning or challenging them. This enduring essentialism, as well as the concept of the aoristic Maya, is perhaps the link to another example of Maya modernism—one much more artistically successful, if ultimately ill fated: Sergei Eisenstein’s ¡Qué Viva México!

Ecstasy at Izamal: Aoristic Maya Modernism Frustrated

For its influence and artistic achievement, Sergei Eisenstein’s aborted Mexi­ can film may well deserve the dubious superlatives that have been hung on it. One writer called it “the greatest film never made.”30 Several film historians have detailed the unfortunate chronicle of how Eisenstein’s producer, 120

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Upton Sinclair, halted the film’s extraordinarily over-budget and behindschedule production after four-fifths of the shooting was completed—and how the director and his team were then deprived of the opportunity to edit the filmed material.31 These accounts clarify the miserable dynamics of what Upton Sinclair characterized as “a shotgun wedding between Moscow and Hollywood,” and chronicle how a particularly unhappy combination of incompatible personalities thrust into unpredictable circumstances conspired to create a tense situation almost sure to end badly.32 There is also a wealth of archival material chronicling the more fortuitous encounter of the visiting filmmakers from Moscow and the Mexican avant-garde. The visiting Russians had productive and sustained interactions with national artists and intellectuals deeply invested in the development of Maya modernism. The acrimonious denouement of this aborted film project remained a source of much bitterness throughout the remainder of Eisenstein’s life. Writing in 1936, four years after his return to the Soviet Union, he commented: “I am slowly recovering from the blow of my Mexican experience. I have never worked on anything with such enthusiasm and what has happened to it is the greatest crime, even if I have to share the guilt.”33 Given that Eisenstein is known, above all else, for the genius of his editing—and that he never had a chance to cut his Mexican footage—one might well ask: Why choose this as an object for analysis and study, given that the film was never completed in anything like a definitive, authorized version?34 Part of the answer lies in the fact that Eisenstein’s unfinished film is arguably the single most important text in the development of the style of the classic Mexican cinema of the so-called “Golden Age.”35 Stuck with what he described as “a herd of white elephants in our backyard,”36 Upton Sinclair sought to recoup his investment by selling off fragments of the footage to a variety of commercial enterprises, which edited and released their own unauthorized versions of the material—sometimes presenting it as Eisenstein’s film, and in other cases simply redeploying it as stock footage in the context of other films. In spite of the indignant condemnations and boycotts by Eisenstein loyalists, some of these unauthorized versions circulated widely.37 “To Mr. Eisenstein’s vast army of followers,” Upton Sinclair states disingenuously in the opening intertitle of one of the bastard children hewn from the dailies, “Death Day is dedicated, with the assurance that it will be followed by more of his great epics of Mexican life and lore.”38 Today, the filmmaker Lutz Becker is engaged in an ambitious attempt to gather all of the aoristic maya


the scattered material shot for the film in order to create what presents itself as a definitive restoration. As this ambitious archival quest suggests, the significance of Eisenstein’s Mexican project goes beyond the film’s place in the development of the national cinema. In examining closely the separated fragments of this unrealized masterpiece, we reach a better understanding not just of the cinematic origins of the highly compelling national iconography but the first successful translation of the Mexican muralists’ aesthetic onto film. It represents, I will argue, not only the road not traveled by the nationalist vein of Maya modernism but a significant revision of the familiar paradigms of the vegetative and the progressive Maya—both of which it considers, only to reject them in favor of an aoristic image rooted in a celebration of elemental formlessness. Central to the development of that iconography were the experiences of Eisenstein’s group in the Yucatán, and especially the encounter with the ancient ruins of the Yucatecan Maya and the modernday descendants of the builders. Although the film itself is absent, there is a wealth of material that supplements the various unauthorized edits of this footage and reveal the general outline of the project, the evolution of Eisenstein’s thinking over the course of the production, and the ideas and interactions that informed its conception. These include notebooks, drawings, photographs, letters, eyewitness accounts of the production, and Katherine Anne Porter’s novella Hacienda (a thinly fictionalized account of the shooting of the “Magueyes” segment on an agave plantation in the state of Hidalgo). In short, there exists an ample and varied trail of rich documentation that complements the film material. These documents do not simply help reconstruct the doomed film project, they reveal that it was in the Yucatán that Eisenstein’s project fixed on the ecstatic—a concept that refocused attention away from Marxist narratives of the dialectical materialist progression from one mode of production to the next and onto a subversive transculturalism. At the beginning of the project, Eisenstein had little knowledge of Mexico beyond the stereotypical images of what he anticipated he would find there. As he left Los Angeles for Mexico, he told reporters, “Mexico is primitive.” By contrast, in the United States “there are motor cars and miniature golf courses . . . On the Tom Thumb golf courses there is symbolized the history of mankind.”39 His understanding not only of Mexico but of the mechanisms and outline of the “history of mankind”—as represented in film, on miniature golf courses or elsewhere, and in the binary opposition of the primitive and the industrial that predicated this comment—all 122

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underwent a profound transformation as a result of Eisenstein’s encounter with the Maya. Eisenstein went to Mexico after a series of frustrating encounters in Hollywood—an unhappy chapter of his life that has been characterized not unfairly as “the old, familiar tale of the artist among philistines.”40 On the eve of his departure for the United States from Monteparnasse, a journalist conducting an interview with Eisenstein spotted his copy of Lucien Lévy-Bruhl’s La mentalité primitive. When asked about this reading material, the filmmaker claimed that it was preparation for his anticipated encounter with another type of modern barbarian—the “cinematic shark” of the California studios.41 Alas, the sharks of Hollywood got the best of Eisenstein. Sinclair’s offer to produce an ill-defined feature in Mexico was Eisenstein’s last and best chance to make a film before returning to the Soviet Union, where his prolonged absence had already incurred Stalin’s ire and suspicion.42 Brought to Hollywood under a contract with Paramount Studios, Eisenstein had met with Charlie Chaplin, Jesse Lasky, and many others— always in search of an opportunity to direct. The time in Southern California also brought Eisenstein in touch with Walt Disney, whose animations became a particularly intriguing object of intellectual scrutiny. Eisenstein’s half-year in the place he called “Californica” was a fruitless period in which he was hounded by red-baiters and anti-Semites and locked interminably in unproductive negotiations with nescient studio bosses. Samuel Goldwyn’s proposal to hire Eisenstein to remake Potemkin (a film without a central individual protagonist) with Ronald Coleman as the lead suggests how incompatible Soviet and Hollywood visions indeed were—not to mention the inability of the studio bosses to know what to do with the titan in their midst.43 By late 1930, it was clear that neither Eisenstein’s treatment of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy nor his adaptation of Blaise Cendrars’s L’Or (a tale of the 1849 California Gold Rush)—nor any of the five other film projects that had been under consideration or in development—were ever going to be filmed by a Hollywood studio. Released from his contract with Paramount, Eisenstein turned to Upton Sinclair for money to produce a modest film in Mexico—a “travelogue” on a subject matter poorly defined. What, precisely, that film would depict was still not at all clear at the time Eisenstein, his cinematographer Eduard Tissé, assistant Grigory V. Alexandrov, and Sinclair’s brother-in-law Hunter Kimbrough (acting as the the aoristic maya


film production’s business manager) arrived in Mexico City in December 1930. From his initial drafts and letters sent to Sinclair and the suggestions of Best Maugard and others, it is clear that the film had only the vaguest of outlines—little more than the general notion that it might use a musical structure.44 During the initial three months of their stay in Mexico, illnesses, Eisenstein’s arrest by suspicious Mexican authorities, an assignment to shoot newsreel footage of an earthquake in Oaxaca, and the lack of a clear theme for the project all conspired to delay a timely start for the film’s production. In March 1931, Eisenstein flew from Mexico City to the Yucatán. A vision of the ill-fated film project began to take shape in Mérida, where Eisenstein entered a period of extraordinary intellectual and artistic fecundity. A freehand map he sketched of the country in which the peninsula occupies a landmass comparable in size to the mainland is suggestive of the importance of Yucatán to his understanding of Mexico.45 Delayed by unfavorable weather, Eisenstein wrote a screenplay for a film about Haiti— another meditation on the “primitive.” He also resumed drawing, and filled notebook after notebook with suggestive sketches.46 In Mexico . . . I once more began to draw. And now in the correct linear style. The influence here was not so much Diego Rivera, who drew with thick, broken strokes, but rather the “mathematical” line, so dear to my heart, that is capable, by the varying movement of its unbroken lines, of a whole range of expressiveness. In my early films I was also attracted by the mathematically pure movement of montage concepts rather than the “thick” strokes of the accentuated shot. My enthusiasm of the frame, strange though it may seem, came later (incidentally, completely consistently and naturally. Remember Engels: “First attention is drawn to movement, and only afterwards to what moves.”). In Mexico, my drawing went through an inner stage of purification in its striving for a mathematically abstract and pure line. The effect is particularly telling when extremely sensual relationships between human figures, usually in some whimsical and odd situation, are drawn by means of this abstract, “intellectualized” line! . . . I repeat that the influence here is not so much Diego Rivera, although he has to a certain degree synthesized all the different forms of Mexican primitivism—from bas-reliefs of Chichén Itzá through 124

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primitive toys and ornamentation of utensils to the inimitable pages of street-song illustrations by José Guadalupe Posada. Here, it is a case of the direct influence of the primitives, which, in the course of fourteen months, I avidly sensed with my hands and eyes. Or perhaps even more the Mexican landscape’s amazingly pure linear structure. The rectangular white clothing of the peons. The circular contour of their straw hats. The felt sombreros of the hacienda guards. Be that as it may, I did a lot of drawing in Mexico.47 In the absence of a definitive edit of Eisenstein’s footage, it is these drawings—numerous, provocative, and often sexually explicit—that provide greatest insight into the vision of Mexico to be developed in the film and of the ideas it was to convey. Although a true original in both his filmmaking and in his expansive thinking, Eisenstein was nonetheless indebted to the material he encountered in his passionate consumption of all forms of visual arts and in his voracious and wide-ranging readings in anthropology, literature, art history, and many other fields. The unfinished Mexican film draws heavily on diverse traditions in Mexican and, to a lesser extent, Spanish visual arts— and is indebted to five artists in particular: David Alfaro Siqueiros, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, Jean Charlot, and José Guadalupe Posada.48 Several of these artists—as well as Agustín Aragón Leyva, Agustín Jiménez, Gabriel Fernández Ledesma, Roberto Montenegro, and other members of these bohemian circles—had a significant and sustained participation in the development of the film project, and for this reason it ought not be thought of as a Soviet film (much less an auteur’s) but as a collective enterprise that drew upon a sizable portion of an artistic vanguard in the country at that time. Just as important as the celebrated muralists is the influence of another Mexican artist, Adolfo Best Maugard, whose contributions are crucial to this discussion. Some twenty years prior to the arrival of Eisenstein in Mexico, Franz Boas and Manuel Gamio had employed Best Maugard as an artist and draftsman during an archaeological project. Best Maugard was charged with creating illustrations of the numerous ancient objects unearthed at the state-sponsored excavations of the pyramids at San Juan Teotihuacán.49 In this capacity, he produced more than two thousand drawings.50 the aoristic maya


Based on this experience, Best Maugard developed a system for illustrations he later published in his widely utilized Method for Creative Design.51 This book proposed that anyone might learn to draw through the use of seven basic elements: the spiral, the circle, the half-circle, an “S” shape, a wavy line, a zigzag line, and a straight line. These graphic elements are universal, he claims, and his guide uses examples from ancient Greek and Egyptian ceramics, tattoo patterns from Borneo, Native American beadwork, and Coptic textiles to illustrate the infinite combinations possible with these units. The book was enormously successful, and was not only translated and reprinted but adopted as the basis for public arts education in Mexico after the Revolution. Best Maugard’s Method for Creative Design significantly takes emphasis away from the draftsman’s mastery of volume and shading and establishes an accessible, populist technique for teaching illustration rooted in the pre-Cortesian Mexican past but with universal applications and associations.52 In 1930, Best Maugard was a government employee assigned to assist and supervise the visiting Russians’ production. Eisenstein used Best Maugard as an adviser on all aspects of Mexican culture. Another member of the production entourage, the historian Agustín Aragón Leyva, described Best Maugard as Eisenstein’s “counselor, mentor and guide.”53 The images in Eisenstein’s sketchbooks suggest influence by Best Maugard, and by extension of the ancient Mesoamerican aesthetics. When Eisenstein writes that while in Mexico he resumed drawing, “now in the correct linear style . . . the ‘mathematical’ line, so dear to my heart,” he is referring to Best Maugard’s method and is indeed borrowing Best Maugard’s language.54 “The student of today,” Best Maugard wrote, “approaching these primitive symbols from the civilized rather than from the savage viewpoint is able to appreciate their mathematical quality and their relation to the universal order.”55 With the “mathematical” reduction of the most varied and complex forms to the simple vocabulary of Best Maugard’s seven elements, the influence of Method for Creative Design runs throughout Eisenstein’s Mexican drawings. A Maya ball game at Chichén Itzá, for example, is rendered as a series of curvilinear players around the two co-centric circles of the stone hoop. The profile of a Maya woman is reduced to the simplest graphic elements: a few wavy lines and half-circles, a zigzag line at her feet. Best Maugard’s method, inspired by pre-Columbian designs, encouraged Eisenstein to resume drawing. But more than this secondhand influence of these ancient sources, it was the encounter of Eisenstein’s group with the ruins and the descendants of pre-Cortesian Mexico that stimulated 126

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them so. In those archaeological remains, there appeared a source of fantastic forms—an incomparable window into the prelogical workings of the drug-enhanced savage mind. There is a theory that the astounding ornamental disintegration of the forms of nature in Aztec, Toltec and Mayan architecture was either created in a marihuana trance or depict memories of one. A normal conscious condition would hardly be capable of such extravagance.56 The influence of these ancient forms is visible not only in Eisenstein’s Mexi­can drawings but in the rigorous compositions of the footage. For him, the process of drawing these spontaneous sketches was akin to automatic writing—a way of accessing the primal fixations otherwise inaccessible. Drawing was, in his mind, linked to the stream of consciousness of Molly’s soliloquy in Joyce’s Ulysses (“the bible of the new cinema”), the mutating shapes of flames, and Walt Disney’s polymorphic animated line— a shortcut that leads directly to the primal drives and desires, bypassing self-censorship, the intellect, and repression.57 Jean Charlot described Eisenstein as using drawing as a form of automatic writing without words. The link between drawing and an essentialized protean urge for self-expression is made explicit in Eisenstein’s own writings: “I was able to pull off a foxtrot with great panache, albeit a jerky, black version in Harlem . . . Where’s the link? Drawing and dancing are branches of the same tree, of course; they are just two varieties of the same impulse.”58 Elsewhere, a similar link is formulated differently— evoking the gestural quality of the animals depicted in the oldest known artwork. The stroke drawing, as a line, with only one contour, is the very earliest type of drawing—cave painting. In my opinion, this is not yet a consciously creative act, but the simple automatism of “outlining a contour.” It is a roving eye, from which movement the hand has not yet been separated (into an independent movement).59 The drawings, then, have a double link to the “primitive”—utilizing Best Maugard’s Teotihuacán-inspired technique to access the protean, inchoate forms of the subconscious mind. the aoristic maya


Eisenstein’s interest in Mexico was a long-standing one—with its seeds planted long before his group left for Hollywood. Eisenstein had befriended Diego Rivera in 1927 when the latter visited the Soviet Union to attend the commemorations of the Revolution’s tenth anniversary. Eisenstein had read John Reed’s Insurgent Mexico (1914), and had staged a play called The Mexican (based on Jack London’s eponymous short story) at the Proletcult Theater in 1920. In October, Eisenstein uses a Mexican mask within the “Gods” sequence—again in a primitivist mode—as an icon of what is characterized as “an earlier form of consciousness.”60 Seeing reproductions of Posada’s engravings in Los Angeles only reinforced Eisenstein’s resolve to make a film in Mexico. In 1930, in a Hollywood bookshop, the proprietor Odo Stadé showed Eisenstein an article from Kölnische Illustrierte on Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) and helped in the filmmaker’s pursuit of anthropological literature.61 Traveling by the train that fourteen months later took me to the land of Pancho Villa and Zapata, I made a stop to say goodbye to Stadé. I left his shop for the last time. My wallet became fifty dollars lighter. And my baggage fifteen kilos heavier. I had just added Frazer’s The Golden Bough in all its volumes: I had spent months fruitlessly hunting for it as I traveled through the different cities of Europe.62 Thus, it is clear that Eisenstein’s understanding of Mexico before leaving the country was not simply filled with commonplaces but inextricably intertwined with late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century constructions of the primitive. Eisenstein’s vision of Mexico, at the beginning of the film’s production, was filtered through the writings of Lucien Lévy-Brühl, Sir James George Frazer, Frank Hamilton Cushing, and other readings of the anthropological literature available to him at this time. Eisenstein employs the terminology of Lévy-Brühl when he writes: “It is here in the tierra caliente that I come to know the fantastic structure of pre-logical, sensuous thinking—not only from the pages of anthropological investigations, but from daily communion with the descendents of the Aztecs and Toltecs, Maya or Huichol.”63 But when Eisenstein writes in his notes that for filming they “choose skulls of primitives—more characteristic and disproportion in their faces,” 128

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the echoes are of Samuel George Morton, Francis Galton, Paul Broca, and Cesare Lombroso.64 In addition to these readings in modernist anthropological theory and beyond, ¡Qué Viva México! is indebted to other interlocutors and guides—including Anita Brenner’s Idols Behind Altars (1929), D. H. Lawrence’s The Plumed Serpent (1926), Ernest Gruening’s Mexico and Its Heritage (1928), and Carlton Beals’s The Mexican Maze (1931).65 That Eisenstein eagerly sought out these materials does not, of course, imply that he wholeheartedly accepted the theories put forward by any of these writers. The lingering colonial legacy of the anthropology earns this literature explicit criticism. He notes: [T]hese fields are thoroughly contaminated by every kind of representative of “race theory,” and even less concealed apologists for the colonial politics of imperialism . . . Usually the construction of early thought-processes is treated as a form of thinking fixed in itself once and for all, characteristic of the so-called “primitive” peoples, racially inseparable from them and susceptible to any modification whatever. In this guise it serves as a scientific apologia for the methods of enslavement to which such people are subjected by white colonizers, inasmuch as, by inference, such peoples are “after all hopeless” for culture and cultural reciprocity. In many ways even the celebrated Lévy-Bruhl is not exempt from this conception, although he does not pursue such an aim consciously.66 Eisenstein goes on to further criticize Lévy-Bruhl for employing an overly linear model—one that fails to account for the “continual shifts backwards and forwards [echoes of Smithson’s ‘archaic multi-cycles of the infinite’] independent of whether it be progressively (the movement of backward peoples toward higher achievements of culture under a socialist regime) or retrogressively (the regress of spiritual super-structures under the heel of national-socialism).”67 Post-Revolutionary Mexico, Eisenstein would come to understand, repeatedly confounds these linear models of history in a way that would bring him to doubt their veracity. Upon arriving in Mexico, Eisenstein saw in Indian society a prelapsarian sexuality-charged paradise outside history and driven by unchecked desires. Like a Victorian anthropologist innocent of Malinowski’s Argonauts, he saw in this “tribal” life pure sexuality unbridled by social encumbrances—a Gauguin-like paradise of unrepressed polymorphous urges. As Adam and the aoristic maya


Eve in their New World Eden, the Indians have no sense of their own nakedness. Here is Bartra’s myth of the pre-Cortesian Eden, “the inexhaustible source that feeds Mexican culture,” prior to the great subversion of the Conquest: The tropics responded to dreamy sensuality. The intertwining bronze bodies seemed to incarnate the latent rovings of sensuality; here in the oversaturated, overgrown graspings of the lianas, male and female bodies wreathed and intertwined like lianas; they looked in the mirror and saw how the girls of Tehuantepec looked at themselves with black, almond-shaped eyes in the surface of the dreamy tropical creeks, and admired their flowered arrays, reflecting on the golden surface of their bodies . . . The bodies breathe rhythmically and in unison. The very earth itself seems to be breathing, whitened here and there by a veil drawn modestly over a pair among the other bodies, gleaming black in the moonlight, that are not covered by anything. Bodies knowing no shame, bodies for whom what is natural for them is natural, and needs no concealment.68 Eisenstein repeatedly emphasizes that the Mexican Indian possesses an ambiguous youthful sexuality that defies binary oppositions. “My beloved raza de bronce,” he writes, is “a race of young people, where men have not yet lost their early femininity, nor the women abandoned their puerile pranks and both seem charmingly childish.”69 That undifferentiated, languid sexuality inhabits a place outside history—a timeless paradise in southeastern Oaxaca whose portrayal resonates with depictions of that region created by Miguel Covarrubias, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, and, more recently, Graciela Iturbide.70 Eisenstein makes the connection between Southern Oaxaca and the lost biblical paradise quite unequivocal, writing that “Eden was not somewhere between the Tigris and the Euphrates, but here, somewhere between the Gulf of Mexico and Tehuantepec.”71 The film’s Yucatecan prologue and Oaxacan first vignette suggest the orthodox Marxist model of history in use. The matriarchal image of Tehuantepec, with grooms exchanged for golden coins, is derived from Engels’ “The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State.” Building on Lewis Henry Morgan’s Ancient Society, or Researches in the Lines of Human Progress from Savagery Through Barbarism to 130

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Civilization (1877, hardly at the forefront of anthropological theory by Eisenstein’s day, although it had been when Engels published his text in 1884), Engels had proposed that “women occupied not only a free but also a highly respected position among all savages and all barbarians of the lower and middle stages and partly even of the upper stage.”72 Eisenstein’s initial schema for the film embraces this concept, and depicts the Oaxacan Indians as innocent of both patriarchal and capitalist oppression. In positioning the non-Western “primitive” subject in an ahistorical paradise, Eisenstein indulges in a recurring Western fallacy described by Johannes Fabian as “a persistent and systematic tendency to place the referent(s) of anthropology in a time other than the present occupied by the producer of anthropological discourse.”73 In the case of the Yucatecan Maya of 1931, this fiction flew in the face of the immediate political reality. Eisenstein’s stay in Mérida coincided with a particularly traumatic time in the region’s history—one with dire consequences for the Maya population. This was the direct result of broad historical processes and the evolving shape of dependency and neocolonialism, precisely what is excluded from the prologue. Market prices for henequen—the fiber that is the region’s sole export—fell to an all-time low, in part due to the competing production from plantations in British colonial Africa and Java that reduced the peninsula’s market share from a near monopoly to one third.74 The global depression of the 1930s hit the Yucatán hard, and starvation in rural areas forced many Maya to Mérida—where they could be seen begging for employment or food. In spite of these traumatic conditions he encountered—historical products of the Yucatán’s dependent position in a global economy—Eisenstein writes in his script an introductory sequence (shot at the Maya ruins of Chichén Itzá) that makes unambiguous a sense of timelessness via the frozen profiles of petrified Indians. Time in the prologue is eternity. It might be today. It might as well be 20 years ago. Might be a thousand . . . The people bear resemblance to the stone images, for those images represent the faces of their ancestors.75 This passage accompanies footage of Yucatecan Maya actors, posing so as to highlight their resemblance to the sculpted stone figures at Chichén the aoristic maya


Itzá. This pairing repeats a particularly significant trope that with its balanced composition of a carved relief and youthful face similarly shaped anticipates Manuel Álvarez Bravo’s Maya Boy of Tulum (1942) and other variants discussed in Chapter 1. If the Tehuanas are granted the vivacity of their jubilant tropical sexuality, the Maya are petrified—exiled even from these ahistorical pleasures and rendered immobile and eternal, like the carvings of their ancestors. As Marx said of Asia, these Maya “fell asleep in history.”76 Eisenstein would soon revise this characterization, but his raw footage and the anticipated film both began deeply invested in the paradigm described in Chapter 1 as the “vegetative Maya”—that of living, human fossils excluded from all historical processes. Eisenstein also toyed with another of the paradigms analyzed previously—that of the grand narrative of progress toward a Maya modernity. The plot Upton Sinclair proposed about the “Mexican lad brought up in a mountain-village . . . impelled to go out and see the world” and fleeing

Fig. 21a   Left to right: Grigory Alexandrov, Sergei Eisenstein, Walt Disney, and Eduard Tissé (courtesy of the Lilly Library at Indiana University, Bloomington).


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“some cruel or senseless tribal rite” to find “modern science and American ideas and ways” reproduces Western mythologies of the progress from savagery to civilization (such as those described in Chapter 3).77 This mythology was not at all alien to Eisenstein, who announced prior to leaving California that his attraction rested in part in his perception that in Mexico “the struggle of progress is still very real.”78 His previous film, The General Line (1929, released with changes insisted upon by Stalin as Old and New)—a drama about Soviet agricultural policy—had tried this terrain previously. Although the film’s prologue positions the contemporary Maya as living fossils, suspended outside history, the concluding sequence of the film revises this by bringing the Indian into modernity—resolving any contradictions or conflicts that may have existed between being modern and being Indian. Following Eisenstein’s break with Sinclair and return to the Soviet Union, it was this paradigm that structured the first unauthorized version. As Sinclair wrote, “[O]ur picture will portray the social evolution of Mexico from ancient times to the present time when it emerges as a modern progressive country of liberty and opportunity.”79 The formal compositions of the film’s opening at Chichén Itzá—with their deep focus, strong diagonals, and low camera angles—are echoed in the footage used as the conclusion of the version known as Thunder Over Mexico. One treatment describes the epilogue as “show[ing] modern, progressive Mexico with its art, industry and other forms of progress which result from the Revolution . . . a liberated people and a highly modern civilization.”80 Again the indigenous faces are placed in the foreground, and in the background—in place of the ruins of Chichén Itzá—the smokestacks of modern industrialized Mexico. Eisenstein’s script describes the sequence. Modern . . . Civilized . . . Industrial Mexico appears on the screen. Highways, dams, railways . . . The bustle of a big city. New machinery. New houses. New people. Aviators. Chauffeurs. Engineers. Officers. Technicians. the aoristic maya


Students. Agricultural experts . . . Life, activity, work of new, energetic people  .  .  .  but if you look closer, you will behold in the land and in the cities the same faces— Faces that bear close resemblance to those who held funeral of antiquity in Yucatan, those who danced in Tehuantepec; those who sang the Alabado behind the tall walls, those who danced in queer costumes around the temple, those who fought and died in battles of revolution. The same faces— But different people. A different country, A new, civilized nation.81 Here again is the narrative of Maya progress—the redemption of the Indians through a process of industrialization that brings them into the modern age. It is not simply that Mexico has become the industrial but that it is the same brown people, with their “characteristic disproportionate” faces, who operate these industries. Just as the faces are the same, so too are the compositions—echoing those of the prologue at Chichén Itzá and of the Best Maugard–inflected play of curves, diagonals, triangles, and zigzags. Eisenstein’s stay in Mexico transformed his model of historical change, as James Goodwin has argued.82 After filming the ahistoric “vegetative Indian” sequences of Chichén Itzá and Tehuantepec and the concluding the “same faces—but different people—a different country” sequence (either of which complies with Marxist models of social organization and change), Eisenstein—stimulated by his encounter with the Maya—tentatively proposed a vision that contradicted Marxist orthodoxies and brought the depiction of the Indian in his ill-fated film project into the realm of the aoristic Maya. Eisenstein’s initial depictions of the overripe tropical sexuality of Gauguin’s Tahiti (transplanted to Mexico South) and of petrified Maya visages locked out of all historical transformations gave way, as the project progressed, to a crueler vision of ritualized pain and the mortification of the flesh that leads to an orgy of ritualized erotic violence and spiritual transcendence. The key to this vision, perversely enough, lies in his writings on Walt Disney’s animation. Once again, the concept of ecstasy had been an interest of Eisenstein’s before his trip to Mexico. As early as 1923, in his preliminary articulation of “The Montage of Attractions,” Eisenstein tentatively explored the blurry 134

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boundaries between religious rapture and sadomasochistic desire: “[I]t is difficult to distinguish where religious pathos gives way to sadistic satisfaction in the torture scenes of the mystery plays.”83 This interest found its ample stimulus in Mexico. Mexico—lyrical and tender, but also brutal. It knows the merciless lashes of the whips, lacerating the golden surface of bare skin. The sharp cactus spikes to which, at the height of the civil wars, they tied those already shot half to death, to die in the heat of the desert sands. The sharp spikes that still penetrate the bodies of those who, having made crosses from the cacti’s vertical trunks, tie them with rope to their own shoulders, and crawl for hours up to the tops of the pyramids, to glorify the Catholic Madonnas—[Virgen] de Guadalupe, [Virgen] de los Remedios, the Santa María Tonantzintla; Catholic Madonnas since Cortez’s time, triumphantly occupying the places and positions of the cult of the former pagan gods and goddesses.84 This union of self-inflicted pain, eroticism, and religious fervor is associated with ecstasy—a word that appears over and over again in Eisenstein’s Mexican notebooks. Countless drawings of a crucified bull simultaneously kissing, spearing, and sodomizing a matador (or vice versa); of dancing abandon; of the melding of diverse sexual and religious passions; and of an X-shaped human figure all illustrate the term.85 The image of a crucifixion on henequen spines, of ecstatic human sacrifice and sacred abandon, is not at all unique to Eisenstein. The representation resonated with Christian and pre-Cortesian belief systems as well as with Revolutionary iconography. Fernando Castro Pacheco’s oil painting El henequén (1947) portrays a martyred Yucatecan peasant impaled on that plant’s pointed leaves—an emphatically regionalist variation on the oft-repeated imagery of the dark-skinned nation’s sacrifice. Renato Mello writes of the multiplication of images of cadavers that populate this period of “post-Revolutionary peace”: “Repeated until nausea are the photographs of bleeding corpses, of tortured bodies, mutilated or hanging from posts.” [“Se repiten hasta la náusea las fotos de los muertos desangrángrandose, los cuerpos torturados, mutilados o colgados de los postes.”]86 Eisenstein’s revelation lies in the transformation of this pain into a holy ecstasy that evokes the cinema. His written explanations of the term play on contrasts that build toward transubstantiation. the aoristic maya


We could say the effect of pathos in a work is to bring a viewer to ecstasy . . . from sitting to standing; immobility to violent movement; silence to shouting; dullness to brightness; dryness to moisture. All of these are a “coming out of oneself,” “departure from one state.” Furthermore, “leaving oneself” is not “a departure into the void.” “Leaving oneself” has to mean entering something different, something of a different quality, something contrasting with what came before (immobility into movement; silence into resonance, etc.).87 Eisenstein elaborates by referring to the inner state achieved by mystics who lose themselves in this liminal state through exalting rites. But for a full picture of ecstasy, one must be clear about the psychological state that constitutes ecstasy. It is accurate enough to call it the “behavioral process” connected to ecstasy; that may not be the full answer, but it points us in the right direction. The phrase we always use is “bathed in ecstasy.” Despite the fact that ecstasy is a state of “upliftedness,” “exaltation.” Of course, a purely orthographic analysis is inadequate here. To understand just how comprehensively precise is the verbal element of this procedural, dynamic symbol which goes with the ecstasy, the first thing to do is undertake a huge survey of the works of the great masters who “immersed” themselves in ecstasy. This is the psychological repertoire adduced in commentaries for spiritual exercises; the equality between the mechanism of psychic meditation and the basic physical system of the practice of the Khlysts, the dervishes or Mexican danzantes. Juxtaposing the Eastern and the Western practices. The Indian ecstatics, Buddha and Nirvana. The ecstasy of the prophets of ancient Judea and of the mass psychosis at Lourdes, etc., etc. I soon hit upon the idea of Nirvana and how it might be explained as a psychological state: returning to the embryonic condition. More time was spent on an all-embracing scrutiny of this than on an assimilation of the phenomenon itself. My thanks to the psychoanalysts who have preceded me on this path. 136

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For here is the key which the word “immersed” holds to an understanding of the phenomenon. And here is the key for the proper understanding of the verb itself! A return to the embryonic state! That accounts for the psychic picture of how one feels when in ecstasy. But what is interesting is not the inert, lifeless condition induced by ecstasy. The moment of “illumination” is what is interesting. Not the length of the “stay.” But the climactic flash. Emergence. Ecstasy can be very briefly formulated as participation in the “emergence,” and also as dialectic understands it: the moment of transition from quantity to quality; the moment of a (sensation) of unity arising in a multiplicity, the moment when a unity is formed by opposites.88 That this passage was written under the shadow of Stalin, for whom the concept would undoubtedly be suspect or heretical, perhaps accounts for some of its circumlocutions. In spite of the evident caution, it is possible to decipher the meaning of the ecstatic Maya. Eisenstein’s interlocutors have offered differing interpretations of this key concept of ecstasy. Håkan Lövgren sees Eisenstein’s notion of ecstasy as derived from Freud’s Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood, in which the sublimation of base impulses enables the ecstasy of artistic creation.89 Jacques Aumont glosses Eisenstein’s use of the term as a “union with a transcendental object,”90 and in a similar vein David Bordwell argues that for Eisenstein ecstasy is at once a religious and sexual unity of self and other.91 Clearly from the previously cited passage this is linked to a return to an embryonic state, to the liminal unity of opposites, and to illumination. This is not to be confused with sexual or drug-induced pleasure but is, rather, closer to the rapture of the saints. The concept owes something to Lévi-Brühl’s notion of primitive “participation,” in which this unity is achieved through ritual. Everywhere he went in Mexico, Eisenstein saw this phenomenon. Physical brutality, whether in the “asceticism” of monks’ selfflagellation or in the torturing of others, in the blood of the bull or the aoristic maya


the blood of man, pouring over the sands of countless Sunday corridas every week, after Mass, in a sensual sacrament; the history of unparalleled brutality in crushing the countless uprisings of the peons, who had been driven to a frenzy by the exploitation of the landowners; the retaliatory brutality of the leader of the uprising, Pancho Villa, who ordered prisoners to be hanged naked in order that he and his soldiers might be entertained by the sight of the last physiological reactions of the hanged. The cruelty of the Mexican does not lie only in the bodily mutilation and blood, not only in former slave-owners’ favorite treatment of prisoners—top hat on their heads, clothes off, made to perform a frenzied, naked dance in answer to indiscriminate and continuous shooting—but also in that wicked humor, irony, and that special sort of Mexican wit, (the features of which are already borne by this ominous tarantella), the so-called vasilada.92 Again, the imagery draws on the muralists—in this case, Orozco’s ink drawing Aristocratic Dance (1926–1928), which shows a prisoner stripped of all

Fig. 21B   ¡Qué Viva México!, Sergei Eisenstein (courtesy of the Lilly Library at Indiana University, Bloomington).


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his clothes except his top hat and forced to dance by his captors. This type of cruelty is at the heart of Eisenstein’s Yucatecan footage, and contrasts with the Edenic matriarchy of his Tehuantepec or the triumphant industrialized utopia of the film’s conclusion. For example, at the Cathedral of Izamal Eisenstein filmed penitents with their outstretched arms tied to spine-covered cactus trunks—again, forming the shape of an X. Huipil-clad Maya Veronicas wipe the sweaty brows of the devout, while in the background hundreds of parishioners zigzag up the church’s stairs on their knees. Disney’s animated lines also embody the ecstatic. “Disney constantly gives us prescriptions for folkloric, mythological, prelogical thought.”93 The ecstatic conflation of desire and death Eisenstein saw in the churches, ruins, and bullrings of the Yucatán is a window onto an understanding of the competing models of history at work within the film. The automatic drawings bypass self-censorship and reveal the Marxist heresy lurking here. In contemplating syncretism, the film turns to the ecstatic experience of the devout—a state of excruciating bliss that unifies the ancient and modern. After discussing the placement of Russian churches, he suddenly observes: The Catholic churches in Mexico were sited with equal skill. Here for dozens of miles, you can see the domes of Santa María Tonanzintla from the approaches to Puebla, or the flashing crosses of the Virgen de los Remedios at the gates of Mexico City. But this is no credit to the Catholics, particularly. It was not they who chose the sites. These were the location of ancient pyramids, which were once crowned by Aztec and Toltec temples. The real wisdom of the Catholics lay simply in building their churches on the foundations of the temples they had pulled down— on the summits of those pyramids, so as not to spoil the pilgrims’ chances of finding their way by the pyramids as they had done for thousands of years, crossing the land from all directions as they headed for the foot of these very pyramids.94 There at the pyramid/church Eisenstein describes a scene identical to his Izamal footage—leading, climactically, to the ecstatic experience. And the steady flow of human figures, bathed in sweat, crawling on their knees from the base of the pyramids to their consecrated summits. the aoristic maya


Their knees were bound with rags. Some had tied cushions to them and these were torn to shreds. Often outlandish headwear fashioned from feathers (the brotherhood of the danzantes). Cloth over the eyes. Streams of sweat. Old ladies among the pilgrims carried someone in pain in their arms; they wore cheap shawls. Panting, they reached the step. The binding was ceremoniously removed. After the darkness and torment, the suffering man saw before him the wide-open doors bathed in the ruddy candlelight of the temple of the Madonna de Guadalupe, de Los Remedios, the Cathedral of Amecameca, and a grey trunk stripped bare of its leaves standing before it.95 Bathed in light, the suffering pilgrim is immersed in ecstasy—as Eisenstein’s definition had predicted. Modern society offers that state of ecstatic unity through animated film. Disney’s pictures are pure ecstasy . . . That is, Disney is an example . . . of a case of formal ecstasy!!! (Great!) (Producing an effect of the same degree of intensity as ecstasy!). America and the formal logic of standardization had to give birth to Disney as a natural reaction to the prelogical.96 The same language of illumination is also echoed in characterizations of animated shorts. Eisenstein wrote: “Disney’s films, while not exposing sunspots, themselves act like reflections of sunrays and spots across the screen in the earth. They flash by, burn briefly and are gone.”97 The experience is illuminated by a sudden burst of light in the darkness. Jean Charlot likewise brings Mickey into the realm of ecstatic rapture: “When the Mouse has triumphed over its enemies and enters into Beatitude the short is over, the fade-out nears.”98 In the darkness of the theater, even the most rational among us are prone to fits of sensual, prelogical thought: “[F]rom an unexpected shock— a man bumps into a chair in the dark—you regress to a state of sensuous thought; you curse the chair as though it were a living thing.”99 It is in


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the dark we are best prepared for the illumination of Disney’s modernist animism. The animated line clearly points to the most modern and to the earliest urges for visual expression. As Jean Charlot conveys it: Cinematic animation, however artificial its relationship to the static medium of painting, has tempted artists from the very beginning of human time. The boar of Altamira, galloping on four pairs of legs, is echoed across the millennia by Balla’s futuristic dog whose legs in action resemble two full-pleated skirts.100 This, then, enables us to articulate the profound effect on Eisenstein’s film wrought by the encounter with the Yucatecan Maya—both the remnants of their ancient empires and the living descendants. His autobiography describes a revealing incident. In Chichen Itza, when the curator of the Museum of Ancient Mayan Culture decided to take me through the museum’s halls at night, it happened differently. The nights there are pitch black and tropical. Even the Southern Cross, which shamefacedly pokes only its little end above the Mexi­ can horizon, does not light them up. But in the museum the electricity went off at the very moment we crossed the threshold of the treasured “secret department” of the museum, where the revelry of the ancient Mayas’ sensual imagination is carved in stone. The Statues also gained a weirdness, absurdity, disproportion, and scale, because they were suddenly snatched out of the darkness by matches struck now here, now there. Tolstoy, in Childhood—or is it Adolescence?—describes the effect of the lightning flashes illuminating galloping horses. So instantaneous were the flashes that each succeeded in capturing only one phase of the horses’ movement. The horses seemed motionless . . . The unexpected striking of the matches in the different parts of this hall, filled with motionless stone monsters, made these monsters, on the contrary, seem as though they had come to life. From the change in direction of the light in the intervals before the matches burned out, it seemed as if, in the periods of darkness,

the aoristic maya


the monsters had managed to change position and place in order to gape with their wide, round, bulging, dead, granite eyes from a new viewpoint at those who were disturbing their age-old peace. However, for obvious reasons the majority of these stone monsters, rearing out of the dark, had no eyes at all. But two barrel-shaped, roundish gods, in particular, had eyes. I was led to them through the stone reefs of the others (which were in the main ellipsoidal) by the hospitable match of the curator of these precious remains of antiquity. Light and dark interrupted each other. Interwove. Followed each other in turn.101 The phenomenon described here is a profoundly cinematic one. The passage from Tolstoy (which is in fact found in the second volume of his autobiography) describes how a flash of light (in this case natural) freezes movement.102 Written during photography’s infancy (first published in 1854) and long before instantaneous photography, the passage from Tolstoy nonetheless anticipates Marey’s motion studies and Muybridge’s famous motion-stopping sequences of a galloping horse. Muybridge’s photographs not only settled Leland Stanford’s wager but radically altered the understood movement of a horse in motion and functioned significantly as a critical precursor of cinema. Jean Charlot drew a similar equation among Maya art, animation, and the protocinematic exploration of the persistence of vision. When movement is accompanied by transportation, as in walking or running, the artist comes to use the cinematographic principle: a procession of beings, each illustrating statically an instant of motion, is equivalent to one single being in actual motion . . . We have the Mayan warrior caught in five successive “stills” of his war leap in the frescoes of Chichen-Itza [sic].103 The process operating in the museum at Chichén Itzá is just the opposite— not freezing motion but animating still objects. This is the animated line that for Eisenstein is the central problem of the arts. This translation of stationary stone forms of Maya sculpture into movement on the screen is at the root of Eisenstein’s accomplishment in Mexico—one he tragically never had the opportunity to complete. 142

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The ecstatic conflation of sensuous prelogical thought with modern technology and subjectivities has no usefulness for a nationalist project. The aoristic paradigm more generally is of no use to the state. Although the myth of Maya progress can justify the state’s interventions, and the vegetative Maya make its role all the more urgent, the aoristic Maya render the role of policy and politics irrelevant and illusory. It is little wonder then that after Eisenstein’s departure Mexican filmmakers abandoned the paradigm of the aoristic Maya. Until the privatization of the industry (1976–1982) under José López Portillo, the Mexican state played a very prominent role in the production, financing, and distribution of films. In this national cinema, the visiting Russians’ influence is often felt in cinematic compositions—but the protean energy of the plasmatic, sensual lines are absent. It is not simply Eisenstein’s unfinished film that was censored; it is the vision of the aoristic Maya.

the aoristic maya


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The Maya Absolute


here is a persistent idea that has lurked at the edges of Mesoamerican

archaeology from the very beginnings of the discipline. In spite of the accumulation of evidence suggesting that the apogee of the Maya came many centuries after the development of Sumerian, Egyptian, Babylonian, Minoan, and other ancient cultures in the Old World, this notion posits that the Maya are nothing less than the fountainhead of all human civilization. Born of an age of speculation and diffusionism, this notion continued to circulate around the margins of archaeology well into the twentieth century— often supported less by empirical evidence than by occult beliefs and rigid convictions. Today, excluded from the realm of archaeology, the process of this expulsion is a gradual and often contentious one. William E. Gates lectured at the 1915 Panama-California Exposition in San Diego, where Bertram Goodhue’s replica of a colonial Mexican church (dis­cussed in Chapter 3) housed an extensive display of Maya casts and murals picturing the reconstructed ruins. “H. P. Blavatsky and Arche­ology,” the topic addressed by the future director of the Maya Society—administrative head of all archaeology for the Guatemala government and founding chair of Tulane University’s Department of Middle American Re­­search—points directly to the persistent linking of the Maya and the esoteric. The roots of these ideas date back to archaeology’s prehistory. But well into the age of Maya modernism, when the premises on which this paradigm rests had been largely discredited, some mainstream institutions continued to patronize research along this line of inquiry: in the 1930s, Frederick A. Mitchell-Hedges (an adventurer with a questionable reputation and no scholarly training) secured support of New York’s Heye Foundation and the British Museum to search for the place of origin of all civilization in the 144

Maya region.1 These ideas, regardless of their validity or currency within the archaeological establishment, are enduring and transmutable. They transform and reappear as backdrop to Manuel Amábilis’s speculative writings on the Maya-Atlantis connection, in the rituals of countless and varied New Agers and mystics who converge on Chichén Itzá’s Castillo for observances of the solstices and equinoxes, and in the multitude of preparations and predictions for the upcoming end of the current cycle of the Maya calendar. Our task here is not to test the legitimacy of this paradigm but to understand its expressions within the realm of visual culture.

American Origins

An understanding of the Maya quite distinct from those discussed previously runs through these diverse cultural expressions. Speculations on the origins and nature of the American Indians begin with Columbus and the subsequent reports of the early European travelers. Juan Galindo was an early nineteenth-century adventurer who first turned the tables by suggesting that the Maya region was not humanity’s backwater but its center and its birthplace. A European granted concession to a large piece of the Petén in 1834, Galindo’s is the first illustrated account and site plan of the ruins of Copán.2 Seemingly motivated more by a patriotic attachment to his adopted homeland than by the evidence contained by the ruins themselves, his report contains the assertion that the Indians are the oldest of the human races. He further states that the descendants of the Maya, fleeing an undefined catastrophe, crossed the Pacific and planted the seeds of the civilizations of Japan and China. The Abbé Charles-Etienne Brasseur de Bourbourg came to Canada in 1845 after religious studies in Belgium and Italy. From Canada, he relocated first to Boston—and then to Mexico—where his lifelong fascination with the pre-Cortesian past began. He made multiple visits to Mexico and Central America over the next two decades, living in Indian communities and studying native languages and the ruins. Brasseur de Bourbourg’s contributions to the still-embryonic study of ancient Mesoamerica were considerable: he located and identified two heretofore-unknown eyewitness accounts of the Conquest of the Maya region (Bishop de Landa’s Relaciones de las cosas de Yucatán and Bernardo de Lizana’s Historia de Yucatán, devocionario de Nuestra Señora de Izmal, y conquista espiritual), a transcription of the Popol Vuh, and one of the three surviving pre-Cortesian codices (which he called the Troano Codex, the maya absolute


the larger half of what is today known as the Madrid Codex). De Landa’s text, an indispensable account of the peninsula at the time of the Conquest, contains a clue (if hardly an unambiguous one) to the deciphering of Maya writing. After burning the libraries of the Maya, de Landa asked a scribe to record the glyphs used in the destroyed texts alongside their “equivalents” in the Roman alphabet. The exercise was based on the assumption that the glyphs functioned as an alphabet—that each character represented a single sound. Based on a very free use of this Maya “Rosetta Stone,” Brasseur de Bourbourg attempted to decipher Maya writing. The ongoing struggle to make sense of the Maya script, and the role of de Landa’s “alphabet” in this process, have been chronicled elsewhere in detail.3 Brasseur de Bourbourg’s contribution to this effort, and to Mesoamerican archaeology more generally, is a mixed legacy. Although the importance of the Madrid Codex and de Landa’s chronicle is indisputable, the results of his attempts to translate the former using the “alphabet” contributed to the birth of this persistent fantasy. In an age in which diffusionist theories remained dominant, and the memories of Egyptian splendors fresh in the minds of French antiquarians, Brasseur de Bourbourg suggested that Atlantis might be the missing link connecting the Maya to ancient Egypt. His earliest writing had explicitly rejected the myth of Atlantis, and proposed that the Americas had been populated by settlers crossing over from Asia by way of the Bering Strait. In the last decade of his life, however, Brasseur de Bourbourg advocated the idea that the Maya texts refer to a series of geological cataclysms that destroyed the sunken continent.4 Although the Abbé’s writings predate the age of the Maya modernists, these speculations set the stage for the projects of subsequent generations—which find expression later in visual culture through the work of a pair of pioneering Victorian archaeologists (the Le Plongeons) and in the architecture of Robert Stacy-Judd, an eccentric proponent of a Maya revival quite different from that advocated by Requa or Bossom. Working in the middle of the nineteenth century, Brasseur de Bourbourg was respected as a scholar and as a specialist in ancient Mesoamerica— although late in life his ever-more fantastic theories led to his marginalization in the field, and to attacks by the likes of Squier and Bandelier. A generation later, Augustus and Alice Dixon Le Plongeon, advocating theories of pre-Columbian transatlantic contact resembling and influenced by the Abbé’s, were forced to the margins of an emerging archaeological discipline.5 146

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Maximilian offered Brasseur de Bourbourg the position of Minister of Education and Director of Museums and Libraries—an appointment the Abbé declined, though he did accept the insignia of the Order of Guadalupe the emperor bestowed upon him in recognition of his studies. The Le Plongeons, in contrast, suffered ostracism and ridicule in the last decade of the nineteenth century. By this time, the reputation of Brasseur de Bourbourg—who died in 1874—had declined as well. In 1887, one scholar (not coincidentally an enemy later of the Le Plongeons as well) wrote dismissively of “the well-known peculiarities of the Abbé Brasseur . . . the freedom with which he dealt with his authorities, and the license he allowed his imagination, [which] have always cast an atmosphere of uncertainty about his work.”6 Living for twelve years in the Yucatán, between 1873 and 1885, the Le Plongeons conducted extensive excavations at Chichén Itzá and Uxmal. They were accomplished photographers. Agustus Le Plongeon had run a successful portrait studio in San Francisco during the gold rush years, and had authored a Spanish-language manual of photographic techniques while living in Peru. They documented their excavations with an extensive photographic record, the scope and scale of which are only now becoming known. They presented and published their writings for scholarly audiences, often along with their photographs or engraved reproductions, in the journals of learned societies—especially the annals of the Society of American Antiquarians, which patronized their research. But as the Le Plongeons’ theories grew more extravagant, their claims were met with skepticism in academic circles, and they developed an antagonistic relationship with powerful colleagues at the Antiquarian Society and elsewhere in the academy—including Samuel Haven, Philipp Valentini, and Daniel G. Brinton. When these disputes escalated, Le Plongeon challenged Brinton to a public debate—a challenge that was ignored. The last years of their lives are a sad tale of economic hardships and professional disrepute, symptomatic of the emerging divide between the domains of mysticism and archaeology. The Le Plongeons shared their work with general audiences as well, both through articles in popular magazines and at illustrated lectures. Gifted with a graceful writing style, Alice Le Plongeon wrote a lively mix of travel anecdotes, ethnographical accounts, and (to a lesser degree) archaeological speculations that appeared in magazines such as Harper’s and Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly—some of which are gathered in her collection Here and There in Yucatan, Miscellanies. In addition, the couple published the maya absolute


in theosophical publications—and Alice Le Plongeon lectured on the Maya at the Blavatsky Lodge in New York. The Word, a theosophical monthly journal, published Augustus Le Plongeon’s final—and in some ways most detailed—account of the Maya–Egyptian connection. Today a number of related occult associations, such as the Anthroposophical Society and the Philosophical Research Society, keep the Le Plongeons’ ideas alive with periodic reprints of their writings. The Le Plongeons’ findings expand upon and move beyond the Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg’s more fantastic assertions. In the Yucatán, the Le Plongeons discovered what they took as evidence of the desperate voyage of “Queen Moo” across the Atlantic to Egypt, of indisputable “proofs” that Jesus spoke Maya, of the fact that the Maya knew Greek and practiced mesmerism, and of traces of Masonic symbols among the ruins of Uxmal— all substantiated with evidence that persistently strains credulity.7 Although the details of the transatlantic connections changed as the Le Plongeons’ thinking evolved, the Yucatecan origins of Egyptian civilization—in fact, of civilization in the Old World—were in their minds indisputable. [W]hen we reflect on the similarity of the names, and the striking analogy of the events said to have taken place in the lives and history of Isis and Osiris and those of Prince Coh and Queen Moo; particularly when we consider the quasi identity of the ancient hieratic Maya and Egyptian alphabets; that of the rites of initiation into the mysteries celebrated in the temples of Mayach and Egypt, and many other customs and traditions that can not be regarded as mere coincidences.8 Although their considerable contributions to the field lay in the area of excavations rather than archival recovery, the Le Plongeons’ legacy is (like the Abbé’s) a mixed one, with some real accomplishments to their credit— accomplishments often overshadowed by the more fantastic speculations that have led to their current disrepute in the archaeological community. Their theories share many of the premises of the Brasseur de Bourbourg’s: the extreme antiquitiy of the Maya ruins, predating those of the ancient Middle East; the geological catyclysms that submerged beneath the Atlantic the continental stepping stone that served as the link between the hemispheres; and the reversal of the more common Old-to-New World diffusionist theories.


Chapter 5

A Fevered Dream of Maya: Robert Stacy-Judd

When Robert Stacy-Judd discovered Maya architecture through the fortuitous acquisition of Stephens and Catherwood’s publications, he abandoned his youthful flirtations with a host of other “exotic” architectural styles: ancient Egypt (evident in his designs for the Electric Picture Palace, Isle of Wight, 1910–1912, and the Beni-Hasan Theater, Store and Office Building, Arcadia, California, 1923–1924), Tudor England (as evident in the Elks Home, Williston, North Dakota, 1914–1915), and the Islamic Middle East (in his designs for a 1916 auto show in North Dakota). The ancient Maya, as evoked by his Aztec Hotel and subsequent buildings, were not a phase for Stacy-Judd but a lifelong fascination. He filtered his perceptions of the ancient Maya through esoteric ideas about the spiritual power of the ruins. In contrast with more formalist and sophisticated appropriations of the pre-Columbian past, most famously those of Frank Lloyd Wright, Stacy-Judd’s buildings reveal a sensibility that

Fig. 22   The Aztec Hotel, Robert Stacy-Judd, 1924–1925 (courtesy Robert B. Stacy-Judd Collection, Architecture and Design Collection, University Art Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara).

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is more theatrical than architectural. His greatest triumph was the Aztec Hotel (Monrovia, California, 1924–1925), which achieved overwhelming popular success and earned praise in publications ranging from the New York Times to the trade magazines American Architect and The Hotel Monthly. It was the Aztec Hotel that launched Stacy-Judd’s career as a promoter, explorer, and chronicler of the ancient Maya. Stacy-Judd did not confine his professional activities to architecture. He published poetry and speculative texts, filmed materials for trave­l­­ ogues, lectured, and recorded radio broadcasts—always returning to the theme of the archaeology of the Yucatán. He even designed and patented the Hul-Che Atlatl Throwing Stick, which was derived (or so he claimed) from an ancient Maya prototype. As archaeologist, Stacy-Judd’s contributions are negligible. At a time when the armchair speculations of earlier generations had given way to dirt archaeology, he brought to the table a poorly synthesized stew of ideas borrowed from Ignatius Donnelly, James Churchward, Alice and Augustus Le Plongeon, Brasseur de Bourbourg, and other chroniclers of the lost continents of Atlantis and Mu. But Stacy-Judd’s peculiar genius lay in his flare for showmanship, not in his scholarship—and although his ideas may be derivative, his architecture represents the definitive expression of this final paradigm within Maya modernism.9 After a peripatetic early life, Stacy-Judd found his place in Southern California—hobnobbing with the Hollywood crowd. Bette Davis turned to him to satiate her curiosity about the ancient Maya. It was perhaps his larking about with movie stars that inspired him in turn to propose The Scarlet Empress, a feature-length fiction film set at Chichén Itzá, on which he labored in his later years—designing costumes and sets. Without the resources to produce this spectacular melodrama, and without commissions for any building projects other than the occasional prosaic San Fernando Valley ranch house, in the 1940s and 1950s Stacy-Judd’s imagination ran wild at the drafting table. He conjured up a number of fantastic, never-to-be-completed projects—such as the proto–Epcot Center village of Native American reinterpretations called the Enchanted Boundary. Even among those that were built—a church in Oxnard, the Philosoph­ ical Research Society, and the North Hollywood Masonic Temple—none of these later projects ever garnered the high praise or media attention the Aztec Hotel won him. How was it that this Monrovia hostel captured the imagination of so many? The 1925 Aztec Hotel embodies a fleeting cultural turn dubbed the “enormous vogue for things Mexican,”10 150

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and represents an anomaly and a turning point in the history of the Maya Revival style in the United States—distinct from both the more imperial era that preceded it and the “Good Neighbor” phase coinciding with World War II. Like P. T. Barnum’s failure to distinguish between the Aztecs of Central Mexico and the Maya ruins described in Stephens’s account, the appellation “Aztec” for a building based on a peninsular Maya style represents a conflation of two very distinct regions and cultures of Mexico whose apotheoses are separated by several centuries and hundreds of miles.11 The hotel’s designation was not so much a misnomer as a concession to a North American public that may not have read Stephens’s accounts from the 1840s or possessed much clarity about these distinctions. Stacy-Judd writes in his unpublished autobiography: “[W]hen the hotel project was announced, the word Maya was unknown to the layman . . . as the word Aztec was fairly well known, I baptized the hotel with that name, although the decorative motifs are Maya.”12 The culture and dramatic fall of the Aztecs of Mexico’s Central Valley had been popularized with the North American audiences through William Prescott’s popular treatment and other narratives of the conquistadors’ exploits. But even as Stacy-Judd was building in Monrovia, the Maya place in the North American imagination was growing and changing. The 1920s represent a high-water mark for the North American fascination with (and positive understanding of) Mexican culture.13 The perceived exhaustion of a Europe in ruins after World War I and the cultural and political ferment of Mexico in the years immediately following the Revolution both contributed to this North American interest. Within this wider context, any of a number of factors, institutions, individuals, and events contributed to a burgeoning popular interest in the ancient Maya. Charles Lindbergh, for example, piloted archaeologists over the ruins of the Yucatán, Guatemala, and Belize—aiding in (and lending his celebrity stature to) an experimental assessment of the utility of aerial photography in the identification of archaeological sites. Stacy-Judd’s tour de force coincides with the inauguration of the Carnegie Institution’s Chichén Itzá excavations (1923–1933), popularized in periodicals such as National Geographic.14 In 1923, the Yucatecan governor Felipe Carrillo Puerto opened a road connecting Chichén Itzá to the outside world.15 With the geography accessible to tourists rather than simply to the rare adventurer, Mérida’s Fernando Barbachano Peón began to offer tours of the ruins— and in 1923 opened the first hotel there (the Mayaland) on its doorstep. the maya absolute


The motives at work here are heterogeneous. The aims of the revolutionary Carrillo Puerto in championing a Maya cultural revival, conceived as socialist and liberatory, could not have differed more from those of the Carnegie Institution (or of Barbachano Peón’s business enterprise)—but in practice their agendas converged. Numerous contemporaneous publications capitalized on and furthered the interest of English-speaking audiences in the ancient Maya. Gregory Mason retold his explorations of what is today Quintana Roo in Silver Cities of Yucatan, Thomas Gann published his Mystery Cities, Frans Blom and Oliver La Farge collaborated on Tribes and Temples, Richard Halliburton wrote of his grandstanding dive into the sacred cenote, and Phillips Russell produced an archaeological travelogue called Red Tiger.16 Stacy-Judd’s friend and patron, battery company executive and amateur Mayanist Theodore A. Willard, published his paean to Edward Thompson: The City of the Sacred Well.17 Of all of these Jazz Age visions of the ancient Maya, none was more delirious than that of Stacy-Judd. This proliferation of popular publications, and the mass media coverage of the Carnegie excavations and restorations, meant that the Aztec Hotel opened to a United States primed for pre-Columbian spectacle. The hype that developed around the Aztec Hotel (a good deal of which was instigated by Stacy-Judd himself) celebrated it as “the only building in the United States that is 100% American.”18 Turning to autochthonous sources was a frequent strategy for North Americans in search of an authentic non-European identity embedded in the soil of the New World. Often this search called for face paints, secret rituals, and the taking of indigenous appellations. Posing in profile, as in a Maya basrelief, Robert Stacy-Judd displays for the camera his Maya headdress and robes. William Deverell has used the metaphor of “whitewashed adobe” to describe the dominant strategy used by Southern California Anglos to remake and elide the region’s Mexican past—but here the (face) paint is red, not white, and the tactic is one of appropriation, not those of denial or obliteration that Deverell chronicles.19 By dressing himself as a Maya lord, the English expatriate engaged in a venerable American tradition of “playing Indian” that dates back to colonial times. Blackface and redface are very old American strategies that served diverse and complex functions.20 Sometimes a disguise for rebellions that protested misrule, often a part of celebrations and ceremonies, and always an assertion of whiteness, redface as a practice predates the Boston Tea Party.21 Much like those rebellious Yankee colonials, Stacy-Judd donned his Indian robes to cut the umbilical cord to Europe.22 He joined the (White) members 152

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of the Improved Order of the Redmen, Ernest Thompson Seton’s Woodcraft Indians, the New Confederacy of the Iroquois, the “White Indian” Frank Hamilton Cushing, the Boy Scout’s “Order of the Arrow,” and so many others in a “100% American” search for authenticity and rootedness through an aboriginal disguise. Stacy-Judd’s cross-cultural transvestitism was much more than a single evening’s act of Hollywood flamboyance or symbolic rebellion. Building private houses and public buildings throughout the United States in the neo-Maya style, Stacy-Judd always took his appropriation of the indigenous a step further. Stacy-Judd’s was a double appropriation of alterity—paraphrasing, in a single structure, the Mexican and the Native American. Following the genocide of the Conquest and of colonization, Native Americans became arguably that group whose names, likenesses,

Fig. 23  Robert Stacy-Judd in Maya costume, 1932 (courtesy Robert B. StacyJudd Collection, Architecture and Design Collection, University Art Museum, University of California, Santa Barbara).

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aesthetics, faith, dances, bodies, and so on were appropriated more often than any other ethnic group in the Americas.23 Within architecture, however, the appropriation of Native American forms was unusual in 1924—although precedents had been set by a handful of movie theaters (beginning with the Aztec Theater in Eagle Pass, Texas, in 1915), at World’s Fairs (as in the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the 1915 Panama-California International Exposition in San Diego, both discussed previously), and with a few private homes.24 By evoking autochthonous America, the Aztec Hotel anticipated the later Pueblo Deco style popular in the 1930s.25 Stacy-Judd’s own Soboba Hot Springs Hotel and Indian Village (San Jacinto, 1924–1927)—with its Pima and Yuma cottages (a cocktail of Pueblo, Maricopa, and Hopi styles)—probably represents the apogee of this short-lived architectural trend.26 Appropriations of colonial Mexican architectural styles were far more common. At the time Stacy-Judd designed the Aztec Hotel, the Mission Revival was at its apex in Southern California. Later, he produced buildings—such as the Neil Monroe House (Sherwood Forest, California, 1929)—with eclectic, improbable blends of Mission and Maya elements. Although Stacy-Judd’s Aztec Hotel was not the first architectural appropriation of Ancient Mexico, the reference was unusual enough for him to make that claim. Stacy-Judd’s Aztec Hotel was built in the context of a generalized taste for architectural exoticism that flourished in Southern California in the 1920s. It is linked not only to the Mission Revival in its exalted evocation of a regionalist history rendered in romantic hues but to the other whimsical references to the exotic in the region, such as the Mann’s Chinese Theater (Hollywood, 1927) or the Samson Tire Works (Commerce, 1929, today the Citadel outlet mall)—a subset of the loony architectural eclecticism that is sometimes called “California Crazy.”27 Often, the dialogue with the emerging cinema industry is pronounced—either in the building’s function as movie palace or in references to distant locales—such as the Babylonia of D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916) or in the case of the various Aztec Theaters, the MexicoTenochtitlan of C. B. DeMille’s The Woman Who God Forgot (1917). These buildings mark the rise of a whimsical roadside vernacular architecture Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour call “duck,” in homage to a Long Island diner shaped like (and specializing in roast) duck.28 Contemporaneous Southern California structures such as The Brown Derby (1926), The Tamale (1928), and Tijuana’s Sombrero restaurant and bar (1928) share a playful sense of building as literal-minded 154

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symbol. Yet in spite of this relationship between the Aztec Hotel and these other examples of quirky, exoticized, and movie-set architecture, StacyJudd found in the Maya more than simply another revival style. The deeper resonances of the image of Stacy-Judd in Maya costume evoke the clandestine ritual life of those millions of middle-class American males involved in secret societies and fraternal organizations. Especially in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Free­ masons, the Knights of Pythias, the Odd Fellows, and hundreds of smaller groups offered ritual, conviviality, meaning, fellowship, and entertainment to citizens in a society where social roles were in flux.29 Members of these groups might impersonate Druids, Romans, or Native Americans in elaborate secret rites and hierarchies. One such group, small in comparison to the Masons and Odd Fellows, was the Mayan Temple and Alliance of American Aborigines—based in Brooklyn, New York, and founded by Harold Davis Emerson, Ph.D., D.D., in 1928.30 This temple, which characterized itself as “similar to Masonry,”31 offered ritual, dance, and classes on hieroglyphic writing to its inducted members. Here was a natural constituency for Stacy-Judd and the Maya Revival style. Although the Mayan Temple never had sufficient resources to commission their own building, they describe their quarters. The Mayan Temple has now been completely redecorated. Through the courtesy of Chief Lynx and Brother Richard Bolanz picturewriting and beautiful murals adorn the walls and ceilings. On the frieze in Indian picture-writing is the story of the Mayan Temple. Above it on the ceiling is the Mayan seal and the various clan totems . . . On the west wall is a reproduction of a Maya ruined city buried in the jungle.32 The Mayan Temple’s newsletter provides an overview of the concerns of the Brooklyn Maya. News briefs report on the Carnegie Institution excavations and, in an echo of one of Dr. Le Plongeon’s less credible pronouncements, evidence of ancient Maya use of the telegraph. Maya astrology is employed to predict the future of Roosevelt’s New Deal initiatives. Frequently, articles dispel negative perceptions of the Indian as savage, backward, prone to the practice of human sacrifice, or innately violent. Although often uncredited, much of their treatment of the Maya—especially with the territory of the occult—is derived directly from the writings of the Le Plongeons and Brasseur de Bourbourg. the maya absolute


For Masons especially, architecture was a subject of paramount importance. The Masonic quest for architectural perfection, embodied in the lost design of the Temple of Solomon, probably originates in their roots as Medieval British stone hewers—although these matters are shrouded in centuries of occultation.33 This interest often led the Masons to paraphrase the ancient Egyptian monuments, sometimes on a very ambitious scale.34 Followers of Augustus and Alice Le Plongeons’ theories turned to Native American, especially Mesoamerican, architecture. Not surprisingly, then, many of the major patrons of Maya Revival buildings are Masonic lodges, theosophical groups, and other occult confederations. Robert Stacy-Judd found a like-minded patron in the founder of the Philosophical Research Society, Manly Palmer Hall. Here, the Maya Revival style embodied not Manifest Destiny but a supernatural destiny made manifest in the Los Feliz foothills—with structure that mixes a copy of the arch of Labná with quotations of South Asian and Middle Eastern architecture. Southern California is only one of the places Stacy-Judd sought to promote his Maya Revival. The Stacy-Judd archive includes proposed projects in Mexico City, Ixtapalapi [sic], and Guatemala City.35 If the Maya Revival in Monrovia evoked the exoticism of distant pyramids, in Mexico the style took on completely different set of meanings. Encouraged by the great success of the Aztec Hotel, Stacy-Judd set off to Yucatán to see the original models and to promote his designs. In Mérida, he was invited to the office of the state governor. He describes the visit in his travelogue. My reason for visiting the Yucatan, primarily, was to further my efforts in creating an all-American architecture and its allied arts . . . For one whole hour the interview lasted. All things considered, the situation was extraordinary. I had been given to understand the Yucatecan to be indifferent to the potential wealth of his country, namely, the Mayan ruins. I was amazed to learn that, quite the contrary, he is vitally interested. After I had finally answered numerous inquiries regarding my adventures in Yucatan up to that time, the Governor asked to see my watercolor studies of Mayan adaptations. And when we finally parted, he said in his cordial manner, “Don’t forget, Señor, our country is yours.” [ . . . ] Glancing back as I left the “Building of the People,” my eye caught sight of an oil painting standing on an easel in the open foyer. It was an oil painting of the late General Carrillo, Governor of 156

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Yucatan. He it was who commenced this structure, intending it to be his residence—but alas! he was murdered in 1924, while in office.36 Stacy-Judd’s assumption that the modern Yucatecans were “indifferent” to the ruins echoes, and is surely based on, the writings of other European and North American travelers—including Stephens’s seminal Incidents of Travel. As we have seen, his account consistently attempted to separate the ancient Maya and their spectacular cities from their contemporary descendants— lamenting “that so beautiful a country should be in such miserable hands.” Although Stephens rejected the diffusionist theories that circulated widely at the time, he nonetheless took the ruins—literally and figuratively—as unclaimed cultural patrimony waiting for appropriation.37 Although Stacy-Judd came to realize that this supposed indifference was a self-serving misperception, propagated by writers such as Stephens, nothing he saw or heard led him to question his own appropriations.38 The governor’s courtesy, “our country is yours,” is loaded with ambiguity. Although the explicit statement of hospitality is clear in the Spanish, the English translation seems to invite the appropriations of Stacy-Judd, Stephens, and so many other Anglo visitors. There is something else more telling that Stacy-Judd discovered upon his arrival in Mérida. Although he makes no mention of it, the contemporary

Fig. 24   Casa del Pueblo, Mérida, Yucatán; Ángel Bacchini, 1928.

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Yucatecans were in fact so “vitally interested” in their past they had arrived at their own (very different) Maya Revival style independently of Stacy-Judd. The “Building of the People” (La Casa del Pueblo), where the described appointment took place, is in the Maya Revival style. Although the building— designed by the Mexican architect Ángel Bacchini—was completed in 1928, the fact that Stacy-Judd mentions that Carrillo Puerto (governor 1923–1924) initiated the project suggests he was aware that the building was almost exactly contemporaneous with his first Maya Revival project (the Aztec Hotel).39 Stacy-Judd’s strange silence here not only protects his claims to be the first to revive the architecture of the ancient Maya but elides the contradictions of his position as the self-appointed importer of Maya architecture to its place of origin. This silence marks the place of that contradiction and misstatement, and points to an apolitical indifference to the fate of the Maya that lurks persistently behind the paradigm of the Maya absolute. Although the Yucatecan version of the Maya Revival arguably predated the Mexican Revolution, at least in some incipient way, it was under the auspices of the Revolution that it flourished—on the level of ideology and on that of patronage.40 As such, it was part of a larger political and social program (discussed in Chapter 3)—a program that consciously used cultural nationalism and indigenismo as a means of elevating the subaltern.41 In the Yucatán, the Revolution came not as an organic uprising from below but as an imported phenomenon.42 The principal leaders, Salvador Alvarado and Felipe Carrillo Puerto, were in some ways like caudillos (strongmen)— vanguard leaders cast from a Leninist mold, intent on instigating a radical social movement among the indigenous majority still emerging from an oppressive system of debt-peonage bordering on slavery. Monuments, government buildings, and public works—such as the road from Mérida to Chichén Itzá that Carrillo Puerto inaugurated—were an important part of their program to stir pride in the glorious Maya past. In spite of the massive immigration of Mexicans to Southern California during the Revolution and into the 1920s, accelerated by the push of Mexican domestic upheavals and the pull of labor shortages in the United States, the Aztec Hotel addresses an Anglo public.43 Whereas Stacy-Judd’s use of ancient Maya motifs in Monrovia and elsewhere in Southern California are examples of a cultural appropriation of a geographically and historically distant Eden, in Mérida his project takes on an entirely different character—that of a repatriation, albeit one highly transformed.44 During his stay in the Yucatán, Stacy-Judd came to know the Revolutionary socialist state’s version of the Maya Revival. He was overwhelmed. 158

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There is plenty of evidence that the Yucatecan is awakening to an appreciation of the civilization whose extraordinary works lie buried in the jungle-growth fastness of his country. As one instance, the latest opera of Señor Luis Rosado Vega, Yucatan’s favorite composer, was Mayan, and the night of its premiere production in Mérida was of red-letter importance.45 The story told of the Nahuatl introduction of human sacrifice among the Mayas. Like the novel by Stacy-Judd’s friend T. A. Willard, it revolved around the origins of the practice of presenting a beautiful virgin as bride to Yum Chaac (the rain god) during a time of extreme drought. The scene of the action was, of course, once again the famous Well of Sacrifice at Chichén Itzá. The costume designs were accurate as to classical style and presented a gorgeous appearance. They were by far the outstanding features of the performance and more clearly exemplified the true ancient Maya than did either the music of the settings. No New York stage fantasy ever surpassed in costuming the beauty and striking colorfulness expressed in these cleverly-conceived and artistic creations.46 Unlike those North American visitors who came as leftist pilgrims, StacyJudd took no notice of the radical social experiment underway.47 Nor did he notice or care to mention the political context and urgency of the Yucatán’s Maya Revival—or most pointedly the Maya Revival municipal palace where he met the governor. What caught his fancy was the costume drama of the Maya opera. Today, the visitor to the Aztec Hotel cannot help but notice its state of disrepair. Richard Requa’s Federal Building in San Diego (1935) now serves as a sports hall of fame, but the decorative Maya trim—a preservationist’s nightmare—is crumbling off the structure’s sides. Whereas many of the ruins that inspired these structures have been restored and have found a second life as tourist attractions, the Mayan Revival buildings have all too often fallen toward ruin.48 In an age of NAFTA, maquiladoras, and the militarized border, both the theosophical fantasies of imaginative Freemasons and the Pan-American resolve of the Good Neighbor policy that inspired these buildings seem quite anachronistic. Fifty years after “the triumph of American Painting,”49 when globalization is often taken to mean Americanization, the search for an “authentic the maya absolute


American style” or for an architecture that is “100% American” is a dated preoccupation. Today’s Maya Revival buildings are more likely to be amusement park attractions, located in places as distant as Catalonia or the Bahamas, than monuments to inter-American understanding and co­­ operation. The contemporary equivalent of Stacy-Judd’s North Holly­ wood Masonic Hall or his esoteric cocktail of mystical styles for the Philosophic Research Society would have to be the replica of Chichén Itzá’s in Switzerland’s Mystery Park—a theme park inspired by the writings of the UFO-logist and popular writer Erich von Däniken. Here, the wildest delusions of Stacy-Judd and Manly Hall are updated for a new audience. Positioned between an indoor reproduction of Stonehenge and a scale copy of the pyramid of Giza, the Swiss Maya pyramid houses replicas of Mesoamerican sculptures amid potted tropical plants and track lighting. Yet in spite of the perceived irrelevance or datedness of the ideas that spurred on Stacy-Judd’s revival style, and his inability to acknowledge the realities of contemporary Maya even when they confronted him in Mérida, the playful eclecticism of his work anticipates the postmodern turn in architecture. His collision of distinct styles and geographically distant citations in unrealized projects such as “The Streets of All Nations” (1938)—with its Russian, Hindu, French, and (inevitably) pre-Columbian units—remind contemporary viewers of theme park architecture. The jumble of the Philosophical Research Society’s quotations anticipates, albeit less gracefully, the collage of Frank Gehry’s Aerospace Museum (Los Angeles, 1984). Distant from the pared-down modernist primitivism of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum, Stacy-Judd’s is an alternative path that looks to both the past and the future and brings the theories of the Maya as civilization’s point of origin—proposed decades ago by Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg and by Augustus and Alice Dixon Le Plongeon—to life in the Southern California landscape.


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Conclusions Leaving the Ruins of Maya Modernism


he narr ative short Chan Comandante Chico is the product of a workshop led by a young digital media artist from Mexico City, Alfredo Salomón, in the Maya village of San Martín Hilil (in southern Yucatán, near the borders with Quintana Roo and Campeche) in January and February 2003. The plot is short and simple: a municipal motorcycle policeman in San Martín Hilil dreams of the hectic and important work of traffic cop in a congested metropolitan area. He positions himself at the intersection of San Martín Hilil’s (only) two roads, but the traffic is predictably sparse. He keeps a group of children on bicycles waiting for his signal, but there is no opposing traffic to direct. Underdevelopment makes his task extraneous. Bored with this scanty workload, he retreats to the shade of a tree—which offers a refreshing setting for a midday siesta. While he is dosing, a masked thief takes his motorcycle and flees. The background for this modest and frankly clumsy narrative video involves a series of unforeseen circumstances. Following the devastation of September 2002’s hurricane Isidoro, clothing was donated to villages in the affected region near Tekax. Among the donated objects was a policeman’s uniform, although the town itself has no constabulary (with a population of several hundred souls, San Martín Hilil has been able to resolve whatever internal conflicts it has faced without the aid or interference of a formally designated law enforcement officer). As an unintended consequence of this fortuitous act of charity comes an unpretentious and enlightening video vignette, employing the donated goods to speak eloquently to the rural/urban divide—questions of development and progress, and the failed promises of Mexican modernity. Like all indigenous video—and like the Maya using Aqua-Lungs, working in heavy 161

industry, or watching animated films from Hollywood studios, as well as so many of the other scenarios discussed previously—Chan Comandante Chico is the product of a native engagement with an imported, newly arrived technology (in this case, digital video). But unlike the other examples just offered, here the engagement is not so much a matter of obediently taking on an assigned position in modernity’s regimen as of using the newly available tools to question and contest the implicit agendas of modernization. In the most unpretentious way, the message this video transmits is one that questions the relevance and presuppositions of Maya modernism— the premises on which rest so much of what has been discussed in this book. Like the employees of the Tulipanes nightclub, endlessly reenacting the ancient human sacrifice nightly in a cenote, the video rehearses outsiders’ depictions of the Maya. The central figure, after all, is a hunched-over, sleeping Indian. Here, however, the aim is critical: using the products of a technological (postmodern, postcolonial, digital) age, the video interrogates modernity from a Maya perspective. The absence of traffic in San Martín Hilil brings to mind one influential revolutionary tract from the Yucatán that takes automotive transport as a gauge of modernity’s arrival. Written in 1916, Mi sueño is Salvador Alvarado’s utopian vision of a socialist peninsula of the future—revealed in a dreamlike apparition by a supernatural entity identified as “the spirit of the race” (“el espíritu de la raza”). Alvarado’s discourse describes the innumerable automobiles that would one day barrel through the limestone flatlands, both as icons and indexes of the peninsula’s entry into the modern age: “I passed through clean, paved streets, full of traffic” [“Yo paseaba por las calles limpias, asfaltadas, llenas de movimiento y de tráfico.”]. In Alvarado’s utopian vision, this profusion of modern transit replaced the antiquated modes of transportation that dominated the peninsula in his day. The roads and alleys were well maintained and numerous. Thanks to this, swift, modern cars were all over, substituting for the old buggies, instead of carts and wheelbarrows, bales were carried on trucks, and it was not rare to see people who had never dreamed of possessing one of those vehicles, which they had believed to be the exclusive domain of the rich, driving a $200 Landaulet Ford to whisk off to work from one town to another. [Las carreteras y calzadas estaban perfectamente arregladas y eran numerosísimas. Merced a esto, raudos y modernos automóviles iban 162


por todas partes sustituyendo a los fatigosos y viejos bolanes; en vez de carretas y carretillas, los fardos iban sobre autocamiones, y no era raro ver el espectáculo de personas que jamás soñaron con poseer uno de los medios de locomoción que creía monopolio exclusivo de las clases ricas, guiando un Landaulet Ford de 200 dólares, para ir a sus negocios violentamente de una población a otra.]1 Without the resources to purchase so many Model Ts (or a more contemporary equivalent), one-speed bicycles may make a practical substitute— albeit with obvious limitations. But even with this downgrade in the criteria for gauging modernity, the empty dirt roads of rural southern Yucatán fall short of both Alvarado’s and the frustrated traffic cop’s criteria for gauging the entry into modern life. Neither are there skyscrapers in sight, nor ¡Qué Viva México!’s smokestacks, nor any of the other markers of modernity discussed herein. Further, if these trappings of modernity were to arrive— the video suggests—they would be inappropriate, poorly designed solutions to someone else’s problems. Perhaps modernity is not the inevitable destination toward which the Maya will succeed or fail to progress, but rather is more like a traffic cop in a rural Maya village—an alien concept poorly suited to the specifics of their situation. Beyond Chan Comandante Chico’s ironic lament, there is good reason to believe that the Maya waste little time bemoaning modernity’s deferred arrival. In May 2006, twenty Indian communities across Mexico simultaneously inaugurated Raíz de la Imagen—the eighth film festival of the Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Cine y Comunicación de los Pueblos Indígenas. In each of these communities, one or more of the festival’s 23 programs of indigenous video will be shown in the village square or marketplace, or projected on the wall of the municipal palace. None of the 32 hours of videos programmed laments the lack of traffic, the absence of industry, or the absent or deferred arrival of any other marker of progress. Instead, the themes of the control of ancestral lands, the environmental menace of rapacious multinationals in search of natural resources, and the demand of basic human rights and dignity dominate the selection—chosen from more than two hundred submissions and representative of the recurring concerns. In the five chapters of this book, I have moved freely through a wide range of films, buildings, photographs, paintings, and engravings from the past century and a half. All of these representations, no matter how divergent they may be in other respects, have addressed the place of the Maya leaving the ruins of maya modernism


and their heritage in the modern world. Some (such as Gabriel Orozco and the Arensbergs) have made a place for that heritage, but not for the Maya themselves—whereas others imagine another possible modernity, remade in the image of the Maya. The representations also differ in their current status: Expedition: Treasure of the Sacred Well is an orphan film, abandoned in the depths of some corporate vault—and many of the landmarks of Maya Revival architecture (from Richland Center, to Wisconsin’s A. D. German Warehouse of Frank Lloyd Wright, to Mérida’s Hospital Redón Peniche) are falling slowly toward ruin. Other objects and images (discussed herein)—such as Eisenstein’s Mexican film footage, Orozco’s Photogravity, and Smithson’s slides and texts—have achieved a canonical status. But regardless of whether they are neglected or celebrated—whether forgotten artifacts of revolutionary programs and Pan-American diplomatic efforts now exhausted and abandoned or privileged objects of art or film history—they all share certain fundamental assumptions. In a modest way, Chan Comandante Chico—with an awkward eloquence and inescapable humor—questions not only the unfulfilled promises of modernization but more significantly the unspoken assumptions of modernity’s universality and relevance. All of the primitivist modernists, irrespective of the paradigm in which they operated and the medium in which they worked, share an enduring fascination with the Maya ruins. Their attraction to and inspiration derived from the ruins of the ancient Maya echo our own absorption in their work. As both a presence and an absence, enduring yet vanishing, the ruins remind us of the transitory nature of even the most monumental of human endeavors. Susan Buck-Morss writes that for Walter Benjamin, “the ruin . . . is the form in which the wish images of the past century appear, as rubble, in the present. But it refers also to the loosened building blocks (both semantic and material) out of which a new order can be constructed.”2 Modernists of various stripes (with universalist, nationalist, and regionalist agendas) have deployed the Maya ruins of the Yucatán for the construction of every type of new order—real and imagined, successful, subverted and failed. In time, these modern constructions themselves fall into ruins. As problematic as many of these attempted projects may seem in retrospect, the ruins that modernism leaves behind endure as enticing, fascinating sites of decay.





1. For more on Thompson’s dredging and diving in Chichén Itzá’s cenote, see my “Thompson y el cenote sagrado,” 23–26. The attempt to clear the water of the cenote by chlorination in order to make it possible for divers to see well enough to recover the material below is described in Donald Ediger’s The Well of Sacrifice. For my purposes, the image of the archaeological booty spurting upward through the water’s surface and into the air is a more suggestive image. The text further explores human sacrifice, but for the moment it should suffice to reference what is perhaps the most imaginative account of the ritual at Chichén Itzá’s Sacred Cenote: T. A. Willard’s remarkable pseudohistorical fantasy novel Bride of the Rain God: Princess of Chichen-Itza. The following excerpt describes the scene. Ah! the most beautiful maid ever beheld by mortal woman—for no man, since babyhood, had ever gazed upon her loveliness; so zealously had the high priestess and her radiant teachers guarded the radiant child of the Itzas, since the temple gates had closed upon her—now twelve seasons of yaxkins past. . . . And no thought of sadness, or yearning to venture beyond those massive, vine-trellised walls had ever penetrated the thoughts of Lolnicte. For, might she not by sweet patience and obedience deserve and receive the coveted honor sought by all maidens of the land, whether high-born or of lowliest birth? Might she not be blessed with the greatest happiness of mortal woman, to become the bride of the rain god, Yum Chac, and to serve him forever, his favorite handmaiden, in his alabaster palace beneath the mysterious waters of the Sacred Well? (pp. 20–21) Willard’s The Wizard of Zacna: Lost City of the Mayas and his celebration of Edward H. Thompson’s life and work (The City of the Sacred Well) continue in this same breathless vein. The following excerpt is from The City of the Sacred Well. The sympathetic imagination without effort clothed the naked bones with flesh and substance, so that one saw instantly the graceful, lovely, high-bred maiden and the last solemn act that had stilled the poor girlish body, clad in all its finery and left to sink into the ooze at the bottom of this terrible pit. (p. 115) 2. The project is also recorded in Dávalos Hurtado’s Into the Well of Sacrifice: Return to the Sacred Cenote (540–49) and in Littlehales’s Into the Well of Sacrifice: Treasure Hunt in the Deep Past (550–61). The objects collected during Thompson’s dredging and diving, the archaeological vacuum cleaner


described previously, and the dechlorination project are reproduced and analyzed in Lothrop’s Metals from the Cenote of Sacrifice, Chichen Itza, Yucatan; Proskouriakoff’s Jades from the Cenote of Sacrifice, Chichen Itza, Yucatan; editors Clemency Chase Coggins and Orrin C. Shane III’s Cenote of Sacrifice: Maya Treasures from the Sacree Well at Chichen Itza (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1984); and editor Coggins’s Artifacts from the Cenote of Sacrifice, Chichen Itza, Yucatan. 3. Expedition: Treasure of the Sacred Well, 1961. 4. Littlehales, 552–53. 5. “New Atlas Map Focuses on Fast-growing Mexico and Central America,” National Geographic, vol. 120, no. 4 (October 1961), p. 539. 6. The Maya region extends beyond Mexico over the entire territory today occupied by the nations of Guatemala and Belize, as well as into Northern Honduras and along El Salvador’s Pacific slope. These are countries with histories very different from Mexico’s, and which I have left out of this study for precisely that reason. 7. Pratt, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. 8. Olson, Mayan Letters; Olson and Creeley, The Complete Correspondence; Olson, Letters for Origin, 1950–1956. 9. See, for example, Clifford, “Histories of the Tribal and the Modern,” 189–214. See also McEvilley, “Doctor Lawyer Indian Chief,” 54–61. 10. Mirzoeff, “What Is Visual Culture?,” 3–13. 11. Charlot, Art from the Mayans to Disney. 12. South of the Border with Disney, 1942. 13. Gruzinski, Images at War: Mexico from Columbus to Blade Runner (1492– 2019), 2. 14. León-Portillo, Time and Reality in the Thought of the Maya, xi. 15. A levelheaded survey of a great range of these types of speculative schemes and delirious conjectures, from Kon Tiki to Mu—with detours through Belshazzar’s Chaldean banquet hall and the lost continent of Lemuria—is provided by Wauchope, Lost Tribes and Sunken Continents. 16. Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, 141. 17. Le Plongeon, Here and There in Yucatan: Miscellanies, 106–7. 18. Bartra, La jaula de la melanciolía, 34. Chapter 1

1. Numerous variations on this anecdote circulate, but all hinge on the impossibility of communication between the Spanish and the Maya. The Enciclopedia Yucatense, vol. III, reviews several versions of this christening and concludes: “El nombre de Yucatán surgió de unos vagos conceptos de la mente, que pasarían como una luz a los ojos de un ciego” [“The name of Yucatán emerged from some vague conceptions that entered the mind like a light in the eyes of a blind man.”], 14. 2. Bartra, La jaula de la melancolía: Identidad y metamorfosis del mexicano, 15.


notes to pages 2–16

3. Indigenismo, which can be translated with the neologism “Indianism,” is a concept without a direct English-language equivalent and is the study and celebration of indigenous cultures. 4. Newhall, The Daguerreotype in America, 23, 73. 5. Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Central American, Chiapas and Yucatan (1841) and Incidents of Travel in Yucatan (1843) have gone through numerous reprintings. First published by Harper and Brothers, the Dover editions (1963 and 1969) are readily available reprints of the original. Less accessible is a deluxe edition of color lithographs that Catherwood issued subsequently, in 1844, titled Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan. Many of these are reproduced in Bourbon, The Lost Cities of the Maya: The Life, Art and Discoveries of Frederick Catherwood. 6. The Count (sometimes Duke or Baron) Jean-Frédéric Waldeck stands out as a highly colorful and eccentric figure, even within the ranks of nineteenth-century Mesoamerican archaeologists—where eccentrics abound. For two years he lived with his Maya girlfriend atop a ruin at Palenque that bears his name to this day. Returning to Paris, he published Voyage pittoresque et archéologique dans la province d’Yucatán pendant les années 1834 et 1836. This is available in translation as Viaje pintoresco y arqueológico a la Provincia de Yucatán, 1834 y 1836. Of his later, more ambitious monograph Monuments Anciens du Méxique (1866), Ignacio Bernal wrote: “[I]ts ideas are so absurd as to preclude any intelligent discussion of them.” [In A History of Mexican Archeology, 119.] He died in Paris at the age of 109, reportedly while making advances at an attractive (and considerably younger) woman. Pasztory’s Jean-Frédéric Waldeck: Artist of Exotic Mexico offers an overview of his contributions. The Waldeck “discovery” of elephants among the Maya carvings is discussed in J. E. S. Thompson, “Elephant Heads in the Waldeck Manuscript,” 392–97. Speculations about the India–Indian connection do not die easily. Almost a century after Waldeck first proposed the theory, we have Sir Grafton Elliot Smith’s “hyperdiffusionism”—as argued in his Elephants and Ethnologists. 7. Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, 1, 120. 8. Quoted in MacGowan and Hester, Early Man in the New World, 233. 9. Stephens, Yucatan, 1, 168. 10. Stephens, Yucatan, 2, 310. 11. Von Hagen, Maya Explorer: John Lloyd Stephens and the Lost Cities of Central America and Yucatan; Bourbon, The Lost Cities of the Mayas: The Life, Art and Discoveries of Frederick Catherwood. 12. Gernsheim, The Rise of Photography, 172. 13. Maler, Impresiones de viaje a Coba y Chichén Itzá; Maler, Península de Yucatán; Piqueras Sánchez et al., Espacios sagrados: Arquitectura Maya en la obra de Teoberto Maler. 14. Maudslay, Biologia Centrali Americana, 4 vols. See also Guide to the Maudslay Collection of Maya Sculptures (Casts and Originals) from Central America.

notes to pages 16–21


15. Landa’s account—one of the most valuable eyewitness records of the Yucatecan Maya society prior to the Conquest—was rediscovered, translated, annotated, and reprinted by the Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg in 1883. 16. Allen, “The Aztec Lilliputians of Iximaya,” 151. See also Comas, Dos microcéfalos “Aztecas.” 17. Ingle, Mayan Revival Style, 4. 18. Curtis M. Hinsley, “Hemispheric Hegemony in Early American Anthropology, 1841–1851: Reflections on John Lloyd Stephens and Lewis Henry Morgan,” 28–40. 19. Rexer, Photography’s Antiquarian Avant-Garde: The New Wave in Old Processes. 20. It is not that Waldemaro Concha Vargas is adverse to using contemporary digital technologies. He has in fact posted a selection of his ambrotype images online at 21. Fox Talbot’s was not the only negative-positive process being developed at this time. For an elegant and more complete treatment of photography’s origins, see Geoffrey Batchen’s analysis in Burning with Desire: The Conception of Photography. 22. “Parte Instructiva,” Diario del Gobierno de la República Mejicana, vol. 14, no. 1427 (June 5, 1839), 323–24. 23. Sometimes also called the melainotype. An account of this process, the invention of Frederick Scott Archer and Peter Fry, was first published in 1851—although there is reason to think that in Cincinnati a daguerreotype gallery proprietor named Ezekiel Hawkins successfully realized the first ambrotype as early as 1847. See Welling, Photography in America: The Formative Years, 1839–1900, 59–60. The best accounts of early photography in Mexico are Casanova and Debroise’s Sobre la superficie bruñida de un espejo: Fotógrafos del siglo XIX and Casanova’s “De vistas y retratos: La construcción de un repertorio fotográfico en México, 1839–1890,” 3–57. 24. El Universal, July 2, 1851. The material first used to print from the early glass negatives was albumen paper. Egg whites mixed with salt were applied to the paper, which was then immersed in silver nitrate. The resultant chemical reaction produced light-sensitive silver chloride. The albumen negative, which employed glass plates treated with the identical mixture of egg whites and silver halide, was also used during the early 1850s—but this was soon superseded. 25. Charnay, Le Mexique: souvenirs et impressions de voyage, 377–80. 26. Katz, The Milk of Amnesia, unnumbered. 27. Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, 1, 128. 28. See Campos García, “La Etnia Maya en la Conciencia Criolla Yucateca, 1810– 1861,” 194–95. 29. Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Yucatan and Chiapas, 96–97. 30. Justo Sierra O’Reilly’s footnote 1 in En Busca de los Mayas: Viajes a Yucatán, 171. Sierra O’Reilly’s thoughts on this question evolved over time. 31. The literature on the so-called Caste War is vast. The essential sources include an engaging English-language narrative (see Reed, The Caste War of Yucatan). A


notes to pages 22–32

more thorough if exhausting account is provided in the five volumes of Baqueiro, Ensayo histórico sobre las revoluciones de Yucatán desde el año 1840 hasta 1864. 32. Sierra O’Reilly, Los Indios de Yucatán, 1, 32. 33. Sierra O’Reilly, Impresiones de un viaje a los Estados Unidos de América y al Canadá, 76. 34. Priego de Arjona, “Las ediciones en español de la obra de John L. Stephens,” 4–5. 35. In Central Mexico, visual artists associated with Romanticism similarly gave the ruins scant attention—but at least one celebrated writer, Ignacio Rodríguez Galván, used the Aztec past as a vehicle for the pursuit of the sublime and to protest the contemporary exploitation and abuse of the indigenous majority. Profecía de Guatimoc (1839) interweaves romantic longing for the long-lost imperial splendor of the Aztecs with social criticism through its description of a visit to the site of Mexica glories of the past: ¡Qué dulce, qué sublime es el silencio que me cerca en tono! ¡Oh cómo es grato a mi dolor el rayo de moribunda luna, que halagando está mi yerta faz! Quizá me escuchan las sombras venerandas de los reyes que dominaron el Anáhuac, presa hoy de las aves de rapiña y lobos que ya su seno y corazón desgarran. [How sweet, how sublime is the silence that comes to me! Oh, how pleasing is my grief in the moribund moonlight, how flattering to my rigid face! Perhaps they hear me, the venerable shadows of the kings who dominated Anáhuac, prisoners today of the birds of prey and wolves who rip their breasts and hearts.] 36. The Fox Movietone material is currently archived at the Newsfilm Library of the University of South Carolina, Columbia. Apparently this material was never edited or released. According to Sylvanus G. Morley, this was because of a perceived lack of public interest. 37. Morris, Digging in Yucatan, frontispiece. 38. Gilpin, Temples in Yucatan: A Camera Chronicle of Chichén Itzá, 31, 100, 101. A short text by Sylvanus G. Morley and several uncredited texts accompany photographs by Dmitri Kessel in “The Maya: Their Civilization Was the New World’s Finest,” Life, vol. 22, no. 26 (June 30, 1947), 51–67. 39. This triptych is reproduced in Sharon Lockhart, 102–7.

notes to pages 32–36


40. Crimp’s On the Museum’s Ruins analyzes the exhibition of the autonomous modernist object within the museum context and the critique of the same as suggested by a variety of postmodernist art practices. 41. Local boosters like to make the claim that far from importing the Revolution reluctantly and belatedly, the Mexican Revolution actually began in Valladolid, the largest urban center in eastern Yucatán. For a forceful if jingoistic presentation of this dubious interpretation, see Menéndez, La primera chispa de la revolución mexicana. Aware of this, I nonetheless find more credible the thesis that claims that the Revolution was imposed on the peninsula—especially as described in Joseph, The Revolution from Without: Yucatán, Mexico and the United States, 1880–1924. 42. Ramírez Vázquez, “Influence of the Maya on Contemporary Mexican Archi­ tecture,” in Living Architecture: Mayan, 3. 43. Paz, The Other Mexico: Critique of the Pyramid, 109. 44. Paz, 108–9. 45. Paz, 110. 46. Warman, Bonfil, Nolasco, Olviera, and Valencia, De eso que se llaman antro­ pología mexicana. 47. For more on this critique of the national school of anthropology, see Lomnitz, “Bordering on Anthropology: Dialectics of a National Tradition,” 228–62. 48. Goldman, New Tendencies in Mexican Art. 49. Cuevas, “The Cactus Curtain: Open Letter on Conformity in Mexican Art,” 111–20. 50. Zolov, “Discovering a Land ‘Mysterious and Obvious’: The Renarrativizing of Postrevolutionary Mexico,” 248. 51. Olson, Mayan Letters, 13–14. 52. Olson, 14. 53. There are of course exceptions to this, but they are so few that they can be counted on one hand. Sergio Mondragón and Margaret Randall’s literary magazine El corno emplumado, a vital link between writers and poets in the United States and Mexico, and the art criticism of Selden Rodman (The Insiders, Mexican Journal) are two of the exceptions that prove this rule. 54. This cartoon, originally published in P.M. magazine, is reproduced in Hess, ed., The Art Comics and Satires of Ad Reinhardt. 55. All of these commissions are included in de Neuvillate, Arte contemporáneo en el Museo Nacional de Antropología. 56. Numerous elements of New World modernist abstraction were derived from pre-Columbian sources rather than imported from Europe. There are significant studies of individual artists who developed personal abstract styles in dialogue with ancient American sources, such as Braun, “Joaquín Torres García: The Alchemical Grid,” 251–91; Medina, “Gerzso y el gótico americano,” in Risking the Abstract; and others. Exhibitions such as Dore Ashton’s Abstract Art before Columbus (May 1957 at the Andre Emmerich Gallery) only underscore the significance of this connection. This larger dynamic, with an Andean focus, is the theme of César Paternosto’s monograph The


notes to pages 37–43

Stone and the Thread and curatorial project North and South Connected: An Abstraction of The Americas (in New York’s Cecilia de Torres Gallery, 1998). 57. Mora, Mexican Cinema: Reflections of a Society, 1896–1980, 96; King, Magical Reels, 132; García, Hacia el 4 Cine, 21. 58. Rojas González, El diosero. 59. Bartra’s book contains an extensive bibliography on the subject, but an abbreviated list might begin with Paz, The Labyrinth of Solitude; Ramos, El perfil del hombre y la cultura en México; Reyes, La x en la frente; Portillo, La fenomenología del relajo; and Villegas, La filosofía de lo mexicano. Bartra also makes the point that this stereotype is still very much with us today, as illustrated by the portrayal of the Mexican as an utterly irrational, non-Western, semiOriental being in the first chapter of Alan Riding’s critically acclaimed Distant Neighbors. 60. Originally published in 1950 for Cuadernos Americanos, and revised in 1959, quotations are taken from Lysander Kemp’s translation of The Labyrinth of Solitude. 61. Paz, 31. 62. Guzmán, La querella de México, 22. 63. Segura Villán, Diorama de los Mexicanos, 575. 64. Tripp Evans, Romancing the Maya; Hinsley, “In Search of the New World Classical,” 105–22. 65. Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, 1, 115. Chapter 2

1. The Stendahl Gallery papers are now housed in the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. The role of his gallery is discussed in Karlstrom and Ehrlich’s Turning the Tide: Early Los Angeles Modernists, 1920–1956. Marius de Zayas is a significant figure in this history as well, being a collaborator with Alfred Stieglitz in bringing the first exhibitions of modern art to the Americas. Impressed by the cubist interest in African sculpture, de Zayas organized in 1914 the exhibition African Negro Art and installed in 1916 ancient stone objects from central Mexico alongside cubist works by Diego Rivera. The only previous exhibition of pre-Columbian objects as art had been a 1912 display of Maya jade, ceramics, and sculptures from Harvard’s Peabody Museum at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. De Zayas’ own account of the early years of modernist painting in the United States is found in How, When, and Why Modern Art Came to New York. See also Hyland, Marius de Zayas: Conjurer of Souls; Innes Homer, Alfred Stieglitz and the American Avant-Garde; de Zayas, African Negro Art: Its Influence on Modern Art; Museo Nacional de Arte, Marius de Zayas: Un destierro moderno; Saborit, Maawad, and Tovalín Ahumada, Una visita a Marius de Zayas; and de Zayas, Crónicas y ensayos.

notes to pages 44–56


2. Eight of the 195 works reproduced in the “20th Century Section” are represented with color plates. All plates in the “Pre-Columbian Section” are black and white. 3. Temkin, “Afterword,” Photogravity, 176. 4. These include the primary color circles of Caja de luz / Light Sign (1995), the cutout discs of Moon Trees / Árboles lunares (1996), the modified plane tickets of Servicio especial and De Berlín a Nueva York (both 1997), and altered sports photographs (the Atomists series, 1996) and bank notes (1997)—as well as Tapas de Yogurt / Yogurt Lids (1994). 5. Buchloh, “Refuse and Refuge,” 46–47. 6. In 1520, Albrecht Dürer saw beauty in the loot sent back to Europe by Hernán Cortés—writing in a well-known passage: “I saw the things that have been brought to the King from the new golden land . . . All the days of my life I have seen nothing that has gladdened the heart so much as these things, for I saw among them wonderful works of art, and I marveled at the subtle ingenia of men in foreign lands.” Quoted in Honour, The New Golden Land: European Images of the Americas from the Discoveries to the Present Time, 28. 7. Goldwater, Primitivism in Modern Art, 266. With an anachronistic echo of Lewis Henry Morgan, the exhibition and catalogue “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern makes the same omission—as these are seen as “more archaic than primitive in nature” (76). 8. I am referring here to meticulous scholarship on the encounter of Picasso, Klee, Brancusi, and other modernists with non-Western aesthetics gathered in the exhibition catalogue—as well as to the work of Braun (Pre-Columbian Art and the Post-Columbian World) and others. 9. Rubin, “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, 73. 10. Clifford, The Predicament of Culture, 197. 11. This is the word most often used by Marius de Zayas and his contemporaries in accounts of the appropriation of African forms. There are several stories about how Negro Art was discovered; most of them agree, however, on one point: Maurice de Vlaminck was the discoverer. The story which in my opinion is the true one (although it might not have happened) is the one reported by Francis Carco in his book De Monmartre au Quartier Latin: Vlaminck, the fauve, discovered in a “bistrot” at Bougival a negro statuette which he acquired by paying a round of white wine. Vlaminck was then an inseparable friend of Derain with whom he founded the famous school of Chatou. Vlaminck took his statuette to Derain, placed it in the middle of the atelier, contemplated it and said: “Almost as beautiful as the Venus de Milo, hein? Don’t you think so?” “It is as beautiful,” said Derain roundly. The two friends looked at it.


notes to pages 56–59

“How about going to Picasso?” proposed Vlaminck. They went; carrying their piece of wood, and Vlaminck repeated: “Almost as beautiful as the Venus de Milo, hein? Yes . . . almost . . .  and . . . some . . .” “Just as beautiful,” repeated Derain. Picasso reflected. He took his time and, at last, having found how to outbid these two opinions, too daring for the epoch, affirmed: “It is even more beautiful.” Thus Negro sculpture was discovered and consecrated without delay as a great art by the high priests of the modern movement. If Maurice de Vlaminck was the discoverer of Negro sculpture “materially,” Picasso was its discoverer “intellectually.” From How, When, and Why Modern Art Came to New York, 56. 12. This essay is included in Clifford’s collection The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art. 13. The nineteenth-century Yucatecans unsuccessfully sought to keep the first Chacmool found—excavated by the Le Plongeons at Chichén Itzá, on the peninsula at the regional museum. I explore this particular instance in greater detail in my essay “On the Travels of the Chacmool.” This particular case exemplifies some the multiple, conflicting claims outlined in Watkins’s “Cultural Nationalists, Internationalists and ‘Intra-nationalists’: Who’s Right and Whose Right?,” 78–94. 14. Hinsley, “Hemispheric Hegemony in Early American Anthropology, 1841–1851: Reflections on John Lloyd Stephens and Lewis Henry Morgan,” 28–40; Hinsley, “In Search of the New World Classical,” Collecting the Pre-Columbian Past, 105–21. 15. An essential bibliography for this topic would include Clifford, “Histories of the Tribal and Modern”; Domínguez, “The Marketing of Heritage,” 546–55; and the unpublished doctoral dissertations of Dan Eban (“From the Cabinet of Curiosities to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Beyond: A Study of the Transformation of the Ethnographic Artifact into the Primitive and PreColumbian Art Object,” Columbia, 1983) and Holly Barnet-Sánchez. The latter is more readily available in a shorter form as “The Necessity of Pre-Columbian Art: U.S. Museums and the Role of Foreign Policy in the Appropriation and Transformation of Mexican Heritage, 1933–1944,” Dumbarton Oaks, 1993. 16. This publication was clearly completed while Orozco was still working on Photogravity, and does not contain any installation views of the completed project. 17. David Hackett Fischer offers a sampling of such false analogies in the ninth chapter of his Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought. 18. Charnay, The Ancient Cities of the New World, 249. 19. Muller, “Style and Culture Contact,” 66–78.

notes to pages 59–61


20. Soby, “Marcel Duchamp in the Arensberg Collection,” 11. One can see a wonderfully eclectic, if unfashionable, installation of an eclectic collection done in a similar spirit at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. 21. Sutton, “An Oasis of Scholarship,” 5. 22. McEvilley, “Doctor Lawyer Indian Chief: ‘Primitivism’ in 20th Century Art at the Museum of Modern Art in 1984,” 59. 23. Rockefeller, “Introduction,” in Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection, 20–21. 24. Quoted in Goldwater, Primitivism in Modern Art, 155. 25. Orozco states in “Benjamin Buchloh interviews Gabriel Orozco in New York” that Duchamp, Piero Manzoni, and Kurt Schwitters are the three artists who have influenced him the most. Clinton Is Innocent, 75. The multiple connections linking Orozco’s work to Duchamp include the use of readymades, the interest in games, and the recurrent use of chess pieces, bicycle wheels, and so on. 26. For more on the relationship between Arensberg and Duchamp, see SawelsonGorse, “Hollywood Conversations: Duchamp and the Arensbergs,” West Coast Duchamp, 24–45; Nesbit and Sawelson-Gorse, “Concept of Nothing: New Notes by Marcel Duchamp and Walter Arensberg,” 131–76. 27. The “number 2” refers to an earlier version, completed the previous year. The Arensbergs later acquired two other versions of the same painting: the one exhibited at the Armory Show as well as version “number 1.” 28. Naumann, Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Making Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, 167. 29. Ibid., 15. 30. Ades, Cox, and Hopkins, Marcel Duchamp, 181. The reference is to Ecke Bonk, Marcel Duchamp: The Box in a Valise / The Portable Museum: The Making of Boîte-en-valise de ou par Marcel Duchamp ou Rrose Sélavy. 31. Benjamin H. D. Buchloh discusses this issue in relationship to Orozco’s work in “Benjamin Buchloh Interviews Gabriel Orozco in New York,” Clinton is Innocent, 29. 32. McShire, “Introduction,” 11. 33. In Stockholm, for instance, Duchamp signed replicas of his Large Glass, Bicycle Wheel, and Fresh Widow that had been prepared for a Swedish exhibition. His autographed dedication to Ulf Linde, who led the replication effort, reads “d’un sosie a l’autre” (translatable as “from one imitator to another,” though sosie can also mean double or doppelgänger; see Naumann, Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Making Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, 216–19). 34. Clearwater, ed., West Coast Duchamp, 110. 35. Ibid., 110. 36. See, for example, the chapter “Frank Lloyd Wright: A Vision of Maya Temples” in Braun, Pre-Columbian Art in the Post Columbian World, 138–83; Kirk, “The Sources of Pre-Columbian Influences in the Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright”; Tselos, “Exotic Influences in the Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright,” 160–69, 184; Tselos, “Frank Lloyd Wright and World Architecture,” 58–72; and


notes to pages 61–67

Weisberg, “Frank Lloyd Wright and Pre-Columbian Art—Background for His Architecture,” 40–51. 37. Wright, A Testament, 204–5. 38. Ibid., 205. 39. Clifford, The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Lit­ erature, and Art, 198. 40. Wright, Modern Architecture, Being the Kahn Lectures for 1930, 4. 41. Clearwater, ed., West Coast Duchamp, 110. 42. Tselos, “Exotic Influences in the Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright,” 160–69, 184. 43. Reprinted in Tselos, “Frank Lloyd Wright and World Architecture,” 72. 44. Ibid., 72. 45. Quoted in Medina, “Mutual Abuse,” in Mexico City: An Exhibition about the Exchange Rates of Bodies and Values, ed. Klaus Biesenbach, 43. This essay of Medina’s, and some of his art criticism in Mexico City news dailies, addresses this “refusal” of Orozco’s and its critical reception nationally and internationally. 46. In 1920, Duchamp cofounded, along with Katherine S. Dreier and Man Ray, the Société Anonyme—the first arts organization in the United States devoted to the promotion of contemporary art. The group organized exhibitions, published catalogs, formed an impressive permanent collection (later donated to Yale University), and hosted concerts, film screenings, and lectures. Chapter 3

1. Taken from the wall text at the entry of the Museo de arte Prehispánico de México Rufino Tamayo. 2. Stern, “From Mestizophilia to Biotypology: Racialization and Science in Mexico, 1920–1960,” 193. This contrasts with the pattern in the United States and Britain described in Barkan’s The Retreat of Scientific Racism. See also Knight’s “Racism, Revolution, and Indigenismo: Mexico, 1910–1940,” 71–114. 3. Gamio, Forjando patria, 24. 4. Vasconcelos and Gamio, Aspects of Mexican Civilization, 154. 5. Ibid., 122. 6. Quoted in Warman, “Todos santos y todos difuntos,” 32. 7. De los Reyes, Manuel Gamio y el cine. 8. Vasconcelos, The Cosmic Race, 80. 9. Siqueiros, “Tres llamamientos de orientación actual a los pintores y escultores de la nueva generación americana,” 22. 10. Rivera, “La lucha de clases y el problema indígena. Proyecto de tesis sobre el problema indígena en México y América Latina con relación a la cuestión agraria,” 187. 11. See, for example, outstanding painted examples of nineteenth-century neo-Aztec classicism—such as El senado de Tlaxcala (Rodríguez Gutiérrez, 1875), El descubrimiento del pulque (José Obregón, 1869), Moctezuma recibe a los mensajeros (Adrián Unzueta, 1893), Moctezuma II visita en Chapultepec los retratos de los monarcas, sus antecesores (Daniel del Valle, 1895), and Moctezuma en el

notes to pages 67–76


templo recibe el nombramiento del monarca (Adrián Unzueta, 1898). Manuel Villar’s portraits Moctezuma (1850) and Tlahuicole (1852) are the sculptural equivalents. See Fausto Ramírez’s “México a través de los siglos (1881–1910): La pintura de historia durante el Porfiriato,” 110–49, and Widdifield’s The Embodiment of the National in Late Nineteenth Century Mexican Painting. Interestingly, the neo-Maya equivalent of this academic painting does not exist— an indication of the peninsular creole elites’ animosity toward the rebellious indigenous population. 12. Charlot, The Mexican Mural Renaissance, 1920–1925, 9. 13. Orozco, “Notes on the Early Frescoes at the National Preparatory School,” Orozco! 1883–1949, 34. 14. Quoted in Charlot, ibid., 270–71. 15. The writings of many of the participants in the muralism movement remain in print and best articulate their contrasting positions. The most public and violent split within the ranks of the muralists was the polemic between Rivera and Siqueiros, which had its roots less in aesthetic differences than in the Trotsky-Stalin split. See González Cruz Manjarrez’s Polémica Siqueiros-Rivera: Planteamientos estético-políticos, 1934–1935. 16. Kracauer, The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays, 76. 17. Ibid., 85. 18. Canetti, Crowds and Power. See also Rubén Gallo’s analysis of José Vasconcelos’s plans for the Estadio Nacional (1924) and the Estadio Jalapa (1925) in Mexican Modernity: The Avant-Garde and the Technological Revolution. 19. The late Riefenstahl’s insistent protestations of her financial independence from Hitler and her purportedly antagonistic relationship with Goebbels were disproven years ago. See Barkhausen’s “Footnote to the History of Riefenstahl’s Olympia,” 8–12. 20. Cuevas, “The Cactus Curtain: Open Letter on Conformity in Mexican Art,” 115. 21. See Beezley’s account of athletics during the later part of Díaz’s rule, “The Porfirian Persuation: Sport and Recreation in Modern Mexico,” 13–66. 22. Brewster, “Redeeming the ‘Indian’: Sport and Ethnicity in Post-Revolutionary Mexico,” 213–31; Kevin Brewster, “Patriotic Pastimes: The Role of Sport in Post-Revolutionary Mexico,” 139–57. 23. “De la periferia al centro,” La Prensa (November 7, 1941), 11; “Como se harán los juegos deportivos de la Revolución,” El Nacional (August 12, 1941), p. 4d. 24. Villa Rojas, The Maya of East Central Quintana Roo; Redfield and Villa Rojas, Chan Kom: A Maya Village. Asael T. Hansen’s research on Mérida remained largely unpublished until long after the release of Redfield’s synthesis of these studies in The Folk Culture of Yucatan. The planned ethnography of the archtypical town, Dzitas, was deemed unnecessary and hence discarded. 25. Redfield, The Folk Culture of Yucatan, 13. 26. Redfield, A Village that Chose Progress: Chan Kom Revisited, 153. 27. See especially the first chapter (with the wonderfully inverted title of “The Progress that Chose a Village”) in Casteñeda’s In the Museum of Maya Culture: Touring Chichén Itzá, 35–67. See also the discussion of Redfield in Stocking,


notes to pages 76–85

“The Ethnographic Sensibility of the 1920s and the Dualism of the Anthropo­ logical Tradition,” 208–76. 28. Cuevas, “El primer rascacielos en México,” Excélsior, August 27, 1927. 29. Ibid. 30. Willis, Form Follows Finance. 31. Quoted in Goldberger’s The Skyscraper, 50–51. 32. Bossom, Building to the Skies: The Romance of the Skyscraper, 18. 33. Ibid., 18. 34. Bossom, “Fifty Years Progress Toward an American Style in Architecture,” 47. 35. Ibid., 44. 36. Mujica y Diez de Bonillo, 60. 37. Mujica, History of the Skyscraper, 16. 38. Mujica y Diez de Bonillo, “Primitive American Art,” Mexican Life, 61–62. 39. Ibid., 64. 40. Mariscal, Estudio arquitectónico de las ruinas mayas: Yucatán y Campeche. 41. De Anda Alanís, La arquitectura de la revolución mexicana: corrientes y estilos de la década de los veintes, 101. 42. His building near the corner of 54th and 59th Streets in Mérida, originally a private residence, shows him to be a competent (if not outstanding) practitioner of Beaux-Arts Classicism. 43. For more on Manuel Amábilis Domínguez’s career, see Siller’s “Semblanza: Manuel Amábilis (1883–1966),” 95–96, and Urzaiz Lares’s Arquitectura en Tránsito: Patrimonio arquitectónico de la primera mitad del Siglo XX en la Ciudad de Mérida, Yucatán. For more on Amábilis’s Mexican Pavilion in Seville, see the fourth chapter of Carranza, “Paradigms of the Avant-Garde: Mexican Modern Architecture, 1920–1940,” unpublished dissertation (Ph.D., Harvard, 1998) and Tenorio-Trillo’s Mexico at the World’s Fairs, 227–40. 44. Barnet-Sánchez, “The Necessity of Pre-Columbian Art: U.S. Museums and the Role of Foreign Policy in the Appropriation and Transformation of Mexican Heritage, 1933–1944,” 28. 45. Rydell, All the World’s a Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Expositions, 1876–1916. 46. Davis, Désiré Charnay: Expedition Photographer, 187. 47. The extensive bibliography on Manifest Destiny, U.S.–Latin American relations, and the Monroe Doctrine includes Dozer’s The Challenge to Pan Americanism; Aguilar’s Pan-Americanism from Monroe to the Present: A View from the Other Side; Gil’s Latin American-United States Relations; Bemis’s The Latin American Policy of the United States: A Historical Interpretation; Richard D. Erb and Ross’s (eds.) US Policies Toward Mexico, Proceedings of a Conference held in Houston, Texas, 5 February 1979; Schmitt’s Mexico and the United States, 1821– 1973; Fagg’s Pan Americanism; May’s The Making of the Monroe Doctrine. 48. More on this early history is available in Llorante’s “The World’s Fairs of 1889 and 1893: Antecedents to Maya Revival Style Architecture.” 49. Scholars—including Seth Fein, Holly Barnet-Sánchez, and Cecilia Klein—have explored aspects of this history.

notes to pages 85–95


50. With this characterization of the Revolution I run the danger of conflating the diverse ideologies of the principal leaders, very few of whom could find much common ground with any of the others. Although dialectical materialism was by no means the common base of this social movement, there is no question that the Yucatán’s distinctive experience of the Revolution was its most radical incarnation—especially during the governorship of Felipe Carillo Puerto, 1922–1924, who found inspiration in Lenin’s writings and the Soviet experiment. Gilbert Joseph explores the ideological foundation of the Revolution in the Yucatán in greater detail in his study The Revolution from Without: Yucatán, Mexico and the Unites States, 1880–1924. 51. I am thinking here of Robert Stacy-Judd, the practitioner of the Maya Revival style whose work was patronized by Masons and Theosophists, and who proposed his own reading of the Maya–Atlantis connection in Atlantis: Mother of Empires. Also relevant is Augustus Le Plongeon’s text “An Interesting Discovery: A Temple with Masonic Symbols in the Ruined City of Uxmal,” Harper’s Weekly (December 17, 1881). Many similar ideas appear in Amábilis’s Los Atlantes de Yucatán and in his La Arquitectura Precolombina de México, 38 ff. 52. Rosales, Madero y el espiritismo. 53. Hewett, “Ancient America at the Panama-California Exposition, San Diego, California,” 119. 54. Harrison, “Carlos Vierra: His Role and Influence on the Maya,” 21–28. 55. Significant as a precursor to the revolutionary government’s use of ancient Mexican architecture. See Llorante’s “The World’s Fairs of 1889 and 1893: Antecedents to Maya Revival Style Architecture.” 56. Hewett, 121. 57. Christman, The Romance of Balboa Park, 39. Chapter 4

1. Reprinted in Flam’s Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, 120. This text originally appeared in Artforum (September 1969) accompanied by photographs of the “Mirror Displacements,” reproduced in Bargelli-Severi, 74–91. 2. Ibid., 121. 3. “Four Conversations Between Dennis Wheeler and Robert Smithson (1969– 1970),” in ibid., 230–31. 4. Williams, Fantastic Archaeology: The Wild Side of North American Prehistory. 5. Smithson, “Incidents of Mirror-Travel in Yucatan,” reprinted in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, 119–20. 6. Ibid., 123. 7. Krauss, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” 33. 8. Smithson, “Incidents of Mirror-Travel in Yucatan,” in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, 126. 9. Lee, Chronophobia: On Time in the Art of the 1960s, 219. 10. Smithson, “Incidents of Mirror-Travel in Yucatan,” in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, 131.


notes to pages 98–107

11. This and subsequent quotes are from the recorded audio of Robert Smithson’s “Hotel Palenque” lecture. This slide lecture, preserved in the form of an audio recording and slide carousel, is now in the permanent collection of the Guggen­ heim Museum, New York. The text of the audio narration has been reprinted with some of the slide images in “Hotel Palenque,” 117–32. 12. Smithson, “Ultramodern,” in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, 63. 13. Ibid., 63. 14. Ibid., 65. 15. Ibid., 64. 16. Brenner, Idols Behind Altars, 312. 17. Ibid., 65. 18. I refer here to Serge Guilbaut’s study. 19. Paternosto, The Stone and the Thread and North and South Connected: An Abstrac­ tion of The Americas. Both Paternosto and James Oles (South of the Border) explore the use of Mesoamerican sources in Joseph Albers’s abstractions. 20. Unruh, Latin American Vanguards: The Art of Contentious Encounters, 143. 21. Artaud, “Messages revolutionnaires,” Oeuvres Completes, vol. VIII, 301. 22. “I am convinced that the great surrealist poets and painters will continue to create essential works, but I do not believe it is for surrealism to define the place of the artist in today’s world or to formulate art’s reason for being” [“Je suis convaincu que les grands poètes et peintres surréalistes continueront à créer des œuvres essentielles mais je ne crois plus qu’il ser donné au Surréalisme de déterminer la position de l’artiste dans le monde actuel, de formuler objectivemente la raison d’être de l’art”]. Paalen, “Farewell au Surrealisme,” Dyn, 26. Texts on pre-Columbian Mexico generally, and the Maya in particular, made regular appearances in Dyn (written by both archaeologists and artists)—especially in the double issue numbered 4–5 (December 1943), billed as the “Amerindian number.” 23. Quoted in Matthews’s Surrealism and American Feature Films, 11. 24. Ross, “Horror with Archeology: Lewin and the Jaguar Cult,” section 4, 4. 25. Lewin, “How To Do It Yourself in Old Chichen-Itza,” section X, 7. 26. Ibid., 7. 27. Freud, “The Uncanny,” in On Creativity and the Unconscious, 131. 28. Ibid., 141. 29. Ibid., 152. 30. This designation is used in the title of an essay on ¡Qué Viva México! by Greg Mitchell, “The Greatest Movie Never Made,” 53–58. 31. The most detailed first-person account is provided by the letters assembled in Geduld and Gottesman’s (eds.) Sergei Eisenstein and Upton Sinclair: The Making and Unmaking of ¡Qué Viva México! A briefer version of these events is provided by Leyda’s “Eisenstein’s Mexican Tragedy,” 305–8. The events immediately prior to the Mexican production are chronicled in Montagu’s With Eisenstein in Hollywood, which includes the outlines of the proposed adaptations of the work of Blaise Cendrars and Theodore Dreiser.

notes to pages 108–21


32. Sinclair provides this description of the project in the short Upton Sinclair on Eisenstein located in the Film Study Center collection at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. 33. Quoted in Leyda and Voynow’s Eisenstein at Work, 73. 34. The unauthorized versions of this footage that were completed and released include Thunder Over Mexico (Sol Lesser, Donn Hayes, Carl Himm, and Harry Chandlee, 1933), Death Day (Donn Hayes, 1933), Time in the Sun (Marie Seton and Paul Roger Bunford, 1939), Mexican Symphony (William F. Kruse, 1942), Eisenstein’s Mexican Film: Episodes for Study (Jay Leyda, 1957), and ¡Qué Viva México! (Grigory Alexandrov, 1979)—as well as versions edited by Kenneth Anger (1950) and Lutz Becher (in progress). Additional titles in the “Eisenstein in Mexico” filmography include a reconstruction (José Bolaños,1966) of the final vignette (“La Soldadera”) Eisenstein never filmed, Olivier Debroise’s previously mentioned uncategorizable film essay Un banquete en Tetlapayac (2000), and assorted educational shorts. 35. See, for example, Ramírez Berg’s “Figueroa’s Skies and Oblique Perspective: Notes on the Development of the Classical Mexican Style,” 24–40. 36. Again, this description is from the Upton Sinclair on Eisenstein short held in the Film Study Center collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. 37. The fifth and final issue of the Los Angeles–based film magazine Experimental Cinema (February 1934) is largely dedicated to the condemnation of Sinclair’s cannibalization of the footage, which critic Thomas Craven likened to the abuse of da Vinci’s Last Supper: “[S]ome imbecile Dominican monks cut a door through the lower central part; Napoleon’s dragoons stabled their horses in the refectory and threw their boots at Judas Iscariot.” This short-lived journal was at the time the principal forum for the publication of Soviet film theory in English translation. 38. Intertitle text from the opening of Death Day (Donn Hayes, 1933). 39. Quoted in Seton’s Sergei M. Eisenstein, 190–91. 40. Geduld and Gottesman, eds., Sergei Eisenstein and Upton Sinclair: The Making and Unmaking of ¡Qué Viva México!, 11. 41. Eisenstein, Immortal Memories, 210. 42. Stalin’s telegraph to Upton Sinclair is reproduced in Geduld and Gottesman, ibid., 212. 43. Montagu, With Eisenstein in Hollywood, 122. 44. The first letters back and forth between Eisenstein in Mexico and Sinclair in Pasadena contain many suggestions and possible scenarios being considered. In his letter of December 16, 1930, Sinclair suggested to Eisenstein a road movie (reminiscent of Herbert Kline’s The Forgotten Village, 1941) in which the protagonist’s journey would have paralleled his people’s narrative of progress into modernity: I find myself thinking continually of a Mexican lad brought up in a mountain village, who, for some reason or other, is impelled to go out and see the world in search for something. In the course of the search he will, of course, meet some girl, or maybe more than one, and be


notes to pages 121–24

compelled to go back to the place where the girl is staying. Meanwhile, he could see various aspects of Mexico; he could go from the mountains to the jungles, visit the cities, etc. Such a boy would be brought up in the midst of the Indian superstitions. Perhaps you will come upon some aspect of these religious rites which might cause a youth to go journeying. He might be cast out for breaking some taboo, or he might go to seek some symbol—if there is any Aztec symbol corresponding to the Holy Grail. Or he might revolt against some cruel and senseless tribal rite and go away to seek something better. That would give him occasion to visit churches and see what the Christian rites were. He might also come into contact with modern science and American ideas and ways. He could not definitely adopt or reject these, because that, presumably, would be politics and propaganda; but he might inspect them all, and go back to his native home a sadder and still more uncertain man. Clearly this proposal comes straight from the mold I analyze in Chapter 3—the story of the Indian’s progress out of “superstitions” and into “modern science and [North] American ideas and ways.” Hunter Kimbrough wrote back on January 12, 1931 with a considerably more picaresque and ribald suggestion put forward by Best Maugard: Dr. Adolphus Best [sic], a friend of [Secretary of Foreign Relations Genaro] Estrada’s and a highly cultured man, suggests a story similar to yours. He thinks your story would be too passive or slow; that a wanderer’s ideals, philosophy or interest in life or the world would detract from the glamour or romance of the picture. He suggests using an old Mexican ballad or song that is well known here, as a basis for the story. The hero of the story is a handsome, courageous, adventurous Don Juan. He has many love affairs and drinks and fights. He gets into trouble everywhere he goes and is forced to flee to other sections, either by the police or by rivals in love. He is educated and mixes in the best and worst society. He is romantic and a little artistic. Likes songs, women, travel, adventure, and scenic beauty. But due to his recklessness he is constantly in trouble and forced to move on quickly. I like Dr. Best’s suggestion. He says that is really Mexican. He is Mexican himself. These letters are to be found in the Upton Sinclair archive at the Lilly Library at Indiana University, Bloomington, and are included in Geduld and Gottesman, eds., Sergei Eisenstein and Upton Sinclair: The Making and Unmaking of ¡Qué Viva México!, 32, 42–43. The initial outline for the film, drafted by Eisenstein himself, resembles neither of these proposed plans—and is reproduced in Eisenstein’s Film Sense, 251–55. 45. This sketch is reproduced in Karetnikova and Steinmetz’s Mexico According to Eisenstein, 2.

notes to page 124


46. This never-realized film project was to have starred Paul Robeson and was derived from John Vandercook’s Black Majesty and Anatoli Vinogradov’s The Black Consul. Robeson later went to Moscow to discuss details of the production—which was officially announced, only to be later canceled. 47. Eisenstein, Immortal Memories, 44–45. 48. These debts and influences are outlined in de la Vega Alfaro’s Del muro a la pantalla: S.M. Eisenstein y el arte pictórico mexicano. Leyda and Voynow (in Eisenstein at Work) suggest the following correlation between the film’s vignettes and the artists who inspired them: the prologue was dedicated to Siqueiros and inspired by his fresco “The Worker’s Burial”; “Sandunga” was dedicated to Jean Charlot; “Fiesta” was dedicated to the memory of Francisco de Goya and his Tauromaquia etchings and paintings of bullfight scenes; “Magueyes” was dedicated to Diego Rivera; the unfilmed “La Soldadera” segment was to have been dedicated to Orozco; and the Day of the Dead ceremonies that comprise the film’s epilogue were dedicated to José Guadalupe Posada and his calaveras. 49. These illustrations were subsequently published in Gamio’s Álbum de colecciones arqueológicas seleccionadas y arregladas por Franz Boas. The excavations were accompanied by an ethnographical study, the introduction of which explains the concepts that informed the interdisciplinary study. See Gamio’s La población del valle de Teotihuacán: representativa de las que habitan las regiones rurales del Distrito Federal y de los estados de Hidalgo, Puebla, México y Tlaxcala. 50. De Neuvillate, 8 Pintores Mexicanos: de Velasco a Best Maugard, 58. 51. Best Maugard, A Method for Creative Design. The Mexican edition appeared first in 1923. 52. Best Maugard later made two films: La mancha de sangre (1937, a narrative feature in the cabaretera genre), and Humanidad (1934, a short propagandistic documentary for the government). Both of these show the pronounced influence of Eisenstein and Tissé. See Lerner and González’s Cine Mexperimental / Mexperimental Cinema (22–29, 110–11) and the anonymous account “La evolución de la cinematografía mexicana: Humanidad,” published in Revista de Revistas, vol. XXV, no. 1329, s.p. 53. From an interview in Todo, quoted in de la Vega Alfaro’s Del muro a la pantalla: S.M. Eisenstein y el arte pictórico mexicano, 20. 54. These have been reproduced in Eisenstein’s Drawings and in Karetnikova’s Mexico According to Eisenstein and Eisenstein’s Drawings: The Body of the Line. With the exception of the last of these publications, all of the more erotic images have been omitted. 55. Best Maugard, A Method for Creative Design, 146. 56. Eisenstein, Immortal Memories, 119. 57. Eisenstein, Eisenstein on Disney, 12, 69; Eisenstein, Towards a Theory of Montage, 255; and Goodwin, “Eisenstein, Ecstasy, Joyce and Hebraism,” 537. 58. Eisenstein, S. M. Eisenstein: Selected Works, Vol. IV, Beyond the Stars: The Memoirs of Sergei Eisenstein, 578. 59. Eisenstein, Eisenstein on Disney, 43. 60. Eisenstein, Immortal Memories, 209.


notes to pages 124–28

61. Eisenstein, Immortal Memories, 194. 62. Eisenstein, S. M. Eisenstein: Selected Works, Vol. IV, Beyond the Stars: The Memoirs of Sergei Eisenstein, 372. 63. Eisenstein, Immortal Memories, 211. 64. Leyda and Voynow, Eisenstein at Work, 72. 65. The concept of “modernist anthropology,” encompassing the influence of early cross-cultural research on vanguard literature and the contemporaneous literary stylings of anthropological writers, is developed in Manganaro’s (ed.) Modernist Anthropology: From Fieldwork to Text. 66. Eisenstein, Film Form, 141. 67. Eisenstein, Film Form, 142. 68. Eisenstein, Immortal Memories, 181–82. 69. Eisenstein, S. M. Eisenstein: Selected Works, Vol. IV, Beyond the Stars: The Memoirs of Sergei Eisenstein, 505. 70. The place of Tehuantepec in the Western imagination as an uncorrupted matriarchal Eden deserves to be the subject of another study. The exemplary formulations of this include Covarrubias’s Mexico South: The Isthmus of Tehuantepec and Poniatowska and Iturbide’s Juchitán de las mujeres—as well as the lost film of Manuel Álvarez Bravo. See Sierra’s “Geografías imaginarias II: La figura de la Tehuana,” 37–59, and Binford’s “Graciela Iturbide: Normalizing Juchitán,” 244–48. Prior to Covarrubias, Gruening’s Mexico and Its Heritage and Beals’s The Mexican Maze (books Eisenstein studied during his Mexican production) also refer to the strength and independence of the Tehuana. 71. Eisenstein, S. M. Eisenstein: Selected Works, Vol. IV, Beyond the Stars: The Memoirs of Sergei Eisenstein, 413. 72. Engels, “The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State,” 735. 73. Johannes Fabian, Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983), 31. 74. Joseph, Rediscovering the Past at Mexico’s Periphery: Essays on the History of Modern Yucatán, 124. Subsequently, Lázaro Cárdenas’s program of land reform (for which the Yucatán was something of a test case) transformed this situation dramatically. See Fallaw’s Cárdenas Compromised: The Failure of Reform in Postrevolutionary Yucatán. 75. Eisenstein, ¡Qué Viva México!, 27–28. 76. Marx’s characterization of the “Asiatic mode of production” is fitting here: “We must not forget the barbarian egotism which, concentrating on some miserable patch of land, had quietly witnessed the ruin of empires, the perpetration of unspeakable cruelties, the massacre of the population of large towns, with no other consideration bestowed upon them than on natural events, itself the helpless prey of an aggressor who deigned to notice it at all. We must not forget that this undignified, stagnatory, and vegetative life, that this passive sort of existence evoked on the other part, in contradistinction, wild, aimless, unbounded forces of destruction . . .” (from Marx, “The British Rule in India,” 658). 77. Geduld and Gottesman, eds., Sergei Eisenstein and Upton Sinclair: The Making and Unmaking of ¡Qué Viva México!, 32.

notes to pages 128–33


78. Quoted in Seton, Sergei M. Eisenstein, 190. 79. “The Mexican Motion Picture,” Upton Sinclair Mss., Writings, Series III, box 24, folder 13, 1. 80. Geduld and Gottesman, eds., Sergei Eisenstein and Upton Sinclair: The Making and Unmaking of ¡Qué Viva México!, 150. 81. Eisenstein, ¡Qué Viva México!, 85–87. 82. Goodwin, “Eisenstein, Ecstasy, Joyce and Hebraism,” 553. 83. Eisenstein, S. M. Eisenstein: Selected Works, Vol. I, Writings, 1922–34, 34. 84. Eisenstein, Immortal Memories, 182. 85. Many of these drawings were seized by U.S. Customs agents and presumably destroyed. At a point at which their relationship had soured irreversibly, Upton Sinclair describes them as “ugly and degrading representations of every kind of perversion involving both human beings and animals. The Customs officials stated that they were the vilest things they had ever seen in all their experience” (“The Eisenstein Mexican Picture: A Summary of Facts,” Upton Sinclair Mss., Writings, Series III, box 24, folder 8, 12). 86. González Mello, “Los pinceles del siglo XX. Arqueología del régimen,” in Los pinceles del siglo XX: Arqueología del régimen, 1910–1955, 31. See also Lerner’s The Shock of Modernity: Crime Photography in Mexico City, 48–49. 87. Eisenstein, S. M. Eisenstein: Selected Works, Vol. IV, Beyond the Stars: The Memoirs of Sergei Eisenstein, 498. 88. Eisenstein, S. M. Eisenstein: Selected Works, Vol. IV, Beyond the Stars: The Memoirs of Sergei Eisenstein, 500–501. 89. Håkan Lövgren, Eisenstein’s Labyrinth: Aspects of a Cinematic Synthesis of the Arts (Stockholm, 1996), 11–24. 90. Aumont, Montage Eisenstein, 59. 91. Bordwell, The Cinema of Eisenstein, 194. 92. Eisenstein, Immortal Memories, 183. 93. Eisenstein, Eisenstein on Disney, 23. 94. Eisenstein, S. M. Eisenstein: Selected Works, Vol. IV, Beyond the Stars: The Memoirs of Sergei Eisenstein, 92. 95. Ibid., 92–93. 96. Eisenstein, Eisenstein on Disney, 42. 97. Ibid., 9. 98. Charlot, “A Disney Disquisition,” 275. 99. Eisenstein, Eisenstein on Disney, 43. 100. Charlot, Art from the Mayans to Disney, 263. 101. Eisenstein, Immortal Memories, 178–80. 102. “But we have hardly started before a blinding flash of lightning, that for an instant fills the whole hollow with fiery light, causes the horses to stop, and is immediately followed by such a deafening clap of thunder that it seems as if the whole vault of heaven will crash down upon us.” Tolstoy, Childhood, Boyhood and Youth, 139. 103. Charlot, Art from the Mayans to Disney, 257–59.


notes to pages 133–42

Chapter 5

1. A good part of the controversy surrounding Frederick A. Mitchell-Hedges’ trustworthiness revolves around his purported discovery (along with his adopted teenage daughter Anna Mitchell-Hedges) of a crystal skull at the ruins of Labaantun in Belize (then British Honduras). Letters of support from the British Museum and the Heye Foundation and Museum of the American Indian are reprinted as an appendix to Mitchell-Hedges’ autobiography, Danger is My Ally (277–78). Although he offers little in the way of sustained argumentation, Mitchell-Hedges offers his hypothesis on the origin of the Maya. Picture the Atlanteans, then, numbed and desperate. The few who were fortunate enough to escape fleeing, frantic and despairing, to avoid the doom that was submerging their cities and temples, and drowning forever their lush green fields. Only a few escaped the onrushing waters, those fortunate few who were living on the extreme heights of this vast continent. They settled where they could. They must have been a scattered, feeble remnant but they must have retained some of the knowledge of their culture, and gradually their descendants reconstructed in new lands, and under different conditions, a civilization to which the world owes much—the Mayan (234). See also Mitchell-Hedges’ Land of Wonder and Fear and Blue Blaze—the accounts of these travels written by Jane Harvey Houlson, his secretary. 2. This is reprinted in Morley’s (ed.) The Inscriptions at Copán, 593–604. 3. Houston, Mazariegos, and Stuart, The Decipherment of Ancient Maya Writing; Coe, Breaking the Maya Code; and Stuart, “Quest for Decipherment: A Historical and Biographical Survey of Maya Hieroglyphic Investigation,” 1–63. 4. The best introductions to Brasseur de Bourbourg—especially for those disinclined to read through his wordy, inaccessible, and often jumbled writings—are Escalante Arce’s Brasseur de Bourbourg, Esbozo biográfico and Carroll Edward Mace’s “Charles Etienne Brasseur de Bourbourg, 1814–1874,” 298–325. 5. For the influence of Brasseur de Bourbourg on the Le Plongeons, see Desmond’s Yucatán Through Her Eyes: Alice Dixon Le Plongeon, Writer and Expeditionary Photographer, 23–25. 6. Brinton, “Critical Remarks on the Editions of Diego de Landa’s Writings,” 1. 7. Le Plongeon, “An Interesting Discovery: A Temple with Masonic Symbols in the Ruined City of Uxmal,” Harper’s Weekly, December 17, 1881, 851–52. 8. Le Plongeon, “The Egyptian Sphinx,” 363. 9. In addition to the Le Plongeons and Plato’s account from Timaeus and Critias, the sources of Stacy-Judd’s treatment of the Maya–Atlantis connection (detailed in his Atlantis—Mother of Empires) include Ignatius Donnelly’s Atlantis: The Antediluvian World (1882); James Churchward’s The Lost Continent of Mu, Motherland of Man (1926); James Churchward’s The Children of Mu (1931); James Churchward’s Cosmic Forces as they were Taught in Mu (1934); James Churchward’s The Sacred Symbols of Mu (1938); Lewis Spence’s The Problem of

notes to pages 145–50


Atlantis (1924); Lewis Spence’s Atlantis in America (1925); and Lewis Spence’s The History of Atlantis (1926). 10. This phrase is borrowed from the title of Helen Delpar’s history of U.S.–Mexican cultural relations in the 1920s and 1930s: The Enormous Vogue of Things Mexican: Cultural Relations Between the United States and Mexico, 1920– 1935. Delpar in turn borrows the phrase from an article in the New York Times of April 15, 1933, which stated (p. 12): “It came into being at the height of our prosperity when people gave signs of being fed up with material comforts and turned, for a respite from the Machine Age, to primitive cultures. Mexico lay close at hand.” 11. As discussed in Chapter 1, Barnum exhibited two Central Americans presented as descendants of “the Ancient Aztec founders of the ruined temples of that country, described by John L. Stephens Esq., and other travelers.” 12. This quote is taken from Stacy-Judd’s typewritten, unpaginated autobiographical manuscript on deposit at the University of Calfornia, Santa Barbara’s Architectural Drawing Collection. 13. In addition to Helen Delpar’s account, see Oles’s South of the Border. 14. Sylvanus Morley, “The Foremost Intellectual Achievement of Ancient America: The Hieroglyphic Inscriptions on the Monuments in the Ruined Cities of Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras Are Yielding the Secrets of the Maya Civilization,” 109–31; “Chichen Itza, An Ancient American Mecca,” 63–95; “Recent Excavations in Yucatan Are Bringing to Light the Temples, Palaces, and Pyramids of America’s Most Holy Native City,” National Geographic, 99–126; and “Yucatán, Home of the Gifted Maya: Two Thousand Years of History Reach Back to Early American Temple Builders, Corn Cultivators, and Pioneers in Mathematics,” National Geographic, 591–644. In addition, the writings of Alma Reed, Anita Brenner, and Gregory Mason helped popularize the ancient Maya in the 1920s. 15. Revista de Yucatán, July 17, 1923, 1. 16. Mason, Silver Cities of Yucatan; Gann, Mystery Cities; Blom and La Farge, Tribes and Temples; and Russell, Red Tiger. 17. Willard, The City of the Sacred Well. 18. Hampton, “Creating a New World Architecture,” 16–17, 38, 45, 48. Similar rhetoric appears in numerous clippings in the Stacy-Judd file at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Architectural Drawing Collection. 19. Deverell, Whitewashed Adobe: The Rise of Los Angeles and the Remaking of Its Mexican Past. 20. The literature on cross-dressing and minstrelsy, and on what I am calling here cross-cultural transvestitism, is vast and might begin with Butler’s Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity; Garber’s Vested Interests: Cross Dressing and Cultural Anxiety; Lott’s Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); Green’s “The Tribe Called Wannabee: Playing Indian in America and Europe,” 30–55; and Robert Baird’s “Going Indian: Discovery, Adoption and Renaming Toward a ‘True American,’ from Deerslayer to Dances with Wolves,” 195–209.


notes to pages 150–52

21. Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness, 104. 22. For a useful survey and analysis, see Philip J. Deloria’s Playing Indian. John Paskievich’s 1995 documentary film If Only I Were an Indian (on the encounter of an Ojibwe and a Cree visitor with would-be Indian New Agers in the former Czechoslovakia) offers a view of a transatlantic variant on the same phenomenon. 23. Ward Churchill, Indians are Us? Culture and Genocide in Native North America (Toronto: Between the Lines Press, 1994). A pointed commentary on the use of Native American imagery by sports teams is provided by the artist Rubén Ortiz Torres’s reappropriations in the form of baseball caps. See also the sections “Fighting Redskins” and “Consuming Crazy Horse” in Coombe’s The Cultural Life of Intellectual Properties, 185–204. 24. Bruce Price’s home for Pierre Lorillard (Tuxedo, New York, 1885), Otto Neher and Chauncey Skillings’s Cordova Hotel (Los Angeles, 1912), the firm of Allison and Allison’s tunnel entrance to the Southwest Museum (Los Angeles, California, 1919–1920), Frank Lloyd Wright’s A. D. German Warehouse (Richmond Center, Wisconsin, 1915), Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House (Los Angeles, California, 1917–1921), and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Imperial Hotel (Tokyo, Japan, 1916–1922) and Millard House (Pasadena, California, 1923). In the Yucatán, early examples include Manuel Amábilis’s Masonic lodge (Mérida, Yucatán, 1915; discussed in Chapter 3) and Amábilis and Gregory Webb’s Sanatorio Rendón Peniche (Mérida, Yucatán, 1919). 25. Breeze, Pueblo Deco. 26. Gebhard, Robert Stacy-Judd: Maya Architecture and the Creation of a New Style, 80–81, 86–87. 27. Heimann and Georges, California Crazy: Roadside Vernacular Architecture. 28. Venturi, Brown, and Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas, 74–75. 29. Clawson, Constructing Brotherhood; Dumenil, Freemasonry and American Culture, 1880–1930; and Carnes, Secret Ritual and Manhood in Victorian America. 30. The holdings of the Southwest Museum (Los Angeles) include copies of The Mayan, their newsletter, and their Mayan Temple Handbook. 31. Mayan Temple, vol. 1, no. 2 (1933), 5. 32. Mayan Temple, vol. 6, no. 7 (1941), 2. 33. The details of this are obscure and surrounded by a great deal of myth. 34. Curl, The Art and Architecture of Freemasonry: An Introductory Study. 35. Probably a misspelling of Ixtapalapa, outside Mexico City. 36. Stacy-Judd, The Ancient Mayas: Adventures in the Jungles of Yucatan, 37–38. 37. Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, vol. 1, 59. 38. Discussed in Chapter 1, and in Campos García’s La Etnia Maya en la Conciencia Criolla Yucateca, 1810–1861. 39. Bacchini’s Casa del Pueblo and other Yucatecan examples of Maya Revival architecture are documented in Lara Navarrete’s Estilos Arquitectónicos de Mérida: Historia ilustrada, desde su fundación hasta la actualidad, 71 ff.

notes to pages 152–58


40. When Porfirio Díaz visited Mérida in 1906, the city built a series of commemorative Maya arches to mark the occasion. These are documented in Álbum de las fiestas presidenciales conmemorativas. 41. The literature on the post-Revolutionary Mexican cultural renaissance is vast. In the visual arts, useful introduction is provided by Debroise’s Figuras en el trópico and Olivier Debroise et al.’s Modernidad y modernización en el arte mexicano, 1920–1960—as well as by numerous monographs available on the work of individual artists. Architecture played a key role in this larger cultural project, and in Mexico City individuals such as Carlos Obregón Santacilia blended preColumbian references with Deco, Mission, and streamline modern styles. 42. This is the thesis, argued in great detail and quite convincingly, in Joseph’s Revolution from Without. 43. The North American need for labor during World War I led Congress to remove barriers to Mexican immigration in 1917. The 1919 Red Scare and the establishment of the Border Patrol in 1924 had the opposite effect—that of stepping up the rate of repatriations. The “revolving door” policy effectively eliminated the presence of labor leaders and organizers while it maintained an adequate supply of inexpensive labor available for agriculture and industry. The first serious research project on this complex dynamic dates from this era: Gamio’s study The Life Story of the Mexican Immigrant. 44. A parallel could be made with colonial californiano, the Mexican version of California Mission Revival architecture—itself a copy of the colonial religious architecture of New Spain. A parallel might also be drawn with the Taco Bell restaurant that opened in Mexico City in the 1990s (only to go out of business shortly afterward). 45. Stacy-Judd, The Ancient Mayas: Adventures in the Jungles of Yucatan, 53. 46. Ibid. 47. I am thinking here of travelers such as Ernest Gruening, John Dos Passos, and Bertram Wolfe—who were attracted by the Revolutionary politics of the 1920s in Mexico. 48. The exceptions are often those buildings that have been adapted to other functions. The Mayan Theater of Los Angeles, a 1927 movie palace no longer viable in the age of the multiplex theater, now functions as a nightclub. The former San Diego Federal Building would perhaps better serve the Centro Cultural de la Raza than the nearby water storage tank in which that institution is currently housed. 49. Irving Sandler, The Triumph of American Painting. Conclusions

1. Alvarado, Carta al Pueblo de Yucatán y mi sueño, 57. 2. Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project, 212.


notes to pages 158–64

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Filmogr aphy

Thunder Over Mexico, Sol Lesser, Donn Hayes, Carl Himm, and Harry Chandlee (USA, 1933) Death Day, Donn Hayes (USA, 1933) Fest der Völker, Leni Riefenstahl (also called Olympiad, Germany, 1938) Fest der Schönheit, Leni Riefenstahl (also called Olympiad, Germany, 1938) Time in the Sun, Marie Seton and Paul Roger Bunford (USA, 1939) Robert Stacy-Judd home movies (USA and Mexico, 1930s?) Los Primeros Juegos Deportivos Peninsulares, Emilio Gómez Muriel (Mexico, 1939) La noche de los mayas, Chano Urueta (Mexico, 1939) Mexican Symphony, William F. Kruse (USA, 1942) South of the Border with Disney, Walt Disney (USA, 1942) Saludos Amigos, Walt Disney (USA, 1942) The Moon and Sixpence, Albert Lewin (USA, 1942) The Grain that Built a Hemisphere, Walt Disney, (USA, 1943) The Three Caballeros, Walt Disney (USA, 1945) Raíces, Benito Alazraki (Mexico, 1953) Eisenstein’s Mexican Film: Episodes for Study, Jay Leyda (USA, 1957) The Living Idol, Albert Lewin (USA, 1958) Expedition: Treasure of the Sacred Well, Lee Sholem and V. Fae Thomas (USA, 1961) ¡Qué Viva Mexico!, Grigory Alexandrov (USSR, 1979) Incidents of Travel in Chichén Itzá, Jeffrey Himpele and Quetzil Castañeda (USA and Mexico, 1997) Sergei Eisenstein: Meksikanskaya fantasiya [Sergei Eisenstein: Mexican Fantasy], Oleg Kovalov (Russia, 1998) The Road to El Dorado, Eric “Bibo” Bergeron and Will Finn (USA, 2000) Un banquete en Tetlapayac [A Banquet in Tetlapayac], Olivier Debroise (Mexico, 2000) Chan Comandante Chico, TV Turix (Mexico, 2003)



Ades, Dawn, 65 A. D. German Warehouse (Wright), 164, 187n24 Africa, 5, 6, 55, 58, 61, 131, 171n1, 172n11 Alazraki, Benito, 44–51, 53, 77, 78, 118 Alexandrov, Grigory V., 123, 180n34 Alfar, 110 Altamira (Spain), 141 Alva de la Canal, Ramón, 75 Alvarado, Salvador, 78, 79, 84, 96, 98, 158, 162–63, 188n1 Álvarez Bravo, Manuel, 35, 36, 130, 132, 183n70 Amábilis, Max, 90–93 Amábilis Domínguez, Manuel, 23, 68, 71, 90–98, 100, 118, 145, 177n42 Amecameca (México), 140 American Antiquarians, Society of, 147 American Museum of Natural History (New York), 64 “American Sources of Modern Art” (1933), 95 American Tragedy, An (Dreiser), 123 Amero, Emilio, 77 Ancient Society, or Researches in the Lines of Human Progress from Savagery Through Barbarism to Civilization (Morgan), 130 Andrade, Mário de, 111 Andrade, Oswald de, 111 Andre, Carl, 106 Anguiano, Raúl, 43 Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso (Mexico City), 75 antropofágia, 111 Aqua-Lung, 2, 161 Aragón Leyva, Agustín, 125, 126 Arensberg, Louise, 11, 12, 55, 57, 61, 62, 65, 72, 115, 164 Arensberg, Walter, 11, 12, 55, 57, 61, 62, 64–65, 72, 115, 164


Arensberg collection, 55–56, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 78 Argonauts of the Western Pacific (Malinowski), 129 Aristocratic Dance (Orozco, J. C.), 138 Artaud, Antonin, 113 Art from the Mayans to Disney (Charlot), 7 Art News, 109 Atlantis, 31, 90, 98, 104, 105, 110, 145, 146, 150 Aumont, Jacques, 137 Ávila, Luis, 85 Aztec Hotel (California), 149–60 Aztecs, 2, 23, 60, 75, 76, 87, 90, 100, 127, 139, 151, 169n35, 181n44 Aztec Theater (Texas), 154 Babylonia, 144, 154 Bacchini, Ángel, 158 Bahamas, 90, 160 Baker, Josephine, 67 Balla, Giacomo, 141 Banquete en Tetlapayac, Un (Debroise), 111, 180n34 Barbachano Ponce, Fernando, 151, 152 Barbachano Ponce, Miguel, 45 Barnet-Sánchez, Holly, 59, 93 Barnum, P. T., 22, 151, 186n11 Barragán, Luis, 100 Bartra, Roger, 14, 15–16, 48, 130, 171n59 Bataille, Georges, 111 Battleship Potemkin, The (Eisenstein), 123 Beals, Carlton, 129 Beaux-Arts, 90, 91, 177n42 Becker, Lutz, 121 Belize, 3, 151, 166n6, 185n1 Belshazzar, 166n15 Beni-Hasan Theater, Store and Office Building (California), 149 Benjamin, Walter, 164 Benton, Thomas Hart, 42 Bergeron, Eric “Bibo,” 4

Bernal, Ignacio, 167n5 Bernard, Emile, 64 Bernardino de Sahagún, 104 Best Maugard, Adolfo, 42, 75, 124–27, 134, 181n44, 182n52 Biologia Centrali Americana (Maudslay), 21 Black Consul, The (Vinogradov), 182n46 Black Majesty (Vandercook), 182n46 Blade Runner (Scott), 8 Blake, William, 118 Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna, 144 Blavatsky Lodge, 148 Blom, Frans, 152 Boas, Franz, 73, 125 Boîte-en-valise (Duchamp), 65, 66 Bonampak, 36, 70 Bonk, Ecke, 65 Borges, Jorge Luis, 110 Bossom, Alfred C., 87–88, 109, 146 Brancusi, Constantin, 55, 62, 172n8 Braque, Georges, 42, 55 Brasseur de Bourbourg, Charles-Étienne, 22, 145–48, 150, 155, 160, 168n15, 185n4 Brenner, Anita, 110, 129 Breton, Adela, 42 Breton, André, 113 Bride of the Rain God: Princess of Chichen Itza (Willard), 159, 165n1 Brinton, Daniel G., 147 British Museum, 52, 144, 185n1 Broca, Paul, 23, 129 Broodthaers, Marcel, 66 Brooklyn (New York), 155 Browning, Todd, 113 Buchloh, Benjamin, 56 Buck-Morss, Susan, 164 Buddha, 136 Buñuel, Luis, 114 Burgos, José, 2 Calder, Alexander, 55 Calderón, Bernardo, 85 California Aerospace Museum (Gehry), 160

California Building (San Diego; Goodhue), 98–100 “California Crazy,” 154 California Pacific International Exposition (San Diego, 1935), 93 calotype, 25, 26 Campeche, 6, 41, 83, 89, 105, 161 Campo Deportivo Salvador Alvarado (Mérida), 78–79, 84 Camus, Albert, 48 Cancún (Quintana Roo), 28, 100 Canetti, Elias, 82 Cannes Film Festival (France), 45 Canto Echeverría, Humberto, 85 Canul, Avelino, 2 Cárdenas, Lázaro, 73, 183n74 Carlota, Empress (Princess Charlotte Léopoldine of Belgium, Empress of Mexico), 21 Carnegie Institution of Washington, 36, 42, 75, 84, 151–52, 155 Carpentier, Alejo, 111 Carranza, Venustiano, 98 Carrillo Puerto, Felipe, 151, 152, 158 Carrington, Leonora, 43, 113, 115 Casa del Pueblo (Mérida; Bacchini), 156–57, 187n39 Casanova, Rosa, x, 168n23 Castañeda, Luciano, 22 Caste Wars, 32, 33, 69, 168n31 Castro Pacheco, Fernando, 135 Catalonia, 160 Catherwood, Frederick, 10, 17–35, 44–53, 77, 78, 94, 105, 149, 167n5 Catholicism, 48, 96, 97, 100, 118, 135, 138–40 Cendrars, Blaise, 123, 179n31 cenote, 1, 4, 5, 9, 94, 108, 152, 162, 165n1 Centro Cultural de la Raza (San Diego), 188n48 Century of Progress (Chicago, 1933), 94 Cézanne, Paul, 64 Chacmool, 59, 79, 91, 94, 173n13 Chan Comandande Chico (Salomón et al.), 161–64


Chan Kom (Yucatán), 84, 85 Chaplin, Charles, 123 Chapultepec, 40, 117–18 Charlot, Jean, 7, 42, 75, 77–78, 110–11, 125, 127, 140–42, 182n48 Charnay, Désiré, 21, 22, 27, 35, 60, 94 Chiapas, 6, 9, 12, 17, 18, 43, 46, 47, 102, 103, 107 Chicago (Illinois), 30, 84, 85, 86, 94, 154 Chicago Tribune Tower, 86 Chichén Itzá (Yucatán), 1–7, 18, 28–30, 36, 67, 70, 75, 79–98, 106, 116–19, 124–26, 131–34, 141–51, 158–60, 165n1, 173n13 China, 145 Chronos, 106 Churchward, James, 98, 150 City of the Sacred Well, The (Willard), 152, 165n1 Civilización cristiana acogiendo a una joven aborigen, La (Zárraga), 70 Clifford, James, 59, 67, 68 Coatlicue, 39, 76, 106 Cold War, 37, 41 Coleman, Ronald, 123 Columbus, Christopher, 8, 145 Concha Vargas, Waldemaro, ix, 9, 23–33, 91, 92, 100, 168n20 Congreso Indigenista Interamericano (Michoacán), 73–74 Cooper, Merian C., 113 Coordinador Latinoamericano de Cine y Comunicación de los Pueblos Indígenas, 163 Copán (Honduras), 30, 42, 51, 52, 98, 145 Corman, Cid, 6 Cornejo, Francisco, 100 Cornell, Joseph, 114 Corno Emplumado, El, 170n53 Cortés, Hernán, 135, 172n6 Covarrubias, Luis, 43 Covarrubias, Miguel, 130, 183n70 Cox, Neil, 65 Crane, Hart, 109 Craven, Thomas, 180n37 Creeley, Robert, 6, 41 Crimp, Douglas, 37, 170n40

Cuauhtémoc, 49, 76, 169n35 cubism, 5, 7, 46, 61, 76, 171n1 Cuevas, José Luis, 41–44, 82, 83, 85, 111 Curry, John Stuart, 42 Cushing, Frank Hamilton, 128, 153 Daguerre, Louis-JacquesMandé, 25–26 daguerreotype, 17, 18, 20, 25–26, 27, 29, 33–35 Dalí, Salvador, 113 Dapprich, Fred, 61 Death Day (Eisenstein), 121 Debroise, Olivier, 68, 111, 180n34 de Chirico, Giorgio, 115 Decline of the West, The (Spengler), 74 De eso que llaman antropología mexicana (Warman et al.), 40 Degeneration (Nordau), 74 de la Cueva, Amado, 75 del Río, Antonio, 22 del Valle, Daniel, 175n11 Delvaux, Paul, 115 DeMille, Cecil B., 93, 154 de ou par MARCEL DUCHAMP ou RROSE SELAVY (Duchamp), 65 Departamento Autónoma de Asuntos Indígenas, 83 Derain, André, 172n11 descubrimiento del pulque, El (Obregón), 175n11 Deverell, William, 152 de Zayas, Marius, 55, 56, 171n1, 172n11 Día de la Revolución, 83 Día de los Muertos, 128 Díaz, Félix, 99 Díaz, Porfirio, 72, 188n40 Diem, Carl, 79, 83 Digging in Yucatan (Morris), 36 Dion, Marc, 66 Diorama de los mexicanos (Segura Villán), 49–50 Disney, Walt, 7, 13, 114, 123, 127, 134, 139–41 Documents, 111 Domínguez, Virginia, 59 Donnelley, Ignatius, 98, 104, 150 doppelgängers, 119, 174n33 Dreier, Katherine S., 175n46 Dreiser, Theodore, 123, 179n31 Druids, 155 Duchamp, Marcel, 55, 64–67, 69, 174n27, 174n33, 175n46


Dulac, Germaine, 114 Dumbarton Oaks (Washington, D.C.), 62–63, 69, 71 Dupaix, Guillermo, 18, 20, 22 Dürer, Albrecht, 172n6 Durkin Reo Motors (Mexico City; Mariscal), 89 Dwan, Virginia, 6 Dyn, 113, 179n22 École Spéciale d’Architecture (Paris), 91 ecstasy, 134–40 Egypt, 17, 18, 98, 126, 144, 146, 148, 149, 156 Eisenstein, Sergei, 6, 12–13, 58, 111, 120–43, 164, 180n34, 180n44, 182n48, 182n49, 184n85 Electric Picture Palace (Isle of Wight; Stacy-Judd), 149 Elks Home (North Dakota; Stacy-Judd), 149 El Salvador, 166n6 Emerson, Harold Davis, 155 Enchanted Boundary (StacyJudd), 150 Engels, Friedrich 124, 130, 131 Entartete Kunst, 66 Epcot Center (Florida), 90, 150 Eppens, Francisco, 41 Ernst, Max, 115 Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 39 Estampas del Popol-vuh (Mérida, C.), 43 Estrada, Genaro, 181n44 Estudio arquitectónico de las ruinas mayas: Yucatán y Campeche (Mariscal), 89 Euphrates River, 130 Evans, Roy Tripp, 51 Expedition: Treasure of the Sacred Well, 1–4, 7, 164 Exposition of Decorative Arts (Paris), 89 Fabian, Johannes, 131 Fauves, 6, 172n11 Felguérez, Manuel, 43 Fernández de Córdoba, Francisco, 15 Fernández Ledesma, Gabriel, 125


Fest der Schönheit (Riefenstahl), 82 Fest der Völker (Riefenstahl), 82 Festival Regional CineVideo-Sociedad / Geografías Suaves, 4 Figueroa, Gabriel, 79, 85 Finn, Will, 4 Fischer, David Hackett, 173n17 Fite, Harvey, 42 Ford (automobile), 73, 94, 162–63 Forgotten Village, The (Kline), 180n44 Forjando patria (Gamio), 73 Four-sided Vortex (Smithson), 111 Fox Movietone News, 36, 169n36 Franklin, Sidney, 114 Fraser, Andrea, 69 Frazer, James George, 128 Freemasonry, 90, 96–98, 100, 148, 150, 155–56, 159–60, 178n51, 187n24 Freud, Sigmund, 118–20, 137 Friedrichsthal, Emanuel von, 18, 21, 25 Galeria Arte Mexicano (Mexico City), 113 Galerie Renou et Colle (Paris), 113 Galindo, Juan, 20, 145 Gallo, Rubén, 82 Galton, Francis, 129 Gamio, Manuel, 40, 73, 74, 125, 182n49, 188n43 Gann, Thomas, 152 Garbo, Greta, 114 García, Sergio, 44 Gates, William E., 144 Gauguin, Paul, 6, 115, 129, 134 Gehry, Frank, 160 General Line, The (Eisenstein), 133 Gerzso, Gunther, 5, 170n56 Gilpin, Laura, 36 Giza, 160 Gladwin, Harold, 11 Glass Stratum (Smithson), 106 Globe Museum (New York), 23 Goeritz, Mathías, 43 Goldwater, Robert, 58 Goldwyn, Samuel, 123 Gómez Muriel, Emilio, 79–80, 85

González Camarena, Jorge, 43 González de León, Teodoro, 100 González Mello, Renato, 135 Good Earth, The (Franklin), 114 Goodhue, Bertram, 98–100, 144 Good Neighbor policy, 93, 95, 100, 151, 159 Goodwin, James, 134 Goya, Francisco de, 182n48 Grecia, 110 Greeks, 14, 31, 78, 98, 126, 148 Greenberg, Clement, 109 Greene, Graham, 96 Griffith, D. W., 154 Grotius, Hugo, 11 Gruzinski, Serge, 7–8 Guatemala, 3, 13, 144, 151, 156, 166n6 Guerra, Pedro, 22 Guerrero, Xavier, 75 Guerrilla Girls, 68 Guggenheim Museum (New York), 67, 68, 160 Guzmán, Martín Luis, 49, 51 Haacke, Hans, 68, 69 Hacienda (Porter), 122 Haiti, 124 Hall, Manly Palmer, 156, 160 Halliburton, Richard, 152 Hansen, Asael T., 176n24 Harlem, 127 Harper’s, 147 Hartos, los, 40 Hathaway, Henry, 114 Haven, Samuel, 147 Healey, Giles, 36 henequén, El (Castro Pacheco), 135 Here and There in Yucatan, Miscellanies (Le Plongeon), 147 Hewett, Edgar Lee, 98 Heye Foundation, 144, 185n1 Hidalgo (state), 98, 122 Hinsley, Curtis, 51 Historia de Yucatán, devocionario de Nuestra Señora de Izmal, y conquista espiritual (Lizana), 145 Hitchcock, Alfred, 113 Holt, Nancy, 6 Holtún (Yucatán), 81, 83 Homer, 78 Honduras, 3, 13, 166n6 Hooton, Earnest A., 20


Hoover, Herbert, 95 Hopkins, David, 65 Hospital Redón Piniche (Mérida), 164 Hotel Monthly, The, 150 Hotel Palenque (Chiapas), x, 12, 107–9, 179n11 Huerta, Victoriano, 99 Huichol, 43, 128 Huitzilopochtli, 39 Hul-Che Atlatl Throwing Stick, 150 human rights, 163 Hyperion group, 48 Ibero-American Exposition (Seville, 1929), 92 Idols Behind Altars (Brenner), 129 Iglesia de la Tercera Orden (Mérida), 96–97 Improved Order of the Redmen, 153 Incidents of Mirror Travel in Yucatan (Smithson), 6, 12, 102–12, 164 Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan (Stephens), 17, 21, 27, 30, 32, 44, 157, 167n5 Incidents of Travel in Yucatan (Stephens), 17, 21, 27, 30, 32, 44, 157, 167n5 India, 110 indigenismo, 16, 36, 40, 43, 44, 76, 82, 98, 100, 158, 167n3 Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historía (INAH), 1 Insurgent Mexico (Reed), 128 Interioristas, 40 Intolerance (Griffith), 154 Iphigenia, 118 Isis, 148 Iturbide, Graciela, 130, 183n70 Izamal, 18, 51, 139 Izenour, Steven, 154 Japan, 31, 60, 66, 67, 145 Java, 131 Jeanneret, Charles-Éduoard. See Le Corbusier Jensen, Alfred, 5 Jesus, 148 Jiménez, Agustín, 125 Johnson, Philip, 62, 71 José Martí Library (Mérida), 91 Joseph, Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, of Austria.


See Maximilian, Emperor Joyce, James, 127 Juárez, Benito, 49 Kandinsky, Wassily, 55, 62 Katz, Leandro, 9, 23, 27–30 Khlysts, 136 Kimbrough, Hunter, 123, 181n44 King, John, 44 Kingsborough, Edward, 11, 31 Klee, Paul, 55, 172n8 Kline, Herbert, 180n44 Knights of Pythias, 155 Kölnische Illustrierte, 128 Kon Tiki, 166n15 Kracauer, Sigfried, 81 laberinto de la soledad, El (Paz), 48 Lady Eve, The (Sturges), 114 La Farge, Oliver, 152 Lanbá, 91, 94, 156 Landa, Diego de, 22, 145– 46, 168n15 Larrinaga, Juan, 93 Lasky, Jesse, 123 Lawrence, D. H., 129 Leal, Fernando, 75 Learning from Las Vegas (Venturi, Scott, Brown), 108 Le Corbusier (CharlesÉduoard Jeanneret), 67, 93 Le Plongeon, Augustus, 13, 21, 22, 94, 105, 146–48, 150, 155–56, 160, 173n13 Le Plongeon, Alice, 13, 21, 22, 146–48, 150, 155–56, 160, 173n13 Leonardo da Vinci, 46–47, 137, 180n37 Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood (Freud), 137 León-Portillo, Miguel, 10 Léopoldine, Princess Charlotte, of Belgium, Empress of Mexico Lemuria. See Carlota, Empress Leslie’s Popular Monthly, 147 Lévy-Bruhl, Lucien, 123, 128, 129, 137 Lewin, Alfred, 12, 13, 113–20 L.H.O.O.Q. rasée (Duchamp), 65 Life, 36, 42 Lindbergh, Charles, 151

Living Idol, The (Lewin), 12, 113–20 Lizana, Bernardo de, 145 Lloyd, Frank, 114 Lockhart, Sharon, 9, 36–37 Lombardo Toledano, Vicente, 95 Lombroso, Cesare, 129 London, Jack, 128 López Portillo, José, 143 L’Or (Cendrars), 123 Los Angeles (California), 8, 55, 90, 114, 122, 128, 160, 188n48 Lövgren, Håkan, 137 Macunaíma (Andrade, M.), 111 Madero, Francisco, 98, 99, 100 Madrid Codex, 146 Maler, Teobert, 21, 22 Malinowski, Bronislaw, 129 Manifest Destiny, 23, 156, 177n47 Mann’s Chinese Theater, 154 Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky), 65, 114, 115, 118, 175n46 Mariscal, Francisco, 89 Martín Fierro, 110 Marx, Karl, 132, 183n76 Marxism, 76, 78, 122, 130, 134, 139, 158 Mason, Gregory, 152 Masons. See Freemasonry mass ornament, 81–82 Matisse, Henri, 42, 64 Maudslay, Alfred Percival, 21, 22 Maugham, Somerset, 115 Maximilian, Emperor (Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph of Austria), 21, 147 Maya Boy of Tulum (Álvarez Bravo), 35, 132 Mayaland Hotel (Yucatán), 151 Mayan Hotel (Guatemala), 7 Mayan Temple and Alliance of American Aborigines (New York), 155 McEvilley, Thomas, 62 McKim, Mead, and White, 86 Medina, Cuauhtémoc, 111, 170n56, 175n45 mentalité primitive, La (Lévy-Bruhl), 123 Mérida, Carlos, 7, 43, 59–60, 118 Mérida (Yucatán), 4, 6, 9, 22, 23, 30, 42–51, 78–79, 83–85, 90, 92,


93, 96, 100, 103, 124, 131, 151, 156–60, 164, 176n24 mesmerism, 148 Messages revolutionnaires (Artaud), 113 Method for Creative Design (Best Maugard), 126 Metropolitan Life Tower (New York), 86 Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), 63 Mexican Revolution, 8, 52, 69, 72, 96, 133, 158, 170n41, 178n50 Mexican, The (London), 128 Mexican Maze, The (Beals), 129, 183n70 Mexico South (Covarrubias), 134 Minoans, 144 Minotaur, 113 Miró, Joan, 55, 56 Mission Revival, 89, 154, 188n44 Mística de la Revolución Mexicana (Amábilis), 98 Mitchell-Hedges, Frederick A., 144, 185n1 Moctezuma (Villar), 175n11 modernist anthropology, 183n65 Modotti, Tina, 42 Mondragón, Sergio, 170n53 Mondrian, Piet, 55 Monroe Doctrine, 20, 52, 94, 101 Monrovia (California), 150, 151, 156, 158 “Montage of Attractions, The” (Eisenstein), 134 Montenegro, Roberto, 55, 75, 125 Montezuma, 76 Montezuma en el templo recibe el nombramiento del monarca (Unzueta), 175n11 Montezuma II visita en Chapultepec los retratos de los monarcas, sus antecesores (del Valle), 175n11 Monumento a la Patria (Rozo), 92 Moon and Sixpence, The (Lewin), 115 Moore, Henry, 59 Mora, Carl, 44 Morado, José Chávez, 41, 43 Morgan, Lewis Henry, 130, 172n7 Morley, Sylvanus G., 169n36, 169n38 Moro, César, 113 Morris, Ann Axtell, 36


Morton, Samuel George, 129 Moscow, 121, 182n46 Mu, 150, 166n15 Mujica, Francisco, 88–89, 109 Museo de Arte Precolombino de México Rufino Tamayo (Oaxaca), 71–72 Museo Nacional de Antropología, 9, 11, 37–44 Museum of Modern Art (New York), 6, 58, 95 Museum of the Void (Smithson), 106 Mutiny on the Bounty (Lloyd), 114 Muybridge, Eadweard, 142 Mystery Cities (Gann), 152 Mystery Park (Switzerland), 160 NAFTA. See North American Free Trade Agreement Nahuatl, 159 Nation, The, 109 National Geographic, 1, 2, 4, 104, 151 National Geographic Society, 1 nationalism, 30, 37, 41, 46, 72, 158 National Preparatory School, 75 Nayarit, 83 Neil Monroe House, 154 New Confederacy of the Iroquois, 153 New Deal, 42, 155 New Jersey, 109 New York, 6, 17, 18, 20, 23, 30, 35, 51, 58, 61, 63, 64, 67, 72, 85, 86, 95, 106, 108, 111, 116, 144, 148, 155, 159 New York Times, 150, 186n10 Nichols Aztec Fair, 23 Nirvana, 136 Noche de los Mayas, La (Revueltas, S.), 9 Nordau, Max, 66, 74 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), 159 North Hollywood Masonic Lodge (California; StacyJudd), 90, 150, 160 Novarro, Carlos, 79 Nude Descending a Staircase (Duchamp), 65, 174n27 Nueva presencia, 40

Obregón, Alvaro, 75, 98 Obregón, José, 175n11 Obregón Santacilia, Carlos, 188n41 October (Eisenstein), 128 Odd Fellows, 155 Old and New (Eisenstein), 133 Olson, Charles, 6, 41–42 Olympiad (Riefenstahl), 82 Order of the Arrow, 153 Orozco, Gabriel, 9, 11, 54–55, 56–57, 59–61, 64–69, 78, 164, 173n16, 174n25, 175n45 Orozco, José Clemente, 40, 44, 46, 75, 77, 125, 138, 182n48 Orrin Brothers Circus, 23 Ortiz Monasterio, Manuel, 85 Ortiz Torres, Rubén, 187n23 Osiris, 148 Oxnard (California), 150 Paalen, Wolfgang, 113, 115, 179n22 Pacal, 70 Palacio de Bellas Artes (Mexico City), 64, 90 Palenque (Chiapas), 12, 19, 21, 23, 60, 93, 98, 107, 108, 167n6 Panama-California Exposition (San Diego, 1915), 98–99, 144, 154 Panama-Pacific Exposition (San Francisco, 1915), 99 Pan-Americanism, 6, 7, 50, 90, 95, 110, 159, 164 Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (Lewin), 115 Paramount Studios, 114, 123 Parque de las Americas (Mérida; Amábilis Domínguez), 23, 24, 29, 33, 90–92, 95, 100, 118 Parthenon, 52, 98 Partido de la Revolución Institucional (PRI), 11, 44 Partisan Review, 109 Paternosto, César, 111, 171n56 Paz, Octavio, 39, 40, 44, 48, 49, 51 Peabody Museum (Massachusetts), 21, 42, 94, 171n1 pensamiento, El (Rozo), 49, 78 Péret, Benjamin, 113 Pershing, General John J. “Black Jack,” 100


Peru, 147 Petit Palais (Paris), 56 Philadelphia Museum of Art, 11, 54–62 Philosophical Research Society (Los Angeles; Stacy-Judd), 90, 150, 156, 160 Photogravity (Orozco, G.), 9, 11, 54–69, 78, 164 Picasso, Pablo, 42, 55, 62, 172n11 Picture of Dorian Gray (Lewin), 116 Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, 18 Plato, 104, 118, 119, 185n9 Plumed Serpent, The (Lawrence), 129 Plural, 110 Popol Vuh, 43, 145 Porter, Katherine Anne, 122 Portilla, Jorge, 48 Porto Aventura (Spain), 90 Posada, José Guadalupe, 125, 128, 182n48 Power and the Glory, The (Greene), 96 Pratt, Mary Louise, 5 Prescott, William, 151 PRI. See Partido de la Revolución Institucional Primeros Juegos Deportivos Peninsulares (Mérida), 78–82 “primitivism,” 5, 6, 23, 53, 55–69, 111, 112, 115, 124, 128, 160, 164, 172n7 “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art: Affinities of the Tribal and the Modern (Museum of Modern Art), 6, 58 Prisma, 110 Private Affairs of Bon Ami, The (Lewin), 115 Proa, 110 Profecía de Guatimoc (Rodríguez Galván), 169n35 Protestantism, 85 psychoanalysis, 118–20, 136 Pueblo Deco, 154 Queen Moo, 148 ¡Qué Viva México! (Eisenstein), 12, 120–42, 163 Quintana Roo, 36, 84, 152, 161, 170n41 Quiriguá (Guatemala), 98 Radnitzky, Emmanuel. See Man Ray Rahon, Alice, 115


Raíces (Alazraki), 11, 44–52, 78, 118 Raíz de la Imagen, 163 Ramírez Vázquez, Pedro, 37–39 Randall, Margaret, 170n53 Rank, Otto, 119 Redes (The Wave) (Gómez Muriel and Zinnemann), 79 Redfield, Robert, 84, 85, 101 Red Tiger (Russell), 152 Reed, John, 128 Reinhardt, Ad, 42 Relaciones de las cosas de Yucatán (Landa), 22, 145 Requa, Richard, 93–96, 100, 146, 159 Revueltas, Fermín, 75 Revueltas, Silvestre, 9 Rexer, Lyle, 23 Richland Center (Wisconsin), 164 Riefenstahl, Leni, 82, 176n19 Rivera, Diego, 6, 40, 42, 44, 50, 75–78, 118, 124–25, 128, 171n1, 176n15, 182n48 Road to El Dorado, The (Bergeron and Finn), 4, 5 Rockefeller, Michael, 64 Rockefeller, Nelson, 64, 95 Rockwell, Norman, 42 Rodin, Auguste, 50 Rodman, Selden, 170n53 Rodríguez Galván, Ignacio, 169n35 Rojas González, Fernando, 44 Romans, 81, 155 Rosetta Stone, 146 Rosti, Pál, 21, 22 Rozo, Rómulo, 49, 50, 51, 52, 78, 92 Rubin, William, 59–60, 106 Russell, Phillips, 152 sacrifice, human, 1, 9, 14, 100, 108, 109, 117–19, 155, 159, 162, 165n1 Sagrada familia Jesús, María y José, La (Mérida), 96 Saludos Amigos (Ferguson), 7 Saint George and the dragon, 118 Saint Mark’s Square (Venice), 86 Salomón, Alfredo, 161 Samson Tire Works (California), 154

Sánchez, Roberto, 33–35 San Diego (California), 90, 93, 96, 98–100, 144, 154, 159, 188n48 San Fernando Valley (California), 150 San Francisco (California), 66, 99, 147 San Juan Chamula (Chiapas), 46 San Martín Hilil (Yucatán), 161, 162 Santayana, George, 104 Scarlet Empress, The (StacyJudd), 150 Schoedsack, Ernest, 113 Scott Archer, Fredrick, 26, 168n23 Scott Brown, Denise, 154 Scott-Elliot, William, 104 Secretaría de Educación Pública (Secretary of Public Education), 42, 75–76, 78, 89 Segura Villán, Jorge, 49–50, 52 senado de Tlaxcala, El (Rodríguez Gutiérrez), 175n11 Sennett, Mack, 113 setbacks, 86–87 Seton, Ernest Thompson, 153 Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings—A Real Time Social System, as of May 1, 1971 (Haacke), 68 Sheeler, Charles, 55, 61, 62 Sierra O’Reilly, Justo, 30–34, 168n30 Silver Cities of Yucatan (Mason), 152 Sinclair, Upton, 121, 123, 124, 132, 133, 180n32, 180n37, 180n44 Siqueiros, David Alfaro, 40, 44, 75, 125, 176n15, 182n48 skyscrapers, 64, 85–90, 109, 163 Smith, Grafton Elliot, 167n6 Smith, Jean Beman, 98 Smith, Joseph, 31 Smithson, Robert, x, 6, 9, 12, 13, 36, 102–12, 129, 164 Smithsonian Institution (Washington, D.C.), 1, 171n1 Soboba Hot Springs Hotel and Indian Village (California), 154 socialism, 95, 96, 98, 129, 152, 158


Soleils mexicains (Musée de Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris), 56 South of the Border with Disney (Ferguson), 7 Soviet Union, 79, 111, 121, 123, 125, 128, 133, 178n50, 180n37 Spence, Lewis, 98 Spengler, Oswald, 74 Stacy-Judd, Robert, 13, 21, 38, 68, 71, 87, 90, 146, 149–60, 178n51 Stadé, Odo, 128 Stalin, Joseph, 133, 176n15 Stanford, Leland, 142 Stendahl, Earl, 55, 171n1 Stephens, John Lloyd, 10, 17–35, 44, 51, 104, 157, 167n5 Stern, Alexandra Minna, 73 Stewart, Susan, 11 Stonehenge, 160 Strand, Paul, 42 “Streets of All Nations” (Stacy-Judd), 160 Sturges, Preston, 114 Sumer, 144 Switzerland, 160 Talbot, William Henry Fox, 25–27, 168n21 Talbotype, 25 Taller de Gráfica Popular, 95 Tamayo, Rufino, 55, 70 tampuche, 83 Tanning, Dorothea, 115 Tehuantepec (Oaxaca), 130, 134, 138, 185n9 Tekax (Yucatán), 161 Templo del Dulce Nombre de Jesús (Mérida), 96 Teotihuacán (México), 48, 125, 127 Tepotzotlán (Hidalgo), 98 Texas, 52, 154 T’Ho, 96 Thompson, Edward Herbert, 1, 21, 94, 105, 110, 152, 165n1, 165n2 Thompson, J. Eric S., 167n6 Three Caballeros, The (Disney), 7 Tigris River, 130 Tikal, 85, 98


Tissé, Eduard, 123, 132, 182n52 Tlahuicole (Villar), 176n11 Tlatelolco, 39, 40 Tolstoy, Leo, 141–42, 184n102 Toltec, 14, 87, 91, 106, 127, 128, 139 Torres García, Joaquín, 111 Totten, George Oakley, 93, 100 Tribes and Temples (Blom and La Farge), 152 Troano Codex, 145 Trotsky, Leon, 176n15 Tula (Hidalgo), 48 Tulane University, 144 Tulipanes nightclub (Mérida), 9, 162 Tulum, 27, 28, 132 Tusik (Quintana Roo), 84 Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art (Museum of Modern Art), 95 Ultra, 110 Ultraísmo, 109, 110 “ultramodernism,” 109 Ulysses (Joyce), 127 unheimlich, “the uncanny,” 118–19 Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), 41, 116, 118 Unruh, Vicky, 112 Utah, 108 Uxmal (Yucatán), 18, 28, 30, 34–35, 37–39, 43, 48, 56, 70, 93, 98, 103, 116, 147, 148 Valentini, Philipp, 147 Valladolid (Yucatán), 170n41 Vandercook, James, 182n46 van der Rohe, Mies, 86 Varo, Remedios, 115 Vasconcelos, José, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78 Venturi, Robert, 154 Veracruz, 2, 100 Vierra, Carlos, 98 Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas, and

Yucatan (Catherwood), 18, 167n5 Villa, Francisco “Pancho,” 100, 128, 138 Villar, Manuel, 176n11 Villa Rojas, Alfonso, 84, 101 Vlaminck, Marice de, 172n11 von Däniken, Erich, 160 Waldeck, Jean-Frédéric, 10, 18, 22, 31, 60, 167n6 Washington, D.C., 20, 30, 93, 95, 96 Weston, Edward, 42 Willard, Theodore A., 152, 159, 165n1 Wilson, Fred, 69 Wilson, Henry Lane, 99 Woman Who God Forgot, The (DeMille), 154 Wood, Grant, 42 Woodcraft Indians, 153 Woods, Beatrice, 61 Woods Bliss, Robert and Mildred, 62, 71 Woolworth Building (New York), 86 Word, The, 148 Worker’s Burial, The (Siqueiros), 182n48 Works Progress Administration, 6 World Columbian Exposition (Chicago, 1893), 21, 94, 154 World of the Maya, The (Von Hagen), 103 World War I, 188n43 World War II, 6, 38, 41, 42, 86, 93, 111, 114, 151 Wright, Frank Lloyd, 21, 66–68, 149, 160, 164 Yerma, Campeche, 6, 41 Zapata, Emiliano, 128 Zapatistas, 69 Zapatistas (Orozco, J. C.), 46 Zárraga, Ángel, 70, 71 Zinnemann, Fred, 79 Zolov, Eric, 41 zoning, 86–87







L at i n A m e r i c a



he Maya past has proven to be a bottom-

less horn of plenty—a boundless source of

source of inspiration, ideas, and iconography

architects, filmmakers, photographers, and


inspiration, ideas, and iconography for artists,

examines the ways artists, architects, filmmakers, photographers, and other producers

and professor in the Intercollegiate

of visual culture in Mexico, the United States,

Media Studies program of the

Europe, and beyond have mined Maya history

Claremont Colleges, Claremont,

and imagery. Beginning his study in the mid-nineteenth century with the first mechanically reproduced and mass-distributed images of the Maya ruins, history of representation, Lerner argues that Maya modernism, represented by artists as 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 University of New Mexico Press

jacket photograph: Robert Stacy-Judd in Maya

participate, each free to respond to, endorse,

costume, 1932 (courtesy Robert B. Stacy-Judd

misunderstand, reinterpret, or reject each

Collection, Architecture and Design Collection,


other’s ideas. isbn 978-0-8263-4981-1

ËxHSKIMGy34981 zv*:+:!:+:!


diverse as Robert Smithson, Sergei Eisenstein,

foreigners, mestizos, Mayas, and others, all

the United States, Europe, and beyond. This study looks at the ways these ancient fragments have been used within the contexts of divergent strands of modernism and of visual culture. . . . The specifics of this history complicate a simpler notion that one set of ideas (those of modernism) is first developed within the metropolis and then exported elsewhere, while another set of objects (images and arti-


and ending with recent works that address this

exchanges in which Yucatecans, Mexicans and

other producers of visual culture in Mexico,


Jesse Lerner is a filmmaker, curator,

jacket design: Melissa Tandysh


Mexico’s Maya past has been a bound­­­less for the modernist imagination. This study

Santa Barbara).




to discover the civilization’s spectacular ruins,

University Art Museum, University of California,


Art, Architecture, and Film

rom the time when archaeologists first began

California. He lives in Los Angeles.


facts of the Maya, the material basis or raw materials for explanations of what the Maya might now be or once have been) travels in the other direction. Instead we see a complex back and forth involving itinerant objects and artists, migrants and pilgrims, dialogues, collaborations, and exchanges.”

Jesse Lerner

—Jesse Lerner, Introduction