Whitney Museum exhibition will explore the enduring influence of artists such as David Alfaro Siqueiros on US counterparts including Jackson Pollock and Philip Guston
The groundbreaking exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art will reveal the profound influence of Mexican artists on American pioneers in the two decades after the Mexican Revolution ended in 1920. Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art 1925-45, which explores the overlooked creative exchange between Mexican and US artists in that era, will “reorient the understanding of art history”, says the show’s curator Barbara Haskell.
200 pieces of art will be featured in this exhibition. In addition, there are 60 artists who are identified as political and artistic alliances.
The exhibition will juxtapose around 200 works of art and delineate the political and artistic alliance of around 60 artists. For 20 years, art has played an important role, it is involved in everyday life and makes the world a better place. “The myth of the revolution as a heroic fight of social justice—and the idea of Mexico as this authentic and idyllic place, as opposed to the fragmented modernity of the US—must have seemed exhilarating to American artists,” Haskell says.
David Alfaro Siqueiros is an extremist artist, expelled from Mexico in 1932 for his political activities. Siqueiros founded the Siqueiros Experimental Workshop in 1936 in New York, where students including a young Jackson Pollock worked with unorthodox materials such as cement and cigarette butts. “When you see a work by Pollock from the late 1930s next to a work by Siqueiros, the influence is clear,” Haskell says.
The exhibition also features a 1932 Los Angeles mural by Siqueiros América Tropical: Oprimida y Destrozada por los Imperialismos (Tropical America: oppressed and destroyed by Imperialism). This piece shows a crucified Native Mexican, a ruined Maya pyramid and an American eagle. It was rediscovered in the late 1960s as the paint began to peel off and was restored by the Getty Conservation Institute in 2012. The Whitney Museum has produced a full-scale photograph of the mural when it was first painted, bringing back to life an important political work.
The exhibition also showcases a number of works to showcase the influence of Jose Clemente Orozco on artists such as Pollock, Guston and Jacob Lawrence.
A painting reproduced by half of Orozco Prometheus’ monumental mural at Pomona University Art Museum, California, in 1930 became the first modern mural painting in the US by a Mexican artist. .
African Americans are also an idea for Mexican artists. “The idea of creating a work that showed the trajectory from oppression to resistance to liberation was something that African American artists felt evoked their own experiences,” Haskell says.
Diego Rivera is Mexico’s most famous wall painter and will have his own gallery of his works. The contrast between capitalism and communism through his painting of the Man at the Crossroads (1934).
At a time of growing tensions around immigration and nationalism, Haskell hopes that the exhibition will allow visitors to “perhaps look back on a moment where there was an exchange between Mexico and America that led to a tremendous outpouring of art and collaboration.” However, she adds, “it doesn’t eliminate one paradox: while Rivera was called a hero and Siqueiros was toasted [in America], the reality was that Mexican Americans then were facing terrible racism—and that’s something still prevalent today.”