By: John Dorfman
Take a look at the forbidding Aztec warrior at left, encased in an eagle suit, and then look at the Roman bronze eagle on page 70. Not exactly birds of a feather, art-historically and stylistically speaking. But according to the curators at the Getty Villa, they had a lot in common, at least in the minds of the 16th-century Aztecs and Spaniards who are the subjects of a fascinating exhibition that opens there late this month. For the warlike Native American empire and the equally warlike Europeans who built their empire on its ruins, symbols of imperial power were critically important in attaining and maintaining power. That should come as no surprise. The surprising insight of the Getty show is that thinking people among the Spanish and Aztec elites alike were strongly influenced in their perceptions of themselves and each other by ancient Rome. To find out why, and to see how art history can shed light on political and social history, turn to page 68.
As the Getty show points out, Aztec symbols never really went away, despite the Spaniards’ best efforts to erase them. Eventually, they resurfaced and became part of the culture of the independent nation of Mexico, which is celebrating its bicentennial this year. Among the artists who were inspired by the unique beauty and weirdness of these images were the Mexican Surrealists and their friends who visited Mexico; one of the latter, Henri Cartier-Bresson, is the subject of an article in this issue (see page 84). Writer Dan Hofstadter here returns to a subject he first took up some 20 years ago, when he profiled the eagle-eyed French photographer for The New Yorker. That profile remains unsurpassed today as a biographical statement about the artist, but in our piece Hofstadter recalls some conversations he had with Cartier-Bresson that weren’t included in the New Yorker profile. They will be of special interest to art-minded readers, as they illuminate the ways in which the photographer drew on centuries of European practice in painting and drawing each instant he clicked the shutter.
In 1947 Cartier-Bresson cofounded the Magnum agency with his friend, the great photojournalist Robert Capa. From the Spanish Civil War to D-Day at Normandy to Vietnam, Capa traveled the world in search of moments of truth amid the history-making events of his era. One place he hardly ever visited, however, was his native country, Hungary, which he left at the age of 18. On page 42 Carol Kino tells the little-known story of how a major archive of Capa photographs recently went to Budapest to stay.
Later this month it’s Asia Week in New York again, and we have a preview of the events in our Market section (see page 38). Even though the International Asian Art Fair will not return this year, the city’s Asian art dealers have shown their willingness to meet the market by staging their own coordinated gallery shows concurrently with the auctions, for the second year in a row. This issue’s focus on collecting Asian art also features a major article by reporter Sallie Brady on a relative newcomer to the field, 20th-century painting from India, which combines European modernism with Indian imagery to produce vivid works that are increasingly sought by non-Indian collectors. And Sheila Gibson Stoodley takes us into the arcana of collecting ancient Chinese bronzes, a field in which Chinese and Western collectors find very different reasons to appreciate the same pieces.