Grand Palais Explores Mexican Modernism

PARIS.- The Réunion des musées nationaux-Grand Palais, the Secretaría de Cultura / Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes / Museo Nacional de Arte, México (MUNAL), have joined together to organize an exhibition that traces a vast panorama across modern Mexico, from the first stirrings of the Revolution to the middle of the 20th century, complemented by a number of works from contemporary artists.

Mexican 20th century art offers the paradox of having close links to the international avant garde yet presenting an incredible singularity, a certain strangeness even, and a power that challenges our European perspective.

In the first part of the exhibition, we explore how such modernity drew inspiration from the collective imaginary and traditions of the 19th century.

This relationship, clearly demonstrated by the academic art that developed following the restoration of the Republic in 1867, persisted through the ideological precepts of the Mexican School of Painting and Sculpture, promoted by by José Vasconcelos from 1921.

International currents came to counterbalance such anchorage in tradition. At the turn of the 20th century, Symbolism and Decadentism were expressed in fascinating forms, such as Ángel Zárraga’s famous Woman and Puppet (1909).

Little by little, the aesthetic experimentation of Mexican artists in touch with the Parisian avant-garde in the first decades of the century became clear, first and foremost in the work of Diego Rivera.

Mexican Revolution

The second part of the exhibition aims to demonstrate how the Mexican Revolution, as an armed conflict, laid the groundwork for a new national identity.

The artistic creativity in the years following the Revolution had an ideological aspect. It employed media other than easel painting, including muralism and graphic design. Naturally, the exhibition focuses on the work of the three leading artists of Mexican muralism, los tres grandes: Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco.

Women's Contribution

The male revolution opened the way to many new possibilities and encouraged women to contribute to the economic effort. This situation allowed women to take their place on the artistic stage, as both artists and benefactors.

The towering presence of Frida Kahlo should not conceal a wealth of extraordinary artists such as Nahui Olin, Rosa Rolanda or photographers like Tina Modotti and Lola Álvarez Bravo.

In parallel to the Mexican School of Painting and Sculpture in the 20s and 30s, the period was also marked by a range of other experimental techniques. The triumph of Muralism and nationalist art tended to eclipse alternative avant-garde movements that demanded their own place on the international art scene, independent from the revolutionary paradigm.

The third part of the exhibition explores a selection of artists and works offering an alternative to the ideologies of the time: the hallucinatory masks of Germán Cueto, Robert Montenegro’s enigmatic portraits and the abstractions of Gerardo Murillo «Dr. Atl» and Rufino Tamayo.

Avant Garde Influence

The fourth and final part is entitled A Meeting of Two Worlds: Hybridation demonstrates how, from the start of the 20th century, Mexican artists resident in the United States (including Marius de Zayas, Miguel Covarrubias and the major muralists) played a decisive role in the avant-garde scenes in cities like New York, Detroit and Los Angeles.

Conversely, as a result of the notoriety acquired by Mexican artists living abroad in the early decades of the 20th century, a number of foreign artists decided to move their studios to Mexico.

By collaborating with local artists, they were able to develop a remarkably rich artistic scene, particularly focused on Surrealism through Carlos Mérida, José Horna, Leonora Carrington and Alice Rahon.

The exhibition ends its chronicle of collaboration, the source of a perpetual «renaissance», with the arrival in Mexico in 1949 of Mathias Goeritz. The vitality of Mexican art is illustrated by works from the principal artists from the current scene, such as Gabriel Orozco and his «rubbings» taken from the Paris Métro.

Photo above: José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949), Les Femmes des soldats 1926. Huile sur toile. México, INBA, Collection Museo de Arte Moderno. Photo © Francisco Kochen © Adagp, Paris 2016.