Cylinder vase depicting the Moon Goddess giving birth to rabbit, with Goddess O Ixchel as midwife
Maya, Petén lowlands, Guatemala, Late Classic Period, AD 550-850
Earthenware: dark red, red, black, orange, and white on yellow-orange slip paint, 17 H x 10.5 D x 32.9 C cm Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Photograph: Justin Kerr
Since I was in public school I have been entranced with Pre-Columbian culture, primarily art, and especially Maya art. The graphic art of that culture from 900AD until the arrival of the Spanish in the 15th century was huge, involving an incredible mythic philosophy, which in its own language speculated about the history of the universe, its cosmology depicted in frescoes, paintings, sculpture, temples, observatories, and codices. Very few codices and paintings remain.
Also due to climate and destruction by time few murals remain, though there are, fortunately, some paintings and graphics on cups. The vessels are so magnificently organized and designed that they constitute breathtakingly unique examples of the art of visual communication. Figures, human and animal, are interspersed with signs and symbols and writing, weaving stories of their history and cosmology with élan and grace. They are simple yet complex, erotic yet spiritual, wildly designed yet perfectly rendered to fit both the scale of the object and the place in architecture.
For many years I have traveled to both the major and minor archeological sites in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras, and have experienced the beauty of the remains of this culture. It is one of the most complex that we have in the world, long under-examined, its artifacts left to be ransacked by robbers. It is a mystery to me why it has taken so long to study this civilization in depth. Not until the 20th century have we had a few enlightened interpreters try and decipher the language, study the architecture, and imagine the culture as it must have been: sophisticated, artistically rich, and linguistically poetic.
Michelle Stuart, Flight of Time, 2016, Archival inkjet photographs, 71.5 x 126 inches
Since the 1960s, Michelle Stuart has created large-scale earth works, multi-media installations, earth drawings, encaustic paintings, sculptural objects, drawings and prints. Her work is in the collections of the MoMA, the Metropolitan Museum of Art , the Whitney Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, among others.