Alberto Beltran’s large drawing titled “Vida y drama de Mexico,” made in 1957 as a preparatory design for a poster, sums up the spirit of this exhibition, which shows that twentieth-century Mexican printmakers recorded contemporary life and all its complexity in a distinctly modern and Mexican visual language.
The drawing is a preparatory study for Beltran’s poster “Vida y Drama de Mexico–20 Anos de Vida del Taller de Grafica Popular,” which advertised an exhibition of prints published by the Taller de Grafica Popular (TGP) workshop between 1937 and 1957. The massive hands use printmaker’s tools to gouge a printing block. The couple in the background at left represent the challenges and hardships faced by everyday people (the “vida”). The political corruption and economic exploitation (the “drama”) to which the TGP’s images drew attention are suggested by the calavera at right.
The graphic arts have flourished in Mexico since the first printing press arrived in 1539. Twentieth-century artists gravitated toward printmaking as a means to explore the pre-Hispanic past and indigenous visual traditions, and to experiment with American and European avant-garde styles. Their prints gave form to the ideals of social, racial, and economic equality that had fueled the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and continued to influence the social changes that followed.
The exhibition features prints from between 1926 and 1932 by Rufino Tamayo and los tres grandes (the “big three” muralists): Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. These artists set the standard for modern Mexican style. Prints published in the 1930s to the 1950s by the circle of artists associated with the Taller de Grafica Popular (the People’s Graphic Workshop, founded in 1937) drew connections between Mexico’s political struggles and the fight against fascism at the core of the Spanish Civil War and World War II. The exhibition also contains more intimate images, such as artists’ self-portraits and female nudes. Inspired by their history and what they saw around them, these printmakers generated some of the most original art made in Mexico during the twentieth century.
Don’t miss the companion photography exhibition “Viva Mexico! Edward Weston and His Contemporaries” on view in the Herb Ritts Gallery May 30-Nov 2, 2009.