Modern Mexican art’s diversity revealed in ‘Maestros’ 

click to enlarge Francisco Zuniga’s “Mother with Child” is among the figurative works on view in “Maestros: 20th Century Mexican Masters.” - COURTESY MEXICAN MUSEUM
  • COURTESY MEXICAN MUSEUM
  • Francisco Zuniga’s “Mother with Child” is among the figurative works on view in “Maestros: 20th Century Mexican Masters.”
International movements and Mexican history come together in “Maestros: 20th Century Mexican Masters.”

The exhibition, at the Mexican Museum in San Francisco through June 28, contains 40 paintings, sculptures and works on paper created by 30 of Mexico’s major postrevolutionary artists, dating from the 1920s through the course of modernism.

Many of the diversely rooted works on view reflect colonial and postcolonial European influences, including cubism and surrealism. At the same time, many works indicate a breaking from European trends, along with a postrevolutionary emphasis on noncolonial, native and distinctly Mexican styles and themes.

Los Tres Grandes – Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros – receive primary focus. The three were central forces in Mexico’s muralism movement, which set the tone in Mexican art in the first half of the century, and were also influential worldwide. They were known for creating large murals in fresco as well as their social realism and revolutionary, pro-Mexico political passion.

Rivera’s regard for Mexico’s poor and working classes is evident in even small works on paper, such as a scene of on-the-job laborers.

Orozco demonstrates his concern for human despair in “Agony.” The oil painting features a bent-over figure whose anguish the artist conveys with expressive brushstrokes and heightened skin tones.

Artists associated with Los Tres Grandes include Jean Charlot, whose work contains bold colors, geometric shapes, and Mayan imagery.

Often, the artists display both a commitment to Mexican subjects and a connection to European art.

Roberto Montenegro was a Mexican folk-art advocate whose work contained hints of his time spent in Europe, where he met Picasso, Braque, and other giants. His 1946 painting in the exhibit contains two Picasso-like figures and a cubist-looking background. Surrealism accounts for a substantial part of the show. Featured surrealists include Rufino Tamayo, who broke with the muralists, disapproving of their nationalist tone and political brand of social realism, and Britain-born Leonora Carrington, who painted symbolic, cultural and mythological images.

Francisco Zuniga, whose 1973 lithograph “Mother with Child” reveals an interest in Renaissance, representational and Central American traditions, is among the exhibit’s art-history-embracing figurative artists. Another highlight is Rafael Coronel’s “Old Woman,” a red and black portrait whose subject embodies gravity and dignity. Classical in character, the painting brings to mind the art of Goya.

Post-World War II abstract works include those by Vicente Rojo, Leticia Tarrago and Mathias Goeritz. A 1970 Goeritz work consisting of a gold-leaf-covered gessoed wood panel looks at once 14th-century inspired and quintessentially modern.

Display cases contain books and other items, including paintbrushes used by Rivera.

IF YOU GO

Maestros: 20th Century Mexican Masters

Where: Mexican Museum, Building D, Fort Mason, Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street, S.F.

When: Noon to 4 p.m. Wednesdays; closes June 28

Admission: Free

Contact: (415) 202-9700, www.mexicanmuseum.org

About The Author

Anita Katz

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