Pre-Columbian Art and the Post-Columbian World Summary

Barbara Braun

Pre-Columbian Art and the Post-Columbian World

The impact of the tribal sculpture of African and Oceania on modern art is well documented, but until now the importance of pre-Columbian American art has been underestimated. Barbara Braun’s pioneering study redresses that neglect in stunning fashion.

Braun concentrates on five figures, four of them of major importance: French painter Paul Gauguin, British sculptor Henry Moore, American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. Gauguin’s maternal grandmother was Peruvian, and Gauguin spent much of his childhood in Peru, a locale whose ancient art accounts for much of the “exotic” content of his work. Braun goes on to illustrate the profound influence of Aztec and Olmec sculpture on the massive work of Henry Moore, and documents the impact of Mayan ruins on Frank Lloyd Wright’s seemingly revolutionary residences and public buildings. Diego Rivera fused ancient Mexican motifs with Marxist ideology to create a vital, popular art.

Braun’s least familiar subject, Joaquin Torres-Garcia, developed a faux-naive pictographic style derived from a variety of ancient American sources. This Uruguayan artist is clearly not of the stature of Gauguin or Moore, but his work reveals, sometimes more clearly than theirs, the influences that Braun is examining. Along the way Braun also discusses the impact of pre-Columbian artifacts on such disparate artists as Josef Albers, Paul Klee, Frida Kahlo (Rivera’s second wife), and Louise Nevelson.

PRE-COLUMBIAN ART AND THE POST-COLUMBIAN WORLD is a model of art history, scholarly but eminently browsable. The pattern that emerges from its 311 carefully juxtaposed illustrations, nearly a third of them in color, will forever change the way readers look at modern art.