de Zayas, Marius (1880–1961) By Martinez-Rodriguez, Fabiola
Marius de Zayas was a Mexican caricaturist, writer, collector, dealer, and curator who formed part of the New York avant-garde, and did much to promote European modernism in the United States. Through his writings, curatorial, and creative work, de Zayas helped to lay the foundations of American modernism, and to assert the centrality of primitive art to the modernist aesthetic. Exhibited for the first time in 1913, de Zayas’ abstract portraits are some of the earliest examples of avant-garde production the United States. These drawings reflect his engagement with the aesthetic explorations of the European avant-gardes, and the challenges posed by photography to the tradition of Naturalism in Western art. Marius de Zayas’ work was instrumental in promoting a transnational exchange of art and ideas between Europe and the Americas. In his conception of modernism, primitive art was the source of formal experimentation, but also of spirituality and transcendence. His contribution to the history of modern art in the United States remains to be appropriately acknowledged, but it is there for anyone who cares to read his How, When and Why Modern Art Came to New York written for Alfred Barr towards the end of his life.