Don’t be fooled by “Dance in Tehuantepec” (1928), Diego Rivera’s colorful, seductive painting of a folk custom that opens “Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925-1945” at the Whitney Museum of American Art. It beckons visitors into a gallery of artworks that, following the end of the bloody Mexican revolution in 1920, romanticized the country’s indigenous peoples and their culture. Americans like Paul Strand and Edward Weston, whose visits to Mexico are well documented, followed their lead, and their works here seem familiar. Other pieces, by less-known artists from north of the Rio Grande, such as “Women With Cactus” (1928) by Everett Gee Jackson and “Women of Oaxaca” (1927) by Henrietta Shore, are vibrant and charming, but seem only to imitate Mexican artists.
The real thesis of “Vida Americana” is more interesting, more enlightening and more haunting. By 1922, Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco, among other Mexicans, were turning away from such uplifting “aristocratic” art toward public, monumental art intended to address social injustices and rally the masses. Mexican muralism was born—and “los tres grandes” began creating politically potent vistas like those that decorate the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City.
Mexico underwent a radical cultural transformation at the end of its Revolution in 1920. A new relationship between art and the public was established, giving rise to art that spoke directly to the people about social justice and national life. The model galvanized artists in the United States who were seeking to break free of European aesthetic domination to create publicly significant and accessible native art. Numerous American artists traveled to Mexico, and the leading Mexican muralists—José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros—spent extended periods of time in the United States, executing murals, paintings, and prints; exhibiting their work; and interacting with local artists. With nearly 200 works by over sixty Mexican and American artists, this exhibition reorients art history by revealing the profound impact the Mexican muralists had on their counterparts in the United States during this period and the ways in which their example inspired American artists both to create epic narratives about American history and everyday life and to use their art to protest economic, social, and racial injustices.
This exhibition is organized by Barbara Haskell, curator, with Marcela Guerrero, assistant curator; Sarah Humphreville, senior curatorial assistant; and Alana Hernandez, former curatorial project assistant.
Flores Mexicanas: Women in Modern Mexican Art surveys changing representations of women in paintings, works on paper, and textiles early in 20th-century Mexican art through works by some of Mexico’s most renowned artists. The exhibition is inspired by the loan of the monumental painting Flores Mexicanas by Alfredo Ramos Martínez to the DMA from the Missouri History Museum; the painting is on view for only the second time in nearly a century.
The centerpiece is a “luscious” and “verdant” painting by Alfredo Ramos Martínez that originally belonged to Charles Lindbergh.
Alfredo Ramos Martínez might not be a household name, but he made a significant impact on the modern art world in Mexico.
Now, one of his painting is the inspiration for a new exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art called “Flores Mexicanas: Women in Modern Mexican Art,” opening Sunday.
Mark A. Castro is the exhibition curator, and says one painting by Ramos Martínez, in particular, is the centerpiece of the exhibition.
“It’s 9-by-12 feet … called ‘Flores Mexicanas,'” Castro says. “It was kind of his crowing achievement in Mexico.”
He says the Mexican government purchased the painting as a wedding present for the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh and his wife. But the painting ended up in storage for years in a Missouri museum.
“This work has come back to light after being gone for more than 90 years,” Castro says. “It’s luscious, it’s verdant, it’s just a really beautiful, impressive work.”
That painting was the inspiration for the larger exhibit that explores womanhood in Mexico during the previous century. The exhibition includes paintings from male and female artists, including María Izquierdo who bucked tradition and pursued art later in life while she was raising three children.
“That’s something that was unheard of in Mexico probably a decade earlier,” Castro says.
The Dallas Museum of Art will present a new exhibition surveying representations of women in Mexican Modernism. Flores Mexicanas: Women in Modern Mexican Art is inspired by the loan of the monumental painting Flores Mexicanas by Alfredo Ramos Martínez to the DMA from the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis. Recently rediscovered, Flores Mexicanas is being exhibited for only the second time in nearly a century. The exhibition will pair two galleries: one dedicated to the work of Ramos Martínez, one of the fathers of Mexican Modernism, and an accompanying gallery of more than 25 paintings, works on paper, and textiles by other renowned artists working in Mexico during the first half of the 20th century. Open to the public on February 16 and included in free general admission, the exhibition provides visitors the opportunity to explore the meanings behind depictions of women created during a transformative period in Mexican history.
Alfredo Ramos Martínez (1871–1946) was a pivotal figure in the modernist development of Mexican art. He spent his formative years immersed in the artistic life of Paris, returning to Mexico in 1910 on the eve of the country’s Revolution. After becoming director of the famed Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, he established the nation’s first open air schools and encouraged his pupils to create work that captured observations of daily life. In 1929, Ramos Martínez and his family relocated to Los Angeles. For the next two decades, his subject matter focused on the people and culture of Mexico, with the artist receiving many notable mural commissions throughout Southern California. His canvases depict indigenous traditions, local crafts, and religious icons painted in striking hues of umber and sienna accented by bold highlights of color.
While Ramos Martínez was celebrated as a painter, some of his most iconic works of art were created on paper. Said to have always carried a Conté crayon in his pocket, the artist frequently drew on newspaper—the printed columns of text supporting totem-like figures of flower vendors. Working in combinations of gouache, charcoal, Conté crayon, and watercolor, he perfected a signature style in which forms were reduced to essentials to create a structural scaffolding across the paper’s surface. Alfredo Ramos Martínez: On Paper is an intimate exhibition of works from the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s permanent collection. Comprising six drawings, as well as two serigraphs created by his wife María Sodi de Ramos Martínez after his death, the exhibition showcases the artist’s extraordinary draftsmanship, revealing the layered sensibility in his chosen themes.
Flores Mexicanas: A Lindbergh Love Story unveiled a painting and a story that haven’t been seen in decades. The highlight of the exhibit was Alfredo Ramos Martínez’s magnificent and massive Flores Mexicanas painting—one of many wedding gifts given to Anne and Charles Lindbergh in 1929. This and other featured gifts illustrated the couple’s celebrity status as ambassadors for aviation and America.
Flores Mexicanas also examined the couple’s connections to Mexico, as well as the relationship between the US and its southern neighbor during the early 20th century. Visitors could explore the Lindberghs’ love story, learn about Alfredo Ramos Martínez’s importance as a Mexican artist, and discover the necessity of conservation within museums.
This exhibit was presented in both English and Spanish.
Organized by the Missouri History Museum in collaboration with the University of Missouri–St. Louis’s graduate program in Museums, Heritage, and Public History.