by Milena Oehy. Scheidegger & Spiess, October 2017. 320 p. ill. ISBN 9783858817990 (pbk), $49.00.
Reviewed March 2018
Arguably better known for his contributions to typography--in particular the four-volume Lettera series--Swiss photographer Armin Haab (1919-1991) made five visits to Mexico between 1949 and 1977. He devoted much of his time there amassing a collection of more than 1,000 sheets of Mexican prints, which he donated to the Kunsthaus Zurich in the late 1980s. Mexican Graphic Art is simultaneously a record of the 2017 exhibition celebrating this gift, a catalog of the collection, and an effective survey of the subject.
A small selection of Haab’s photographs from his Mexican travels opens the volume, followed by “Biography Armin Haab,” an annotated timeline and a surprisingly compelling section of the book. This feature could have been improved further by combining the various timelines separated out by subject into one comprehensive biographical timeline, giving a more integrated and easily understood overview of Haab’s life. Another outline interspersing graphic arts events with important dates in Mexican history, a listing of Mexican heads of state since the mid-nineteenth century, and a short piece describing the Spanish origins of printing in Mexico rounds out the first sixty pages.
“An Introduction to Mexican Graphic Art” covers the three seminal nineteenth-century artists Picheta, Manilla, and Posada. “The Revolution and Its Consequences” continues the history of Mexican art and graphics, from Los tres grandes (Rivera, Orozco, and Siquieros) through to the abstract work of Tamayo and Toledo in the 1950s-1970s. Twenty work commentaries--primarily single-artist, with two devoted to Taller de Gráfica Popular portfolios--appear at intervals and in chronological order, highlighting for the reader the important artists and works in the collection.
Beginning the final third of the book is an appendix of full-color thumbnail illustrations of the nearly 300 works in the catalog, many of which are presented elsewhere in full or half-page size. The substantial “Catalog of Works” and “Artist Biographies” sections pay tribute to Haab’s 1957 publication Mexikanische Graphik, incorporating the artists’ portraits and layouts from the original edition. The Coptic stitching and semi-detached cover used in the binding allow pages to open flat, a helpful feature when looking at two-page spreads.
Mexico has the oldest printing tradition in the Americas, established by the Spanish in the early sixteenth century to produce and disseminate religious imagery and doctrine. Growing out of this colonial origin, Mexican prints from the late eighteenth century through to the late twentieth comprise one of the most visually compelling and socially engaged bodies of work ever produced. Overall, Mexican Graphic Art provides a useful introduction to this tradition and is recommended for all libraries collecting in the areas of printmaking and Latin American art.