Paint the Revolution: Exploring a New Mexican Identity at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Paint the Revolution:Mexican Modernism, an exhibition of Mexican Art from 1910-1950 is an eclectic selection of paintings, works on paper, chapbooks, posters, magazines, photographs,  video and sculpture. It includes the most internationally reknown Mexican artists of the early twentieth century: Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siquieros, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco and Rufino Tamayo. In addition, there are less well known artists featured: Saturnino Herrán, Alfred Ramos Martinez, Francisco Goitta, Angel Zárraga, Manuel Rodríguez Lozano, Roberto Montenegro, Gerardo Murillo, Adolfo Best Mayard, Isabel Villaseñor, Leopoldo Méndez, María Izquierdo, Xavier Guerrero, Julio Castellanos, Luis Arenal Bastar, and others.

The painters of the Mexican Revolution and shortly afterwards, explored themes related to violence and war, rural life, industrialization, what it meant to be Mexican, as well as other themes. Most of the works are oil paintings and woodcuts, but there are some photographs, sculptures, pastels, watercolor and video of the gigantic murals. According to text in the exhibit, “Mural painting came to be seen as the quintessential art of the Revolution because of its accessibility.”

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The Epic of American Civilization. (wall mural detail), 1932-34, José Clemente Orozco (Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College: Commissioned by the Trustees of Dartmouth  College), (c) José Clemente Orozco/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SOMAAP, Mexico City

There are quite a few portraits in the exhibit, including self-portraits by Frida Kahlo, Dr. Atl (Gerardo Murillo), Siquieros, Isabel Villaseñor, and Adolf Best Mayard.

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Portrait of Martín Luis Guzmán1915. Diego Rivera, 28-9/16 x 15-3/8 inches (72.6 x 39.1 cm), (Fundación Televisa Collection) (c) Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Self Portrait on the Border between Mexico and the United States of America, 1932 (oil on tin)

IMAGE 1: Self-Portrait on the Border Line Between Mexico and the United States, 1932, Frida Kahlo, Oil on metal, 12-1/2 x 13-3/4 inches (31.8 x 34.9 cm), (Colección Maria y Manuel Reyero, New York) © Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Both portraits show the use of Mexican elements. In “Portrait of Luis Guzmán” he wears a traditional sarape. Kahlo inserts a Mexican flag into her self-portrait, as well as what looks like an indigenous pyramid/building.

Many of the portraits and other works depicting people, are of indigenous people and/or campesinos. (rural people). As one of the rare pastel paintings in the exhibit, Siquiero’s “Peasants” stands out.

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IMAGE 6: Peasants, c. 1913, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Pastel on paper, 40-1/2 x 6 feet 3-3/4 inches (102.8 x 192.4 cm),(Museo Nacional de Arte, INBA, © David Alfaro Siqueiros/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SOMAAP, Mexico City

Rufino Tamayo paints indigenous figures often. For example, Man & Woman from 1926 and later Homage to the Indian Race. There are also a few Tamayo paintings in which he uses animals to represent violence and war.

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IMAGE 14: Homage to the Indian Race, 1952, Rufino Tamayo, Acrylic and oil on masonite (4 panel polyptic), 16 feet 4-7/8 inches x 13 feet 1-1/2 inches x 3-3/4 inches (500 x 400 x 9.5 cm), (Acervo CONACULTA–INBA, Museo de Arte Moderno), ©Rufino Tamayo/Visual Artists and Galleries Association, New York, New York

This was my second visit during the day on a Wednesday to see Paint the Revolution and I had more time to view it. It was also less crowded than it was on opening weekend when I first went. There are many political posters, small booklets, pamphlets and magazines displayed. Woodcut prints were utilized in many of these, and they dealt with the Mexican revolution, rebuilding and World War II and fascism. Wall text explained, “Illustrated books were tokens of friendship and aesthetic communality among modern poets and painters.” These books are in display cases in the exhibit, and showcase the drawing (printing, lithograph) and poetry of the era.

My favorite paintings of Paint the Revoluion, were Siquieros’ Collective Suicide, Luis Arenal Bastar’s Woman Carrying a Coffin,  and still lifes by various painters.

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Woman Carrying a Coffin. Luis Arenal Bastar.

Despite being an exhibition of Mexican works, all of the wall descriptions are in English only, no Spanish. There is no audio guide either. I think the visitor experience would have been enhanced by an audio guide or short video/film explaining in more detail the political situation in Mexico during the Porfirio Díaz reign and the subsequent Revolution. Definitely for Spanish speakers AND learners who attend, written wall explanations in Spanish would have been welcome.

Paint the Revolution continues through January 8, 2017 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It moves on to Mexico City, Mexico afterwards. At the Philadelphia Museum of Art, to view is free for members, and no reservations are required. For more information and tickets, please visit their website: http://www.philamuseum.org/exhibitions/840.html

Constructing Altars: An Interview with Mexican artist, César Viveros. (translation from Spanish)

This is an interview realized digitally about the altar course that César Viveros teaches at Fleisher Memorial and a little bit about his artistic inspiration.

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Celeste: I found out about you and your work through Fleisher Art Memorial. I saw an announcement about a course on altars for Day of the Dead. How did this course come to be? What will the students do in the course? Would you describe the materials that they will use?

 

César: The Day of the Dead altar course has started. It is a four-day intensive in which the students are introduced to the Day of the Dead tradition, which has become popular in the United States. This is the third year that Fleisher is working with the community around this holiday and this year I was invited as the artist who would direct the installation of the traditional Day of the Dead altar. So during four days we wanted to teach the workshop in which students could make their own mini-altars in the tradition of the larger ones for Day of the Dead. The students have designed the mini-altar based on their ideas and with simple drawings they begin to render the design. Normally they focus their design on a familiar member or friend who has left this world. Usually they construct a based made out of wood or cardboard that supports the composition, and then make the rest of the elements, which overall are made from wire, paper mache and paints.

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Celeste: When did you begin to make art?

César: I always tell the story of my early years during the rainy season in Veracruz, Mexico. We would make deep holes in the dirt in order to burn or bury the garbage (organic and inorganic), because there was no municipal service that would handle it. So there was always a moist clay, very characteristic of subsoil in Veracruz. (One needs to note that in this area many vestiges of an advanced civilization have been found, developing this type of art. These civilizations were very old, centuries before the Spanish arrived in the Americas). It is precisely here that at the age of five, I began to experiment with constructing these clay artifacts as a way to entertain myself in my free time. I wasn’t able to move around much at that age obviously, so I traveled in my imagination. This helped me to create alternative worlds while I was kneading clay—making multiple forms that allowed me to have fun while I discovered things that were not academic—because of the isolation of our community, in relation to other cities that perhaps might have offered some kind of artistic education.

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In high school, some teachers noticed that a friend of mine, my brother (Nicolás and José Nava), and I liked to draw and paint a lot. So they gave us the opportunity to do large paintings, portable murals that could be used as backdrops for festivals. Remember in Mexico that any occasion is a good one to have a party. Thus we were able to count on resources to develop these projects that I consider not so common in our limited area. With this background it might seem strange that I didn’t decide to study art or any related discipline, like architecture or graphic design. But as soon as I finished high school and a technical course at a national institution of public education, I decided to risk it and work in Petrolera de Campeche, looking for business opportunities, which in a way took me away from any inclination towards the visual arts.

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However, in a couple of years working in the petroleum platforms in the Golf of Mexico zone, I had the opportunity to begin to paint murals on the barges of a company called Corporación de Construcciones de Campeche, in an informal way. My official work was to develop underwater activities as an industrial diver. It was at that juncture that I decided to seriously return to my true vocation. While working there, I began to take commissions for portraits and pictures commissioned by North American staff what were working in the Campeche area. As a result, each time that I was able to, I would make multiple murals in high schools in Veracruz, which helped me to define my style and my individual technique.

For more information about César Viveros, visit his Facebook page:

http://www.facebook.com/cesar.viveros.904

For more information about FLEISHER ART MEMORIAL and their events see:

http://fleisher.org/community-programs