A Dealer's View
Daughter of a distinguished family, one of six sisters who have made their mark in the cultural affairs of Mexico. INÉS AMOR has been the director of the Galería de Arte Mexicano in the national capital for thirty years.
BY INÉS AMOR
IN RECENT years, Mexico, like many other countries of the world, has developed an overwhelming interest in the plastic arts. Not only are we working to reappraise the treasures of pre-Hispanic and colonial times, but we are studying the nineteenth century; we discuss passionately the revolutionary period of the first half of the twentieth century; and we encourage any current artistic manifestation whatsoever. Never before has so much attention been devoted to the artistic culture of Mexico. Never before have such large amounts of money, time, and effort been spent in the restoration and installation of ancient collections and in the construction of new places to preserve past, present, and future art treasures.
In Chapultepec Park, the National Institute of Anthropology and History is now constructing a large and impressive museum in which will be exhibited most of the movable works of sculpture that are in its care. The National Museum of History already houses in Chapultepec Castle its rich collections of colonial painting and sculpture, its portraits and landscapes of the nineteenth century, and its magnificent murals by Siqueiros and O’Gorman. As if all this were not enough, the government of Mexico has begun the construction of a Museum of Contemporary Art at the entrance to Chapultepec Park, which will become the most important artistic center in the country.
Workmen are putting the finishing touches to the Anahuacalli. the fine building which Diego Rivera bequeathed to the people of Mexico, with its vast, choice collection of pre-Hispanic art which he spent most of his life gathering together and in which he invested the greater part of his fortune.
The University of Mexico, in its museum and its galleries, is developing a program of excellent exhibitions from Mexico and abroad. In the Palace of Fine Arts, the National Institute of Fine Arts honors many of the better Mexican artists through exhibitions ol a national character. It introduces the work of painters who for some years have not been considered “officially’ acceptable. It lusters the participation of Mexico in important international competitions. And it makes every effort to bring to Mexico the best art from abroad.
People like Isidro Fabeia and Franz Mayer are giving Mexico their own residences, filled with numerous works of art. Large corporations, like the Ford Motor Company and the company that makes El Aguila cigars, set up pictorial exhibits in their own factories for the enjoyment of their workers. More than forty different galleries offer the public an average of six openings every week. And in many public gardens and parks, every Sunday one can see rows of easels displaying the work of beginning painters.
Now. then, all these activities are brought into being by citizens aware ol the attention which art deserves. It is fair to ask what the producers of art are accomplishing.
For one thing, they proliferate. In Mexico City alone, there are several hundred men and women who are beginning to create “art. Some are impelled by a certain anxious need to realize their own existence, and to express it. Others, led by a desire for profit, follow the current fashion, paint in mass production, and distribute their crop well supported by showy publicity schemes that olten are convincing to an ignorant public, complacent critics, and imprudent museums. Many, avoiding more difficult professions, adopt the romantic personality of the “artist” (for which neither aptitude nor technical knowledge nor broad academic training is required) with the object of being indulged and supported by a tenderhearted society determined to prevent the repetition of the illustrious poverty of a Van Gogh, a Gauguin, or a Modigliani. And a few, perhaps with great talent and an authentic vocation, are contused, lost, and undervalued in this disconcerting Hood spilling from our pictorial horn of plenty.
PAINTERS as unlike as Diego Rivera, Siqueiros, and Tamayo lead the list of excellent artists who created the modern Mexican school. What common denominator exists in all of them that makes them recognizable and acknowledged as Mexicans everywhere? It is not their ideology — far from it
or their pictorial technique, or hardly their use of color. Is it not, rather, the image of Mexico which is reflected in them all?
Yet this image is not perceptible in the work of our beginning painters. Instead, the majority of them follow the foreign influences that have spread everywhere. And it is a mistake to look among them for the representatives of the new Mexican painting. The painters who are doing truly creative and lasting work are those who over the years have come to accentuate their own voices within the total contribution which Mexico makes to the art world.
In thirty uninterrupted years as director of the Galena de Arte Mexicano, I have seen at close hand an endless procession of painters who are struggling to establish their individuality. Knowing that all personal judgments are necessarily partial, I would like to mention a few who in my opinion have succeeded.
In prison at sixty-five, David Alfaro Siqueiros preserves intact the power of his dynamic painting, which since 1935, in his experimental workshop in New York, has exercised an unquestionable influence over so many artists of the United States and Latin America. Rufino Tamayo, discoverer of the most beautiful forms and colors in Mexican art, conqueror of all the provinces of art, eternal nonconformist, pursues mysterious byways and gives us day by day the marvelous fruits of his conquests. Carlos Merida, who at seventy-two reaches perfection in his unwearying search for harmonious balance between the Mayan legacy and the new forms, always delights us with his pure abstract magic. Is it not the same as in Europe, where Picasso continues to be a better painter than all the Spaniards of the “new wave” put together?
Other Mexican painters of this generation are still active, and when occasionally they dare to defy oblivion, to which they have been relegated by the violent impact of the new values, their work offers a true oasis of artistic enjoyment. For example, the recent delightful exhibit of Antonio Ruiz was applauded, as Carlos Orozco Romero, Agustín Lazo, and Jesús Guerrero Galvan are when they show their canvases from time to time.
Very few young painters have had the opportunity to do any mural painting. This, which brought so much fame to Mexico in the first half of this century, is continued today by such outstanding painters as Siqueiros, Juan O’Gorman, Jose Chavez Morado, Alfredo Zalce, and González Camerena, within lineaments that can be called classical. I should like to point out that there is a certain tendency to substitute the fresco in mural decoration in order to achieve various effects more in accord with modern architecture. Mérida has experimented unceasingly with materials such as cement, granite, and mosaic, to achieve absolute architectural-plastic integration. Chávez Morado executed his magnificent bas-reliefs in stone at the Medical Center of the Mexican Social Security Institute. Tamayo painted his beautiful movable murals in oil at the Palace of Fine Arts. Giving free reign to his imagination, Mathias Goeritz employs on the walls of churches, houses, and gardens whatever material strikes his fancy: cement, stone, tinplate, glass, or even nails. Manuel Felguerez, a young artist, has used wood in the construction of his fine mural in a movingpicture theater in Mexico City.
New meaning has also been given to contemporary easel painting in Mexico by isolated painters whose eminently creative work defies classification.
I met Guillermo Meza twenty-four years ago, when Diego Rivera described him to me in a letter of introduction as “a young man of talent whose interesting work promises great things.”Meza has never followed the beaten path already marked out by his immediate predecessors. With childlike simplicity, ecstatic before Rivera’s mastery of drawing or Tamayo’s magic use of color, Meza nevertheless endeavors to express his own thought in his own way. Humbled before the limitless Mexican landscape. which he has painted a hundred times as if stirred to the core, he feels also the bruising presence of the Indian that dwells within him. He searches for abstract formulas to express his anguish. And he pours it out, as he experiences it.
Gunther Gerzso, on the other hand, elaborates within himself all of his world. His search is introspective, unsparing; grief does not terrify him if through it he can fathom the intimate recesses of the spirit. He takes from the eternal only what is indispensable to give him dimension: infinite distance, abysmal depth. The skies of Mexico, the sacred wells of Yucatán, are suggested in his work with incredible mastery.
Ricardo Martinez began to paint in 1939 small baroque canvases: angels and acolytes, groups of women; since then a continual despoliation. No painter has sacrificed so much to arrive at the identical essence of things. And his subjects are reduced to a very few: a man, a woman; at most, a couple, scarcely hinted at in beautiful areas of opalescent colors. The important thing for Martínez (and for all): the existence of man. The artistic statement comes through beauty of drawing and harmony of colors.
In 1940, when I visited the School ol Painting and Sculpture of the Esmeralda, the fine sculpture of Pedro Coronel caught my attention. In the years since then. I have come to admire his painting also. Savage, illuminated by the monumental heritage of pre-Hispanic art, his work has at the same time the explosive gaiety of folkloric Mexican colors. In the vibrant paintings of Coronel we obtain simultaneously a new view of our roots and a suggestion of our vigorous present.
I suspect that in kindergarten José Luis Cuevas, instead of paving attention to his lessons, must have devoted himself to watching his teachers. They surely must have seemed large and monstrous to him. It is possible that he has felt the urge ever since to put his terror on paper through the medium of pictures. In all his thirty years of file he has not been able to transform this peculiar apparition of the horrible, or to spare us the cruel truth of his invalids, his madmen, his eccentrics. He directs his anger not against them, but against those who decline to acknowledge their existence. Impertinently he shows them to us. urges us to accept them. He provokes astonishment; he is imitated by dozens of artists; but in the final reckoning he emerges as the unique current exponent of that “dark"' vein of Mexican painting exemplified by Posada and later by Orozco.
It was scarcely ten years ago that Rafael Coronel emerged into the panorama of Mexican art, and from the beginning he has worked impetuously. Each passerby, each child, each woman sitting in the market, each rambling clown, is a subject for a picture. Clear-sighted, Coronel penetrates into the soul ol his subjects. He works with delicacy and a sobriety ol form and color rare in so young a painter.
It would be possible to mention many other Mexican painters. Some, like Luis Nishisawa or Juan Soriano, have abandoned the descriptive realism ol their early period for freer forms of expression. Others, on the contrary, like Luis Garcia Guerrero, are forsaking abstract poetry to comply with classical precepts. Several of foreign origin, but already rooted in Mexico, like Leonora Carrington, Antonio Rodriguez Luna, and Enrique Climent, enrich our painting with their work.
I believe that the confluence of all these voices can project a faithful image of Mexico on the panorama of contemporary art.
Translated by Emily Flint.