Mexico: The Cauldron of Modernism


J. Hoberman in the NYRB:

In 1929, the Surrealist poet Paul Éluard did away with the United States. In a map of the world attributed to him that year, the American republic (except for a giant Alaska) has been subsumed by Labrador in the north and a sprawling Mexico in the south.

The image of Mexico as the center of the new world—and as what André Breton called “the surrealist country par excellence”—is a take-away from the exhibition “Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism 1910-1950,” now showing at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Just as Éluard’s map can be read as an early polemic against Eurocentrism, so “Paint the Revolution” presents a Mexican response to European art that, at least up until World War II, was equal to and in some regards stronger than that of North America.

To a degree, “Paint the Revolution” is the story of the three star muralists, Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco, who along with the posthumously canonized Frida Kahlo, defined the new Mexican art. (The exhibition borrows from the title, punctuated by exclamation point, of John Dos Passos’s 1927 New Masses article on the same subject.) But their work is situated among scores of lesser-known artists who were also responding to the decade-long Mexican revolution that broke out in 1910. Synthesizing avant-garde with folk art while embodying the tension between new and traditional media, these men and women engaged the central issues of early-twentieth-century culture.

More here.