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Collections & Critiques

By Jack Wilner

The exhibit of Pre-Columbian art now being shown at Fogg Museum is undoubtedly one of the most fertile and satisfying collections yet seen within the halls of any museum. The precise but masculine sculpture and handiwork of the Aztecs and Mayans cannot help but inspire in the minds of a spectator an inextinguishable spark of admiration for those cultures of the New World which preceded ours by several hundred years.

Though it is by no means "primitive' in nature, the are of these people approaches, and in many instances surpasses, both in external skill and internal infusion of feeling, the type of art which many contemporary men have been trying to recreate, namely African Negro style. Whether the similarity between the aesthetic end of the African tribes and that of the early Americans can be traced to any specific instances of direct influence remains a point for further discussion. Evidence points to the contrary. The stylistic similarities which exist between early African and early American art can be easily detected in early Chinese art as well; but these are cultural anomalies, considering the distance separating the three continents.

The sculptured piece, "Black Serpent," is one among many which would have passed unnoticed in an exhibit of contemporary sculpture; or, were it noticed, it would probably have been attributed to some up and coming young artist whose new approach and unique handling of form "shows a complete severance with all past tradition."

The term "expressionistic" can be applied to any one of the Aztec pieces entitled "Standing Figure Of A Man" as well as to anything done in this century or the last. But there is a difference: the Aztec and Mayan works have innate expressionism whereas most works produced by contemporary men have a formal expressionism. The former arises from within and is neither a commentary nor judgment upon actual people or events; the latter, that which is prevalent in some circles today, carries with it the personal condemnation or approbation of the artist concerning everything imaginable, and this opinion is imposed, by means of an artistic medium, on the subject depicted.

The genius of the Mayan and Aztec artists cannot be refuted when one brings to mind the finely wrought gold articles, the sensitively constructed miniature animals, and the suitability of the material used for the object created. This early art is sturdy, grotesque, and static. Yet it contains a certain animating power which is so subtly interwoven with the actual material that its effect is tenacious and clinging rather than sudden. There is in it a silent sort of tension which is capable of producing a response within the mind of the spectator, a response which is only communicable by means of the actual object. A photograph or description will not serve.

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