ed. by Matthew Affron et al. November 2016. 400 p. ill. ISBN 9780300215229 (cl.), $65.00
Reviewed March 2017
Art in Mexico between the years 1900-1950 was deeply shaped by the Mexican revolution, a brutal social and political struggle that gave rise to a cultural transformation. It was understood that artists would be critical to the “project of building a new nation.” This richly illustrated catalog is based on an exhibition presented by the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes in collaboration with the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The wide-ranging exhibition documents a tumultuous period in Mexican history during which the work of artists was marked by its Mexican character (mexicanidad) with a focus on the “common people.”
The exhibition, and accompanying catalog, includes works from collections in Mexico and the United States. While it acknowledges the importance of muralism in the role of the Mexican revolution, it pays equal attention to other “artistic manifestations,” such as graphic arts, easel painting, drawing, and photography. Significant attention is devoted to los tres grandes - muralists Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros – but the reader is introduced to many talented lesser-known artists. The catalog includes thirteen essays, also illustrated, by leading Mexican and American scholars and curators. The essays examine movements such as mexicanidad, estridentismo (stridentism), and Contemporáneos; government programs relating to public education and the arts; the influence of Mexican artists in the United States; the work of European artists in Mexico; and architecture and film. The range of topics and works discussed sets this work apart from previously published studies that have as their prime focus Mexican muralism. The first large-scale assessment on the topic in a decade and a half, editor and curator Matthew Affron describes the work and exhibition as a much-needed “reassessment” of this important period.
The oversized catalog with a durable binding includes 350 color and twenty black and white illustrations. Five sections of plates are organized corresponding to the timeline of revolutionary events. While critics lament the digital reproductions of the murals in the exhibition itself, they are beautifully reproduced in this volume with photos of the murals in situ as well as detailed color reproductions. Also included is a comprehensive index, checklist of works cited in the exhibition, and works cited in the essays. Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism, 1910-1950 is highly recommended for academic libraries and all those with an interest in this period. The catalog, “intended to deepen our knowledge of the key figures, episodes, and issues that emerged in the visual arts in Mexico during this rich period,” succeeds splendidly in this regard.