pedro reyes sets carved stone sculptures in dialogue with amate paper drawings at lisson gallery

Jun 07, 2021

from now through june 18 at new york’s lisson gallery, artist pedro reyes presents a series of new sculptures and works on paper drawn from the language and symbols of pre-columbian civilizations. the exhibition, tlali — translated as ‘earth’ from the aztec language nahuatl — addresses the origins and history of the naming of the american continent, serving as a reminder of its foundations.

‘it is imperative for a mexican artist to learn nahuatl,’ reyes shares. ‘proportionate to the use of latin in the united states, many places in mexico have a name in nahuatl, so learning the language is vital to understanding the region’s geography and anthropology.’ the exhibition features fourteen carved stone sculptures in dialogue with eleven drawings on amate across a presentation that engages with mayan, olmec, toltec and mexican heritage.

each work in tlali at lisson gallery is allotted a nahuatl title connected to pre-columbian symbolism. carved directly in stone, the sculptures put an ancient artistic practice in the spotlight and pay homage to a discipline that spans over thirty-five centuries. reyes’ sculptures feature the distinct geometric vocabulary used to depict human figures or architectural models by the mesoamerican civilizations. made from red tezontle, volcanic stone, jadeite, and white marble, the monumental works continue reyes’ deeply political practice through the creation of new totemic and abstract forms.

highlights of the exhibition include coatl (snake), a volcanic stone sculpture spanning more than 13 feet high that echos the rhythmic movement of a rattle snake. another totemic structure, huehueteotl (the old god of fire), recalls the monumentality of the classic pre-columbian sculpture los atlantes de tula — toltec warriors that supported temple structures. meanwhile, on the gallery floor, ueueyeyeko (ancient knowledge) comprises a series of marble carvings that allude to the plethora of symbolic objects found at a burial site. these works seek to comment on how this act of detachment likely differs from our experience of offerings today, given the importance placed on personal ownership.

‘mexican people have two obsessions. a sympathy for death and love for flowers,’ mexican poet carlos pellicer once remarked. reyes makes a further reference to this notion in the white marble xochitl (flower). pre-columbian ruler and poet nezahualcóyotl touches on the acute importance of the flower in mesoamerican philosophy, offering it as a metaphor for the fleeting nature of life.

the gathering of sculptural objects is flanked on both sides by eleven vertical drawings that continue the artist’s dialogue with mesoamerican typology. bearing resemblance to political banners, these monumental works on handmade mexican amate paper serve as an index of language, an arrangement of symbols and patterns that mirror pre-columbian ethnology.

ueueyeyeko, 2021
 | white marble
 | 38 x 150 x 450 cm
; 14 7/8 x 59 x 177 1/8 in

totem (huehueteotl), 2021 | 
tezontle stone | 
230 x 75 x 50 cm
; 90 1/2 x 29 1/2 x 19 5/8 in

tepetl, 2021 | 
marble | 
180 x 230 x 110 cm
; 70 3/4 x 90 1/2 x 43 1/4 in

exhibition information:

artist: pedro reyes title: tlali dates: may 6 – june 18, 2021 gallery: lisson gallery location: 504 west 24th street, new york