Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925–1945
The Whitney Museum presents a sweeping exhibition that traces the cultural exchange between Mexican muralists and their American students and contemporaries. Following more than a decade of upheaval in Mexico, the end of the Mexican Revolution by the early 1920s gave way to a groundbreaking approach in the country. The artists and intellectuals behind what has since become known as the Mexican Renaissance deliberately looked to the region's indigenous foundations in developing a style that would aim to honor, rather than supersede, its social, economic, and cultural heritage. Given the group's pronounced Marxist leanings, public murals proved a suitable vehicle for their novel aesthetic language.
Beset by the inequalities of capitalism, meanwhile, American artists headed south. And when, a decade later, a change in leadership resulted in a drop-off in patronage, artists native to Mexico, in turn, trekked north, where a nascent post-Depression social conscientiousness had taken hold.
"Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925-1945" at the Whitney Museum homes in on this period of rich creative exchange. Through nearly 200 works by leading Mexican muralists—chief among them José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros—and American artists—such as Thomas Hart Benton, Elizabeth Catlett, and Isamu Noguchi—"Vida Americana" unearths the largely overlooked impact of the Mexican muralists on their American counterparts.
Orozco's Zapatistas (1931), aflame in shades of red, is slashed with the violent diagonals of hills, blades, and the forward thrust of bodies with a ferocity that seems to anticipate the lashing fervor of Abstract Expressionism. Not by coincidence, the exhibition culminates with a series of paintings, shown side-by-side, illustrate the indelible and direct impact that Siqueiros had on the likes of a young Jackson Pollock. Taken as a whole, "Vida Americana" reveals the considerable debt that luminaries at the fore of the cultural zeitgeist in post-war America owe not only to European influence but also to the radical leftist movements of Mexico. —Lisa Yin Zhang
Frida Kahlo, Me and My Parrots, 1941. Oil on canvas, 32 5/16 × 24 3/4 inches. Private collection. © 2020 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York