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

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By 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 — discusses the origins and history of the name of the American continent, recalling its foundations.

“it is imperative for a Mexican artist to learn Nahuatl”, reyes shares. “In proportion to the use of Latin in the United States, many places in Mexico have names in Nahuatl, so learning the language is vital to understanding the geography and anthropology of the region. the exhibition presents fourteen carved stone sculptures in dialogue with eleven drawings on amate through a presentation that engages with Mayan, Olmec, Toltec and Mexican heritage.

pedro reyes: tlali, exhibition view | 504 West 24th Street, New York | May 6 – June 17, 2021
all images © pedro reyes, courtesy lisson gallery

everyone works in tlali at lisson gallery is given a Nahuatl title linked to pre-Columbian symbolism. Carved directly into the stone, the sculptures honor an ancient artistic practice and pay homage to a discipline that spans more than thirty-five centuries. the eyes the carvings exhibit the distinct geometric vocabulary used to represent human figures or architectural models by Mesoamerican civilizations. made of 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.

lisson gallery
tlali, 2020 | volcanic stone | 82x68x100cm; 32 1/4 x 26 3/4 x 39 1/4 in

exhibition highlights include coatl (snake)a volcanic stone sculpture over 13 feet tall that echoes the rhythmic movement of a rattlesnake. another totemic structure, huehueteotl (the ancient god of fire)recalls the monumentality of classical pre-Columbian sculpture the atlanteans of tula — Toltec warriors who supported temple structures. meanwhile, upstairs in the gallery, ueueyeyeko (ancient knowledge) includes a series of marble sculptures 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 emphasis on personal property.

‘Mexicans have two obsessions. a sympathy for death and a love for flowers,’ once said the mexican poet carlos pellicer. reyes makes another reference to this notion in white marble xochitl (flower). Pre-Columbian ruler and poet Nezahualcóyotl evokes the crucial importance of the flower in Mesoamerican philosophy, proposing it as a metaphor for the ephemeral nature of life.

lisson gallery
pedro reyes: tlali, exhibition view

the set of sculptural objects is flanked on either side by eleven vertical drawings that continue the artist’s dialogue with Mesoamerican typology. Resembling political banners, these monumental works on handmade Mexican amate paper serve as an index of language, an arrangement of symbols and patterns that reflect pre-Columbian ethnology.

lisson gallery
pedro reyes: tlali, exhibition view

lisson gallery
pedro reyes: tlali, exhibition view

lisson gallery
pedro reyes: tlali, exhibition view

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