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Marius de Zayas

Mexican-American Caricaturist, Publisher, and Gallery Owner

Marius de Zayas Photo
Movements and Styles: Dada, Early American Modernism

Born: March 13, 1880 - Veracruz, Mexico

Died: January 10, 1961 - Stamford, CT, USA

"The more we consider photography, the more convinced we are that it has come to draw away the veil of mystery with which Art enveloped the represented Form."

Marius de Zayas Signature

Summary of Marius de Zayas

Celebrated for his caricatures and cartoons, Marius de Zayas is best remembered today for his prescient introduction of modern art to America. Born in Mexico to a prosperous and politically progressive family, de Zayas began his career as an illustrator before political pressures forced his family to emigrate to the US. Working for several newspapers and magazines in New York, de Zayas caricatured socialites, celebrities, and the stars of theater and vaudeville. After meeting Alfred Stieglitz and showing at Stieglitz's "291" gallery, de Zayas became a scout for new artistic talent. He traveled to Paris in 1910, and although he first considered Cubism to be the "tower of Babel of painting," he grew to understand the movement and became friends with Pablo Picasso.

De Zayas was deeply influenced by Cubism's break with optical reality and expanded his own caricatures to include more abstract ways of representing his subjects. He was also impacted by Cubism's incorporation of non-Western influences, bringing the first artistic exhibition of African sculpture to New York in 1914. His Modern Gallery was an important outlet for European modernists during WWI; after closing the gallery in 1921, he relocated to Europe where he continued to collect and support modern artists.

Key Ideas

Meeting Picasso in 1910, de Zayas was the first scholar to publish an interview with the Cubist; both Spanish-speakers, they formed a fast friendship and de Zayas promoted Picasso's work in New York through his writing, his association with Stieglitz's "291" gallery, and his own Modern Gallery.
Showing his "absolute caricatures" in 1913, de Zayas broke with the representational expectations of portraiture to present his subjects through abstract arrangements of line and shape, coupled with mathematical equations. This directly influenced Francis Picabia in the development of his machine portraits, which are considered a foundational Dadaist series. Through the 1910s and 1920s, other artists, including Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, and Marsden Hartley, would turn to abstract compositions or inanimate object to create portraits.
De Zayas wrote some of the most provocative and theoretical essays to appear in Stieglitz's Camera Work, chief among them his 1911 "The Sun Has Set," which began by proclaiming "Art is dead." He continued to lament the current state of modern art, floundering in a society that valued industrialism and capitalism. Forced to look back to earlier examples, artists could produce only hollow interpretations of old ideas. His praise of children's art and "primitive" work as an inspiration to return to a more intuitive and unconscious state of production would be influential to the development of Dada and further explorations of abstraction.
Through his exposure to Cubism and his own experiences of working from non-Western objects displayed in ethnographic museums, de Zayas promoted African art as an important influence in the development of modern art. Following the 1913 Armory Show, de Zayas organized a 1914 exhibition for Stieglitz's "291" gallery that combined African art with contemporary work for the first time in America. When he opened his own Modern Gallery the following year, he became the most prominent dealer of African art in New York and his text, African Negro Art: Its Influence on Modern Art (1916) was one of the first books to study the aesthetics of this field.

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