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