Modern Art and Artists of Mexico
In the early 1900s Mexico experiences movements in art similar to the emerging European styles and schools of art. Like other Latin American counties, many of the artists from elite families study in France, Germany, Italy and the counties where significant art influences exist. Symbolism, Constructivism, Surrealism, and more “isms” all appear in the works of the modern art of Mexico, sometimes with different names and usually with an apparent regionalism.
At the turn of the century, just as the avant-garde in France embrace Symbolism, Modernismo appears in the art of Mexico and other Latin American art. Both Symbolism and Modernismo believe that mood and emotions, rather than external appearances, are the proper subject of works of art. The careers of Julio Ruelas (1879-1907) and José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913) and their printmaking exhibit this philosophy.
In 1913 the first Open-Air School of Painting is established and expands to Free Studios of Artistic Expression in 1920 to establish an aesthetic consciousness among representatives of all social classes. The important painters at this time are teachers at these schools. Slowed sometimes by wars and revolutions during this time, the importance of art in Mexico never declines.
To imagine a heroic past and to make it speak defines the Mexican School of Painting. The earliest phase is the Mural Movement to generate an awareness of patriotic values amongst the masses and indigenous peoples fails to meet its purpose. Yet Mexican Muralism enjoys a prestigious influence in other countries that no other American art movement has ever experienced.
Each of the Tres Grandes (Three Great Ones) Diego Rivera (1886-1957), David Alfaro Siqueiros (1882-1960) and Jose Clemente Orozco (1883-1949) and other artists create murals within the key educational institutions, regional and national government offices and later outside of Mexico. However, canvas painting is never abandoned.
The Mexican School envelopes those painters who begin their careers during Muralism as well as other contemporary artists like the Guatemalan Carlos Mérida (1891- 1984) who paints geometric forms inspired by Mayan textiles and Rufino Tamayo (1899-1992) who lives long periods abroad but maintains the Mexican culture in his art. Roberto Montenegro (1886-1968) successfully paints with Surreal imagery and Agustin Lazo (1896-1971) creates a fantastical realism along with Frieda Kahlo (1907-1954). Orozco continues to work in an Expressionist style with his watercolors.
Besides Mérida, other foreign artists arrive in the 30s and 40s. Among them three women artists: Remedios Varo (1908-1963) from Spain, Leonora Carrington (b.1915) from England, working in a Surrealist scene and Alice Rahon (1904-1987) of France.
Besides the movements of European art, Mexico has its own “isms” as well. Stridentism “Estridentismo” introduced its manifesto in 1921 proclaiming disdain for the past and the future and glorifying the present time. The group was composed of writers, poets and a few artists like the printmaker, Leopoldo Méndez. The artists involved with Muralism formed a group called 30-30!
The government does not support sculpture as it does the Mural paintings, but the most famous sculptor of all Latin America emerges when a Costa Rican native, Francisco Zúñiga (1912-1998), comes and creates bronzes of strong indigenous women of Mexico’s Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
The ability to create the fantastic in every day occurrences, writing and poetry help create the surreal art of Mexico as it moves into its Arte-Objecto movement using irrational juxtapositions and symbolic settings. Francisco Toledo (b.1940) uses universal connotations and eroticism in his watercolors, printmaking, assemblages, and drawings, representing Mexican Magical Realism quintessentially.
In the middle of the 20th century, the movement of Ruptura is an attempt for the younger artists to express a new individuality from the Mexican School. Besides Tamayo, José Luis Cuevas (b. 1934) and others begin to review European trends and influence change. Expressionism seems a constant throughout Mexican art history and abstraction is added when Gunther Gerzo (b. 1915) and Enrique Echeverria (b.1940) represent the Ruptura art movement.
These European and indigenous influences brought a rich history to Mexican art. The art of the second half of the twentieth century shows conceptual art trends and then a return to painting, both vibrant with the colors, symbols and nuances of the movements that are expressive, individual, indigenous and representational. And yes, a magical realism of its own existence.