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Orozco's U.S. odyssey.

"THERE WAS LITTLE TO hold me in Mexico in 1927," wrote Jose Clemente Orozco in his autobiography, "and I resolved to go to New York, counting upon generous support from Genaro Estrada, Secretary of Foreign Relations, who found the money to defray my journey and stay of three months." Orozco's "stay of three months" stretched to nearly seven years, and proved a pivotal experience in the life and work of the Mexican master.

A new traveling exhibition, Jose Clemente Orozco in the United States, 1927-1934, opens March 9 at the San Diego (California) Museum of Art. The exhibition contains preparatory drawings for the three murals that Orozco completed in the United States--at Pomona College in Claremont, California; the New School for Social Research in New York; and Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. But the 120 works on display also provide evidence of the master muralist's prodigious output in easel paintings, drawings, and prints.

Born in 1883, Orozco was already in his mid-forties when he embarked on his second journey to the United States, having previously visited San Francisco and New York in 1917-19. His career had stalled somewhat after his work on the murals of the National Preparatory School in Mexico City. Art critic and supporter Anita Brenner therefore enticed Orozco to New York, going so far as to invent a fictitious collector as a potential client. In 1928 she introduced him to Alma Reed, who would become his agent and later his biographer.

At first, Orozco continued to paint the Mexico in Revolution series that he was already producing upon his arrival. But New York scenes of bridges and skyscrapers began to surface among his revolution-themed paintings, and beginning in 1929 he recorded the harsh effects of the Great Depression.

His first lithographs likewise date from this period. Reed, meanwhile, introduced Orozco to intellectual societies, whose members showed up in subsequent murals and whose ideas influenced the themes of his work.

Orozco was invited to paint his first U.S. mural at a small campus in Claremont, east of Los Angeles. In 1930, in an alcove of the cavernous new dining hall at Pomona College, he created the image of a heroic Prometheus bringing the gift of fire to the masses.

After completing a series of pictures for the exhibition Mexican Arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he turned to his next commission: seven panels in the dining room of the New School for Social Research in New York.

Despite a provocative allusion to U.S. racial problems, and a portrait of Lenin, curator Renato Gonzalez Mello notes that Orozco's mural "fared better than [Diego] Rivera's mural at Rockefeller Center," which was ordered destroyed by the artist's sponsors.

In 1932, Orozco was commissioned to paint the vast, unadorned walls of the

Baker Library at Dartmouth College. His artistic and political development culminated in The Epic of American Civilization. The monumental mural presents a view of the New World that incorporates indigenous and Hispanic, as well as Anglo, references (see Americas, January-February, 1990).

Two years later, Orozco returned to Mexico with his reputation secure, a mural commission in hand, and the Mexico City and Guadalajara masterpieces in his immediate future. Orozco's legacy, and that of his Mexican colleagues who also journeyed northward, survives not only in their original works but in their influence on public art in the U.S.: Murals created during the 1930s under the New Deal can still be seen in cities and towns across the U.S.

On display March 9-May 19, 2002, at the San Diego Museum of Art, Jose Clemente Orozco in the United States moves to the Hood Museum of Art, Hanover, New Hampshire, June 8 to December 15, 2002; and the Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil, Mexico City, January 25 to April 13, 2003. For more information, contact the San Diego Museum of Art, 619-232-7931;
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Title Annotation:Jose Clemente Orozco, Mexican muralist
Author:Wyels, Joyce Gregory
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2002
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