José Clemente Orozco, The Masses (1935)
Long before the threat of swine flu, Mexico was the scene of an outbreak of a very different kind: Modernism. After the Mexican Revolution of 1910, Mexican artists of the 1920s and '30s called for a social and artistic revolution, and that would lay the groundwork for several modern and avant-garde Latin American art movements during the rest of the 20th century. The Museum of Fine Arts is poised to examine this seminal period of artmaking in Mexico with two shows.
Muralismo, or Mexican muralism, is considered by many art historians to be the movement that propelled Latin American art into the international spotlight. Opening May 30, "VIDA Y DRAMA: MODERN MEXICAN PRINTS" features work by the three men mainly responsible for muralismo's success. Referred to as "los tres grandes," Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros sought to separate themselves from their European counterparts by embracing their indigenous heritage in their imagery. Prints by these artists made between 1926 and 1932 — which include informal avant-garde experiments in printmaking and rarely seen self-portraits — are joined by work from Rufino Tamayo and a number of Mexican artists published by Taller de Gráfica Popular (or "The People's Graphic Workshop") from the 1930s to the 1950s.
Also opening May 30 at the MFA is "VIVA MEXICO!: EDWARD WESTON AND HIS CONTEMPORARIES," a survey of work by one of the most important American photographers of the 20th century made between 1923 and 1926 in Mexico City. Culled from the Lane Collection of photographs (which is on long-term loan to the museum), the show will focus on what's considered to be the most influential period in Weston's career — or what Nancy Newhall, photography critic and Weston biographer, calls his "Paris," because of its lasting effects on his work. This work also marks a clear departure from his previous sepia-tone "painterly" style, which he abandoned in favor of sharp images. At the MFA the new style takes form in pictures of folk objects, Mexican toys, landscapes, female nudes, and cultural references. Also included are works by Weston's Italian-born partner (in work and in love), Tina Modotti, American photographer and filmmaker Paul Strand, Mexican Surrealist Manuel Álvarez Bravo, and Brett Weston, whose first major photographic works were taken on trips to Mexico with his father.
Both shows will feature calaveras, or the skulls commonly found in Mexican art and imagery associated with the Day of the Dead. And both shows will close on November 2, the day Mexico celebrates as El Día de los Muertos.
"VIDA Y DRAMA: MODERN MEXICAN PRINTS" + "VIVA MEXICO!: EDWARD WESTON AND HIS CONTEMPORARIES" at Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 465 Huntington Ave | May 30–November 2 | 617.267.9300 or www.mfa.org