This spring, the Whitney put on view Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925-1945. Showcasing with its audience how integral Mexican artists were in influencing the art scene in America during the early 1900s. The leading Mexican muralists during this known as Los Tres Grandes made great strides in their own art and in the ripple effects their art had on the world.
What did the Mexican muralist movement achieve?
When the Mexican Revolution ended in 1920, there was a feeling of lack of identity amongst the people. So, the government commissioned artists to create monumental public murals illustrating the history and daily life of the nation’s people. The radical cultural transformation that ensued fostered a new relationship between art and society. It created a space for speaking to the public about social justice and national life through the art. In Mexico, José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros – Los Tres Grandes – created numerous murals, paintings, and prints that spurred the post-Revolution art scene with their incredible visions of struggle, triumph, oppression, and power.
The United States became enamored with the art being created in Mexico and called it the “Mexican Renaissance.” American artists moved to Mexico to partake in the art scene. As the government changed, Los Tres Grandes looked north to the United States. In coming to American and interacting with artists there, Los Tres Grandes provided a sense of encouragement to many artists who were struggling with the Depression. Their work and persons formed a vision for a world of art that connected to society and plays a social role.
Who were the Los Tres Grandes?
José Clemente Orozco was first of the three to come to the US and painted a mural of Prometheus at Pomona College in California. This piece caused a stir in the art world, hailed “the best painting in the contemporary world” by Jackson Pollock. The strength of expressions on the figures faces and overall quality of the work was something that hadn’t yet been seen in the United States.
Second was Diego Rivera. Rivera seemed to embody the spirit of the Mexican Revolution and considered the hero of the western world. Inspired by his experiences in the United States, he portrayed a new vision of modern American industry through his mural at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
David Alfaro Siqueiros was the last to arrive and was a radical in every way. He was revolutionary in his artmaking, both in content and in material choice. Siqueiros commissioned to create “Tropical America”, painted a mural that was intended to be a picturesque, exotic scene overlooking a touristy spot in downtown Los Angeles. However, Siqueiros decided instead to paint an image of an indigenous figure being hung as a way of representing the ideals of anti-imperialism. Not long after its unveiling, the mural was partly white washed. It was completely painted over two years later. In 1936 he set up an experimental workshop in NYC where he and the attendees there paint and other materials onto canvases laid out on the floor. The sense of freedom from the traditional artistic conventions really stuck to one of the attendees – Jackson Pollock.
Why was Mexican Muralism significant?
By the 1940’s, Los Tres Grandes moved back to Mexico and continued creating their murals. However, the residue of their work still reverberated in the United States. Artists such as Aaron Douglas, Charles White, and Thomas Hart Benton celebrated Lost Tres Grandes and the ideas they brought with them. The Mexican artists had the most pervasive and profound influence on American art in the early 1900’s. This is contrary to common belief that it was French artists who had the most impact on American art in the first half of the 20th century, which is part of why Whitney chose to showcase such an incredible period in the art history of the United States.