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“Art” does not reside in objects; it is society that decides what is and what isn’t art. Naturalism and abstraction are both always available to the artist if required by the social context. Depending on their size and complexity different societies have chosen specific types of styles and subjects for their communicating devices. The widespread use of writing fundamentally changes the role of things and puts them in a secondary position.
Thinking with Things (2005)

I started out in African art with Paul Wingert, Douglas Fraser and Hans Himmelheber as teachers at Columbia University. My Master’s essay, explored the role of flanking figures in group scenes in West African art. Later, I fell in love with the awesome site of Teotihuacan in Mexico which became my dissertation subject. In my frustration not to be able to explain Teotihuacan art adequately, I turned to the Aztecs. Aztec Art (1984) was the first book on Aztec art and I discovered that the horrifying imagery it was famous for was exclusively of the elite. Having developed a structuralist approach I returned to Teotihuacan studies and curated an exhibition Teotihuacan City of the Gods (1993) and wrote Teotihuacan: An Experiment in Living (1997) I am now writing a study of Andean art, Inca Cubism.
Concurrently, I have been interested in primitivism, the relation of the West to the Nonwest and vice versa. I have a manuscript on Waldeck, the first European artist who rendered the newly found Maya ruins. The Exotic and the Classical in Mexico: Jean Frederic Waldeck, 1766-1875 is waiting for a publisher. Both by myself and with members of my department I have been teaching a course on Modern art Outside the West now entitled “Multiple Modernities” about the identity dilemmas of Nonwestern artists working in a contemporary idiom.
I was born in Budapest and came to the US in 1956 after the Soviets crushed the Hungarian revolution. I now live in New York City. Daughter of the Pyramids, a novel set in ancient Mexico and the short Colonial Tales appeared in 2002.


Lisa and Bernard Selz Professor
in Pre-Columbian Art History
and Archaeology

Department of Art History
and Archaeology
814 Schermerhorn Hall

Columbia University
in the City of New York

[email protected]
(212) 854-5681