MUCH Public Lecture: Dr. James Doyle

The Making of the Exhibition “Lives of the Gods: Divinity in Maya Art”

This presentation addresses the creation and implementation of the major international loan exhibition "Lives of the Gods: Divinity in Maya Art," organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Kimbell Art Museum, closing in Ft. Worth on Sept. 3, 2023. The exhibition and catalogue explore how Maya artists of the Classic Period (ca. AD 250-900) gave concrete form to the idea of divinity and, in turn, how those images create dynamic relationships between gods and people. Maya artists made distinct theological and aesthetic choices about corporal form and surface features as they personified natural forces. The sun, falling rain, lightning, maize, and other phenomena grew heads, arms, and legs as fully fledged deities with names, attributes, and histories. Here I situate the Maya case study within other global representations of the sacred and trace concepts of divinity throughout Mesoamerica. Then I focus on how artists represented the kinetic and electric energy of tropical rainstorms as Chahk, a fearsome, axe-wielding Rain God, and Lightning God K’awiil, a reptilian being symbolic of Chahk’s axe and the fractal flashes of lightning.
James Doyle is an archaeologist and museum professional whose curatorial practice activates objects for university teaching, scholarly research, and public education. He has conducted archaeological and conservation fieldwork, organized museum exhibitions, and published widely on the material and visual cultures of the ancient Americas. As Director of the Matson Museum of Anthropology, he is responsible for caring for and exhibiting the vast collections and preparing them for the move to the new Susan Welch Liberal Arts Building in the fall of 2024. He also manages Penn State's ongoing NAGPRA program for repatriation and long-term relationship building with Native Tribes and Nations.

His current book project is titled "Arts of the Ancient Americas" for the World of Art series with Thames & Hudson (fall 2025). This illustrated history foregrounding Indigenous concepts before European invasion would be the first accessible text on these diverse traditions for a general audience. It would also serve to correct the field’s over-emphasis on Mesoamerica and the Andes and highlight diversity from all regions, including the Isthmian region, the Antilles, the Amazon, and ancestral traditions from Native peoples in what is now the U.S. and Canada.

Previously he served as the Assistant Curator for Arts of the Ancient Americas at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, where he initiated the exhibition "Lives of the Gods: Divinity in Maya Art" (The Met and the Kimbell Art Museum, 2022-2023). He also organized the critically acclaimed exhibition "Arte del mar: Artistic Exchange in the Caribbean."
[Background image: Throne with two lords in the eyes of a mountain, K'in Lakam Chahk and Patlajte' K'awiil Mo[...] (Maya, Active late 8th century), AD 785, Piedras Negras, Guatemala, Dolomite and pigment, H. 59 1/16 × W. 78 3/4 × D. 78 3/4 in., 1570 lb., Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología, Guatemala City, Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes de Guatemala]