“Mexique: 1910-1950 Renaissances” is a Mesmerizing Mosaic of a Country Coming into Its Own

“Pain, pleasure and death are no more than a process for existence. The revolutionary struggle in this process is a doorway open to intelligence,” Mexican artist Frida Kahlo observed, giving voice to the deeper meaning of our purpose on earth. While we are here, we experience things that delve deep below the surface of all that is polite, pleasant, and respectable, cutting to the very marrow of our bones and exposing us to the highest highs and the lowest lows. There is no escape from this—nor should there be. This is the path through which we learn that which is universal to life itself, and thus we begin to learn empathy.

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

Art is a vehicle to express, expose, and communicate in a language all its own that speaks to everyone in the sighted world without uttering a single word. Through the use of color, line, shape, and form, works of art convey ideas, experiences, and feelings, though we may not fully register all the layers at first glance. The brilliance of art is that it never changes, but we do, allowing us to learn more and more about our selves and the world in which we live.

Diego Rivera (1886-1957). La Rivière Juchitán, 1953-1955 Huile sur bois. Mexico, Museo Nacional de Arte, dépôt à l’INBA du département de l’Administration et de l’Aliénation des biens, secrétariat des Finances et du Crédit public, 2015 © Jorge Vertíz Gargollo © 2016 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F / Adagp, Paris

Two major institutions, the Réunion des musées nationaux-Grand Palais, Paris, and MUNAL, Museo nacional de Arte de Mexico, have joined forces to create Mexique: 1910-1950 Renaissances, the first exhibition of its kind in France, which traces the history of Mexico in the first half of the twentieth century through the works of its greatest artists, currently on view now through January 23, 2017.

The exhibition presents a glorious tableau of works that reveals the way in which Mexico, which won its independence from Spain in 1921, forged its own identity through native and foreign influences. What it reveals is a country that is at once foreign and familiar, a nation born of First Peoples who overcame imperialist forces.

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) Le Cadre, 1938 Fixé sur verre (plaque de verre), Paris, Centre Pompidou, musée national d’art moderne, Centre de création industrielle Achat de l’État en 1939 © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Jean-Claude Planchet © [2016] Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Adagp, Paris

The first part of the exhibition begins with the influence of Western powers throughout the nineteenth century, showing the way in which colonial thought had imprinted itself on the artists, inteligensia, and academy. But as Mexico comes into its own, a new tradition appears, as painters like Diego Rivera begin to combine the native arts with new trends arising from the Parisian avant garde. What takes hold is a style all its own, one that invokes the intensity of the great civilizations that held power long before the arrival of the conquistadors.

Featuring works by Kahlo, Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco, Nahui Ollin, Rosa Rolanda, Tina Modotti, Lola Álvarez Bravo, Germán Cueto, Robert Montenegro, Marius de Zayas Rufino Tamayo, Carlos Merida, Jose Horna, Leonora Carrington and Alice Rahon, Mexique reveals the ways in which art was used to create a language that spoke of and to the people on their own terms.

Tina Modotti (1896-1942). Guitare, cartouchière et faucille, illustration de l’annonce pour la chanteuse communiste concha lichel, publiée dans el machete, no 168, Épreuve gélatino-argentique. Mexico, Museo Nacional de Arte, INBA Donation de la famille Maples Arce, 2015 1er juin 1929 © Francisco Kochen

The exhibition reads as a visual vocabulary of code switching, going back and forth until the divide closes. Western influences are embraced, then digested until they begin to disappear, allowing Mexican artists to establish an aesthetic wholly their own that speaks to the issues they faced as an emerging nation in the twentieth century.

Art becomes both a meditation on the times, bridging the present to the past, then marks the times so perfectly that it is more than an artifact: it is an oracle that portends the future, for history never fails to repeat itself. As Kahlo understood, the deepest experiences of life are the path to the knowledge, wisdom, and understanding we need to transcend the short-sighted, hair-trigger response of reactive thinking.

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.