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The Mexican artists.

IT IS NO easy task ... to show the development of the plastic arts in Mexico during the first half of the 20th century.... An undertaking presenting all points of view would have to include the work of ... painters, sculptors, photographers, engravers, architects, writers, and patrons of the arts, as well as the texts of art critics....

The term Mexican renaissance is an entirely fitting description of the prolific cultural activity that arose in Mexico in the first decades of the 20th century. It establishes a proper comparison to the artistic blossoming that Italy experienced in the 15th century, particularly in ... Florence.... [both Italy & Mexico] have in common the fact that a strong state played a decisive role as a driving force in the arts and set itself up as a generous patron in support of artists.

[Mexico] had survived a civil war lasting more than ten years. The Mexican Revolution of 1910 erupted with the century and it must be remembered that it was the first great social movement of the 20th century. By 1920 the Mexican nation was trying to overcome the ravages of the Revolution and longed to take a new path. To achieve this it would be necessary to actively enlist the artists and intellectuals of the time.

With regard to a Mexican renaissance, we have hoped to point out the visual richness the painters offer by including not only the essential works of Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros but also those of ... less well known artists such as Saturnino Herran, Abraham Angel, Fermin Revueltas, Gabriel Fernandez Ledesma, ... Carlos Orozco Romero, ... among others. Many of these artists have held shows ... in the United States since the early 1920s, but over time their names and art have been forgotten.... women painters ... [are] magnificently represented, not only with a work by Frida Kahlo, but also those of Maria Izquierdo and Olga Costa....

... After living outside the country for nearly fourteen years, famed painter Diego Rivera ... joined the artistic milieu of the Mexican renaissance in 1921. Prominent as a Cubist painter in Paris, Rivera rediscovered the beauty of his homeland and quickly came to understand ... the importance of the aesthetic revolution developing in Mexico under the patronage of the state....

Several Mexican painters of the 1920s and 1930s shared this vision ... of a lost paradise. The selected works also include two by ... Fermin Revueltas.... Like Rivera, ... Revueltas was profoundly attracted by the beauty of the Mexican landscape. Although he was unable to go to Europe, his painting takes on as its own a delicate modernity that at times approaches the painting of the Nabis at the end of the 19th century. What interested the young painter was ... the chromatic impression of the environment created by the effects of light and its reflection off water. [See Embarcadero de Ocotlan] A sublime vision of nature permeates [this] canvas and the romantic relationship between man and his surroundings is alive.

Nevertheless, not all Mexican artists shared this idyllic vision.... [s]ome ... displayed a deep skepticism in their painting regarding the achievements of the Mexican Revolution.... Muralists Jose Clemente Orozco ... and David Alfaro Siqueiros ... also created very different interpretations in their easel paintings. The solitude and restlessness the savagery of the Revolution brought with it or the unfulfilled promises of social justice made to the most vulnerable Mexicans were often present in these works.... [O]ther painters ... also came to develop in some of their paintings a primarily existential preoccupation with man's condition vis-a-vis the power of the state or the negative effects of war, as well as the poverty ... [of] thousands of Mexicans.

On observing the works of Manuel Rodriguez Lozano ... and Rufino Tamayo ..., it is clear that Mexican painters were familiar with artistic movements elsewhere in the world. Tamayo in particular was a very sophisticated painter. One can discern the resemblance even of his earliest works to paintings by Cezanne and Matisse, and later those by Picasso himself. Pablo Picasso's neoclassical monumentalism likewise nurtured some of Manuel Rodriguez Lozano's paintings....

The intimacy of local expression will frequently also have points of contact with a culture of universal scope....

Other works in the exhibition ... have all the mystery of the abstract composition ... of Giorgio de Chico. The same can be said of Los hilos ... by Carlos Orozco Romero.

The Mexican Revolution allowed for upward social mobility, particularly for women.... Frida Kahlo, ... is represented ... with one of her most beautiful still lifes. In Los cocos ..., the painter uses the organic forms of the fruit to reveal the key to her changing mental states. Also known as Miradas, Kahlo's small but powerful work shows a grieving coconut weeping, just as if it were a human face. Its distress parallels not only the pain Kahlo felt in her habitually ailing body, but also her existential anguish vis-a-vis life. This is candidly shown as slices of melon, whose flesh, exposed like a wound, is a metaphor for her own innermost feelings....

... [T]he painter Maria Izquierdo ... was held in genuine high regard by art critics in Mexico. From the 1930s, writers, poets, and intellectuals had praised her work highly. Izquierdo's paintings had been shown in the United States since 1931, and her canvases were displayed in ... museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art.... Unlike Kahlo, ... Izquierdo did not use painting as an autobiographical aid, but instead imbued her work with her profound belief in gender, where the feminine was elevated as an iconographic quality of incredible, sensitive features....


Abraham Angel, Cadete 1923

Oil on cardboard 12 x 52

Courtesy of the Museum of New Mexico--Santa Fe


Carlos Orozco Romero, Los hilos 1939

Oil on canvas, 68 x 56 cm

Courtesy of the Museum of New Mexico--Santa Fe


Maria Izquierdo, Mujer Oaxaquena 1940

Oil on Masonite 61 x 50 cm

Courtesy of the Museum of New Mexico--Santa Fe


Jose Clemente Orozco, Resurreccion de Lazaro 1946

Mixed media on canvas 52 x 74 cm

Courtesy of the Museum of New Mexico--


Rufino Tamayo, Homenaje a Juarez 1932

Oil on canvas 60 x 74 cm

Courtesy of the Museum of New Mexico--Santa Fe


Fermin Revueltas, Embarcadero 1933 Oil on canvas

69.5 x 79 cm

Courtesy of the Museum of New Mexico--Santa Fe


Emilio Baz Viaud, El peluquero zurdo 1949]

Tempera on cardboard 85 x 73 cm

Courtesy of the Museum of New Mexico--Santa Fe


Frida Kahlo, Los cocos 1951

Oil on canvas 25.5 x 35.3 cm

Courtesy of the Museum of New Mexico--Santa Fe

Luis-Martin Lozano, Director, Museo de Arte Moderno de Mexico

Mexican Modern, Masters of the 20th Century
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Author:Lozano, Luis-Martin
Publication:the new renaissance
Date:Mar 22, 2008
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