¡Viva la Revolución! A Landmark Exhibition Documents Four Decades of Mexican Art & History

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

At the age of 80, after nearly 35 years of continuous rule, Mexican President General Porfirio Díaz gave an interview announcing he would not run for re-election in the 1910 elections. Then he changed his mind—sparking the Mexican Revolution (which has been traditionally celebrated on November 20).

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For ten years the conflict raged, plunging the nation into a civil war between the Constitutionalists and the revolutionaries lead by Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. Foreign powers, most significantly, the United States, played a significant role in trying to protect their economic and strategic interests in Mexico. By the end of the revolution 10% of Mexico’s population of 15 million had died, while some 200,000 refugees fled, many going north of the border.

Our Lady of Sorrows, 1943, by María Izquierdo (Private Collection, USA).

For the next twenty years, the new government sought to stabilize the nation, as regional fights were still occurring across the country. Revolutionary General and President Alvaro Obregón openly dialogued with the newly formed Soviet Union, and later gave asylum to Leon Trotsky. Artists like Diego Rivera created mural honoring the revolutionaries and taking aim at Western interests, while President Obregón played both sides, allowing free trade to continue with foreign capitalists.

Although he crushed coups and was re-elected in 1928, Obregón was assassinated before he could take office. After a series of interim presidents controlled by the National Revolutionary Party, Lázaro Cárdenas, a socialist took power and ruled for six years, creating the most radical phase of the post revolution, with nationalization of key industries including petroleum, land, and railroads, while ending debt peonage and company stores.

Zapata, 1931, by David Alfaro Siqueiros (Philadelphia Museum of Art: Purchased with the Lola Downin Peck Fund from the Carl and Laura Zigrosser Collection, 1976-97- 122) © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SOMAAP, Mexico City

The spirit of the Revolution has become intrinsic to the fabric of the nation, its heroes being the radicals who lost but have become memorialized in art, culture, and song. Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism, 1910-1950 on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through January 8, 2017, takes a look at this extraordinary moment in Mexican history. Yale University Press has published the exhibition catalogue, a tremendous volume weighing in at 432 pages with 470 artworks.

Featuring 284 works including portable murals, paintings, prints, photographs, books, and broadsheets, Paint the Revolution features works by Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Frida Kahlo, Rufino Tamayo, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, and Tina Modotti, among others—revealing how each artists maintained their own unique perspective, style, and and means of connecting with the public. While they form a cohesive whole that speaks to the spirit of Revolution on all sides, they also speak their own dialects replete with nuance, charisma, and charm.

Dance in Tehuantepec, 1928, by Diego Rivera (Clarissa and Edgar Bronfman Jr. Collection) © Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Organized by decade, the exhibition surveys the influence of avant-garde styles including Impressionism, Symbolism, and Cubism and the ways in which these foreign influences fused with aspects of ancient and modern Mexican art. As Mexican art came into its own, it established a strong market in the United States. In the years between the World Wars, Mexican artists became involved in encounters between their native land and the foreigners to the north. The exhibition concludes with the renewal of art focused on Mexico, as the second World War takes shape.

The exhibition takes its title from an essay called Paint the Revolution by the American novelist John Dos Passos who traveled to Mexico City in 1926-27 and witnessed the murals created by Diego Rivera that celebrate the ideals of the Mexican Revolution. Co-organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, the exhibition will only be seen in Philadelphia before traveling to Mexico City in 2017.

Optic Parable, 1931, by Manuel Álvarez Bravo (Philadelphia Museum of Art: 125th Anniversary Acquisition. The Lynne and Harold Honickman Gift of the Julien Levy Collection), © Colette Urbajte/Asosciacion Manuel Alvarez Bravo

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.


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