Ask a Curator: Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925–1945

Ask a Curator: Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925–1945

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[ Captioner standing by ] >> SARAH HUMPHREVILLE: Hello and thank you for joining us -- >> SOFIA SILVA: Hello and thank you for joining us. My name is Sofía Silva. Thank you for joining us for "Ask a Curator ." They allow you to ask your own questions about the art, artist, and ideas behind the show. Tonight's event will also be available on our YouTube channel. So if you want to rewatch or share this program with your friends, you can do so later on. As we get started

, I'll quickly mention that tonight's event is being live captioned. If you'd like to enable this feature, click on the "closed captions" button on the bottom of your screen or the three dots, also at the bottom of your screen. It's a privilege to introduce tonight's speakers, three of my colleagues. Curator Barbara H askell and Sarah Humphreville . They'll be giving us insight s on Vida Americana which remains on view until January 31st. The it's a spectacular show. So if you are in New York, I ask that you watch it in person. I'm excited to hear from

these three in what's sure to be an incredibly illuminating discussion about Vida Americana. I'll be back later to moderate the Q&A portion of the program . If you would like to submit a question, please do so by using the Q&A feature in Zoom. Click on the icon at the bottom of your screen and submit your question. Feel free to submit questions during the talk. I'll be select

ing a few to give to our speakers. Thank you for joining us tonight. And I'll hand things over to Barbara, Sarah , and Marcela. S:BARBARA HASKELL it's a

pleasure. Mexican muralism began at the beginning of the 20th century. Around a set of national identity, Mexican government commissioned artists to create monumental public murals depicting Mexican history in everyday life. The mural s were radical, as you can see in the background here in the installation in uniting their bold, powerful styles with subject matter that was relevant to the lives of everyday people. Nothing like it had happened in the West since the Italian renaissance.

And as journals in America began flooded with information about the murals, waves of U.S. art ists came to Mexico to see the murals and work with the muralists. And when commissions began to decline in 1924 when a new Mexican government came to power, the artists in Mexico turned to the U.S. for patronage . Between 1927 and 1940, the three leading mural ists, Jose Clemente Orozco , Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros spent extended periods in the United States where they made easel paintings, many of them based on the imagery from their Mexican murals, lithographs, and murals. By juxtaposing their art as we've done in the show with that of their U.S. counterparts, the exhibition reveal s the wide ranging and profound influence that the art ists had on both the subject matter, the style, and the ideology of artists in this country.

Next. The exhibition begins with the work that first captured the imagination of the American public. These romantic, picture esque images of the rural population is embodying in the sense of simplicity, purity, beauty. During the 31 years of the dictator ship, this population had been marginalized in favor of the French, which was seen as the model of culture . But after the revolution, the world population was heral d in somewhat symbolic of the real Mexico as the bedrock of their identity. The two Diego Rivera pictures as you see on the screen are based on murals he made in Mexico represent the kind of work that Rivera was revered for in this country initially. He was called the greatest artist of the Western world and the prophet of the Mexican Revolution. But he

wasn't the only artist that dealt with this kind of subject matter . Next. You can see Frida Kahlo to the left. She formulated her persona based on the women of Tehuantepec and Alfredo Ramos Martinez on the right. But even from that vantage point, we channel the motion of the flower festival which had been so important to Aztec culture into images of the New Mexico. Next. Images aren't just from other countries where they're captain lated by what they're saw, the rural , spiritually connected part of their living. It seemed like an antidote to the alienation and Ruthlessness of modern , industrial life. Next . The -- one of the major themes of the murals was the revolution. Because Rivera

dominated mural making in Mexico, it's often been misunderstood that the mural -- that muralism was homogenous. It isn't at all, as you see from the very different images and styles of the three leading artists. Rivera on the left and depicting Zapata, the icon of the revolution following his assassination of 1919. Rivera , though, had spent the revolution in Paris. When he came back, he romanticised it

and glorified it, as you can see, in the image of Za pata. Siqueiros, in the middle, who figure out in the Re-lucian, represents a more ambiguous image of Zapa ta. And on the right, Jose Clemente Orozco, said he could never romanticise it because he saw too much of its brutality and cruelty. He represents the revolution as the death and trauma , the kind of senseless inhumanity of the revolution . Next. The work in the first several galleries in the exhibition bring s together 20 artists in a range of media which is threw throughout the exhibition. Films , photography, prints, paintings and sculptur. And you can see leading into the next gallery Orozco which is a mural that the artist made in California. And

I'll turn it over to Sarah to tell you about that. >> SARAH HUMPHREVILLE: Hi, everyone. Good evening. As Barbara said, you can see here a glimpse of the first mural made of a Mexican muralist in the United States, a reproduction in the gallery. One of the challenges of doing a show that focuses

on muralists is how to present murals off of their original site. So we dealt with a number of technologies to do so. And in the case of this Orozco, we reproduced it in three dimensions because it does exist in this average in arch in its original space. So Orozco was the first of the

Los Tres Grandes to come to the United States. He first came to the U.S. in 1927, first going to New York. And he was the first to receive this mural commission at Pomona College in 1930. And once it premiered, it really caused a sensation in the art world. People were really swept away by it. And by the end of the year in 1930, it had really entered pity or prejudice culture entered popular culture, saying that Orozco was as dinner table talk as others. That

shows how representational it was. So if we can go to the next, we can take a look at the comparison between Pollock and Orozco. And Pollock famously went to Pomona College to see the Prometheus mural and was blown away by it. He kept a

reproduction of it in his studio throughout the 1930's and has famously talked about it as being the most important work of art in north America or the greatest artwork in existence. If you look at this, you can see how related they are to the Prometheus mural, being swept up in fire. You can see how Pollock is incorporated the visceral brushwork and energy of Orozco's painting into his own art. But that he also picks up on this kind of angsty tone and the themes of emotional struggle and trauma in his art. We can go

to the next. We'll look at one more example of a very famous American artist who was impact ed by Orozco in the art of Jacob Lawrence. Lawrence really cited the architect tonic forms of Orozco as being particularly important. But just as critical was the idea of having a narrative. And he said that Orozco really paved the way for him to create modern art that was also narrative in content rather than being abstract completely. And he also takes as his subject contemporary history. So here, focusing his

series on the great migration of African Americans from the South to the North. And he tells us this is just three examples from a whole series of 60. And as you go to the next, you can even see that in, you know, small panels built up over multiples, that having 60 of them create s a work that is on mural scale even as it's completely particle. And we have ten of these that are in the show that we have borrowed. And we'll go to the next and I'll hand it off to Marcela. >> MARCELA GUERRERO: Thank you, Sarah. So with this gallery, we have -- we

dedicated it to Siqueiros and the impact that he had in the U.S. He was the youngest of the big three. And he was the one who arrived later in 1932. He spent six months in L. A. He made three murals. One of them was a private and the other two were public. And L.A. meant a lot in Siqueiros' life. He learned a lot from the different

technologies of the Hollywood film industry but also Siqueiros arriving in L.A. was really critical at that moment. There was a young paint er, Reuben Ka dish who said Siqueiros arriving at that time was as much as the surreal ist who arrived in New York in the 1940s. So L. A. was also a time when he started working collectively and he with his younger painters which he called the block of mural painters, he painted these murals.

And one of them, the most famous one perhaps, is "Tropical America " which he did in downtown Los Angeles which has a fascinating story. I'll give a a summary. The woman who was developing that area -- and perhaps you've been to Downtown L.A. It's on Olvera Street or you can see it from Olvera Street. She wanted to revamp the area and make it a very tradition

al -- and I'll use a lot of air quotes. A Mexico area. It's still a little bit like that if you go there . So when she commissioned Siqueiros to paint " Tropical America," she asked him to paint a continent full of happy men surrounded by palm tree s. Clearly she wasn't aware of his history

of how vi ciperous he was as a Marxist. The night before the unveiling, he painted this really brutal , violent scene of an indigenous Indigenous figure crucified. And over his head is this American Eagle. And you can see to the right these two snipers pointing towards the American Eagle. So clearly a criticism of American imperialism.

Immediately the portion that you could see from Olvera Street was white washed. And later on, the mural was completely covered. Thanks to the Chicano art movement in the '60s, there was a new awareness of the importance of Siqueiros in Los Angeles. And eventually in the '80's, the institute stepped in and started to try to preserve the mural. But the black and white image which we have reproduced for the exhibition is really the image that shows everything -- the entire mural and all the details. But you can still go to Los Angeles and see this important mural there. We can go to the next

slide please. And so in the gallery, we have also -- we're also showing works by artists who either trained with Siqueiros, were part of his block of mural painters or were politically or stillings style aligned. The one to the left is a fascinating painting. It's seemingly simple. But I love it because it kind of

refers to a fanatic. It could be a political fanatic or a religious zealot. It's up to us to bring that definition to the painting. And

Luis Arenal was a young painter who had moved to Los Angeles . He had ended up being -- Siqueiros ended up living in his house that his mother had in Los Angeles . And eventually Aren al became Siqueiros' brother-in-law. He ended up marry ing. So there was that relationship. Arenal was his translator while he was there. I want to point to the

one to the right because it's so to our times. I want to point to the capitol in the left painting. This was painted by Japanese artist Elt aro Ishigaki. He's pointing to Washington, D.C., when 40,000 World War I veterans protested there because their bonus payment had been deferred. So they protested to get that bonus check

. As you can see, this African American figure is holding his fellow veteran. And you can look to the next slide. And then this is one of my favorite paintings in this exhibition is this Phillip Gust on painting. He was a kind of a protege of Siqueiros. He had trained with Siqueiros in Los Angeles.

And in this painting, you can see a plane flying overhead and dropping a bomb. Guston was inspired by the news that he was reading about General Francisco planes and fascist bombs in populated areas. And you can see the dynamic lines of the bomb fall ing right in the center of the painting and all the figures being hurled toward the space of the viewer. Next. S:BARBARA HASKELL so history was a big topic for the Mexican mural ists. They really selected out aspects of the Mexican past to create a sense of kind of a panoramic epic that would point not only to the past but to the future. So this is a gallery that includes a number of the

artists from America that were influenced by that idea. And in the center of the gallery, you can -- we have a portfolio of Rivera prints of his Mexican murals, scenes from them, that circulated around the country for six years. So information about the muralists was very easy to get. It was all over the country. Not only were

they exhibiting across the country, but journalists were reporting on their work . And it was circulating around. Next. So for American art ists, taking a cue from the Mexicans ' portrayal of their own history began also to select aspects of what was called the usable past out of American history in order to create, again, for the country -- for our country -- a sense of a shared narrative and the unity of purpose in the face of and the and depression which was undermining Americans ' faith in the country and in themselves. Thomas Hart Benton whose work is here is someone who had long been a critic of abstraction as being too elitist. He had advocated for art accessible to the public, that had a meaningful, social role. And he saw the Mexican muralists as models. He said he want ed -- that they represented what he was trying for in his own work.

He called them the greatest painters of the time and really exhorted American artists to follow their example. Next. Another group of artists that were particularly impacted by the Mexican artist s were African American artists, many of whom went to Mexico as did Charles White as whose mural is on the screen right now . The idea of a national epo ch that celebrated a people that had been marginal ized before was inspiring. And Charles White and others began to insert their heroes into American art as essential to American history. So here

Charles White is depicting five great American es. So we have Sojourner Truth, Booker T. Washington,PhD, and Marian Anderson. Douglass took the idea of history in the murals he made and tended to focus on the trajectory that the Mexicans that had really presented in their murals. The projection from slavery to oppression in the revolution to finally aspiration. You can see them shining to

this utopian city on the hill as representing the future. Next? >> SARAH HUMPHREVILLE: So now we'll turn our attention to Rivera . He's been creeping up throughout this evening's talk. And as Barbara said, when he arrived in the United States, he really was a celebrity. He came to San Francisco in 1930 and then went to New York after receiving a commission to do this mural at the Detroit Art Institute. And he ended

up creating 27 panels spread out over all four walls of this courtyard. And in the exhibition, we have created a kind of moving photographic panorama that almost reads as a film as you can see all of these. And if you're interested in it, you can look at it on our website in the full panorama. And you can see that there's a lot of continuity between this mural and the other works of Rivera, the monumental forms, the crowd ed competition, the sa mantage esthetic. He became inspired by the experience of being in the U.S. and the

industry and technology that was here. So while continuing in one way, it's also really a point of departure for him. And if we can go to the next. His style and that mural in particular then really becomes a source of inspiration for American artists who are working under the various art programs of the new deal, including the WPA. And we can see here in these examples by Harold Lehman and Marion Greenwood celebrating the worker as Rivera did in his work and using their subject matter with hope and idealism that really was, you know, speaking to the audience and trying to uplift the country when they really needed an expression of self-worth during the depths of the Depression. And if we can go to the next. Here you can see a couple more

examples by Thelma Johnson Str eat and William Gropper. We see that crowded composition as we see in Rivera. And the Grop per was actually made for a post office in Detroit so he could work on that mural while also seeing Rivera's mural in the same city which is a good point of continuity. But also really critical to the American mural movement in the form of the new deal projects is the Mexican mural project led by the government in Mexico . It wouldn't have happened -- that were art programs part of the new deal -- without it. And famously in history, another art

ist, George Bittell had gone to Mexico and had seen what was happening there and was really inspired by it. He happened to have been a classmate of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. So he wrote to Roosevelt when he was elected saying they should do what they did in Mexico and pay artists plumber's wages to create art for public spaces. Go to the next. >> MARCELA GUERRERO:

Thank you, yes. So we have this clip that we're going to show in a little bit. And I'll be speaking over it. So what you're seeing here is a video that we shot for the exhibition and that we're showing in what we call an immersive video. It's a 270-degree space where you can see footage of the Abelardo L. Rodriguez Market. To give you reference. This was open in 1934. So a year after the Detroit Institute of Art. It was a brand new, statement of the

art market that was open. It had a day care, theater. But it was covered by murals by ten art ists. Six of them were Mexican and four were American.

The four American artists were Pablo Higgins, Marion and grace Greenwood and Isamu Noguchi. The artistic director was Rivera. So he was the one behind approving all the sketches for the murals, et cetera. But Pablo Higgins , who was actually an American as I said before -- his name. He was born Paul Stephenson but he moved to Mexico and ended up changing his name to Pablo Higgins. But he was the one who worked with the American artists and was kind of a technical director of the whole project. And as you can see

here, some -- we have -- we've been showing you some of the footage of the film. And you can go to the next. You can find this video on our YouTube channel and also on the website on The Whitney's website. And you can see it in its entirety. And one of the murals was

Isamu Noguchi's as you can see here the full image. It's a 70-foot long mural or half painting, half sculptur. It was covered in cement. It was paint ed. It's, you know, also kind of a criticism of fascism and the political turmoil that was happening in this time. Next. S:BARBARA HASKELL so Marcela showed you the image of "Tropical America." And we showed you the artists were

very radical. Siqueiros and Rivera were communists. Orozco had fought in the revolution. So when they came to America, they provided a model to American artists who had looked at the inequities that had fallen out because of the stock market crash. That crash exposed

the kind of injustices and inequality in America. So the Mexicans were the model. Americans followed them. There was a John reid club. That was kind of

the left wing artist organization at the time. There was one magazine who recognized that social protests really was something that had come from the South. Critic s said that social protest was not something that the French artists did. The French wanted to escape from life, not look at the defects of life . And you can see in these three images the three artist s taking very critical approaches toward contemporary events. So they didn't just deal with history. But they dealt with contemporary problems as well. Next.

So in American artists follow ing their example dealt with police brutality , racial injustice, labor protest s. Joe Jones on the left -- this is a protest marching for workers' compensation , workers' insurance. A topic very relevant today. Ishiga

ki on the right. Marcel a had showed you another image of this artist. He traveled with the Mexican s. This is a picture he's creating of the pity or prejudice of the popular front. That was bringing together all kinds of left wing organizations in the fight against fascism and war. Next. Phillip

Evergood, "the American Tragedy" showed work ers made at this factory on 1937. Armed protesters started march ing toward the factory and were melt with police met with policeman with guns and bully clubs. Ten were shot. Hundred s were injured and hospitalized. It became known

as the may day massacre. Very infamous in the history of labor unrest. And the way Evergood is depicting the picture , like many of the artists' images, interracial . You can see an African man lying in the left-hand corner having been shot. And a Mexican American pregnant woman with a club in her hand being forcefully attacked by a policeman. Phillip Evergood called the picture " American Tragedy" suggesting it wasn't just the tragedy at the Republican steel mill but it was an American problem. It was an American tragedy. Next. >> MARCELA GUERRERO: Yes. So we have a

gallery space dedicated to the -- what we call the Rockefeller controversy, right? The Rockefeller project that Diego Rivera made in 1933. He start ed in 1932 when the Rockefeller family asked Rivera to paint a mural for their brand new RC A building for the lobby, the most important space in that build ing. And kind of the assign ment that they gave Rivera was to paint man at the crossroads , uncertain, but hopeful for a better future. So they agreed on the theme. This sketch specifically that you're see ing here was a really important loan given to us by the M useo Anahua calli in Mexico City . This was sort of a tryptic. You can see the three aspects of men. They're together encompassing

humanity. And these were the sketches that Diego Rivera was submitting to the architect and were approve ed. And everything was sort of going well until speak of man at the crossroads , Diego Rivera received backlash on two counts. On the one hand, the conservative press are saying, what are the Rockefeller s doing siding with this communist? It's anticapitalist propaganda. And on the other hand, the communist press was putting pressure on Rivera for him to show alliance to the communist party. So

Rivera ended up deciding -- and also because many of his assistants were affiliated with the communist party, he asked one of his assistants to give him a foe toe of Vladimir Lenin which he ended up adding to the mural. So the way he kind of got around was that every blueprint that he was submitting to the Rockefellers and to the architect didn't have the face of Leni n. It said at one point some workers were adding some paint to a wall above the mural -- above the fresco and a little bit of that paint dripped onto the mural so the architect had to step in and assess the damage. And that's when he saw the face of Lenin

and immediately told the Rockefellers, Nelson Rockefeller wrote him a letter say ing please remove the face of Lenin and replace it with anyone else. And Rivera decided he wasn't going to. He said, I'm not going to sensor it. If you don't like it, you'll have to destroy it. May 9th, 1933, he was removed from the project. A couple months later, the mural was destroyed. In the gallery, we have

a latrine with raw material with documents with newspaper clippic s of the protests that happened and also a photograph that one of his assistant s took of the mural, of the Rockefeller mural which he then took to Mexico to the Pala cio where the mural with some modification is now there. And you can go visit Mexico City at some point and see it for yourselves. And so we have a reproduction in the gallery of the mural as it is in the Palace of Fine Arts.

>> SARAH HUMPHREVILLE: So the final gallery of the ex-big juxtaposes Siqueiros and Pollock. They're the only two artists in the gallery after you've encountered 58 others throughout the course of the exhibition. And the gallery focuses on Siqueiros' return to the United States in 1936 when he came to New York and set up the experimental work shop following his participation in the American Artist Congress earlier that year. And the work shop was really founded with the idea that Siqueiros held close to him in his idea of what artists and artists should do, which is that in order for art to be mod herb modern and revolutionary, it needs to be revolutionary not only in its subject matter but how it's made , with how the materials are put on a surface and what those material s are. So if you can go to the next please. As

part of the activity and the experimental workshop in keeping this idea that Siqueiros had in mind, there's a lot of experimentation with materials. So using trail types of paint like car paint, for instance, was something that was quite common. And they would also do things like use spray paint which you can see in Siqueiros' " The Electric Forest" on the left and then "Landscape with Steer" on the right. They would fling at cardboard, whatever their support was. And Pol lock was a fame mouse famous participant. They became close enough that when Siqueiros left New York, Pollock was only a few people that he told. Now all this activity is taking place 11 year

s before Pollock makes his first drip painting. So the activity of the workshop is real impression and critical to propelling American art into the narrative that I think we're much more familiar with abstract expressionism. And with that, I'll leave it with Barbara to finish out with final thoughts . S:BARBARA HASKELL this is an installation job of looking into the Rockefeller mural. What

we've shown you is just a sampling. There are 200 works in the show by 60 artists. When we first opened it, the show seem ed very relevant. But given the events of the last ten months, I think we feel it's more relevant than ever, the idea that art -- powerful, bold vocabulary -- can be used to tell stories and deliver messages that are meaningful to everyday life, that art has a social role, that it has a meaning that can be appreciated by the public . It seems more relevant than ever but it's a call to action. But I think I can speak to all of us that it's been a privilege to share that call with you, all of you tonight . And I turn it back to Sofía for the question and answer period.

>> SOFIA SILVA: Hi. Thank you so much, Barbara , Marcela and Sarah. I'll start off the question with William Cor te. He's wondering,

Rivera was a Trotskyi st, Siqueiros a Stali Stalinist, and Orozco apolitical. He's wondering. He is wondering if they really got along and he wants to know about moments in time in which they actually were physically together and in community. S:BARBARA HASKELL it's fair to say they were not friendly. They were all very competitive and hostile to one another.

Their politics differed. Siqueiros was, as you say, a Stalinist. Rivera was in and out of the communist party . He was expelled in and off from Mexico. He continued to work with the government even after they made the communist party illegal. So he was -- even by the time Rivera came to the United States, he was viewed with a lot of suspicion by artists on the left. He gave a very famous lecture at the John Reid club in 1941 where he was booed for being a sellout and working for the capitalists . And interestingly enough, just the debate between Siqueiros and Rivera are where Siqueiros accused Rivera of being a sellout and his art going to shambles because of it actually started in America . Siqueiros wrote an article for the left wing magazine "The New Masses" and that created a more physical encounter for the two artists in Mexico City . So there was a lot of competition, a lot of bitter rivalry . And the -- you're right that Orozco was much less political. He was very much more involved in mythic quality of anguish, the human tragedy as it was seen in myth.

>> SOFIA SILVA: Another participant is wondering if the Mexican painters or muralists also had an impact on French and European painters during the same time . S:BARBARA HASKELL not really. I think what's interesting is that the triangle between the Mexican painters and what was happening in the Soviet Union and America. The Mexican painters were much more affiliated with what was happening after the revolution in what became the Soviet Union that Rivera went to Moscow, went to Russia. And Siqueiros was very -- was a communist until the very end of his day. And of course, Tro tsky in both of their lives.

Embracing Trotsk y. But Rivera attended the assassination of Trotsky in Mexico City. Anything you two want to add? >> SARAH HUMPHREVILLE: I think really more as a point of interest because we touched on Frida Kahlo a little bit. She's very much beloved by everyone. But she was during this period the first Mexican artist to have a solo exhibition at the Louvre. I think it was in

1938. S:BARBARA HASKELL as the critics said -- I quoted the idea that social protests came from Mexico . That the French artists were not really wanting to look at the defects of national life. They saw art as an escape. >> SOFIA SILVA: Another participant is wondering what brought the big three to the United States in the first place? What was the impetus? And if they were invited by fellow artists or if they decided to come to the U.S. on their own for their own reason s. >> BARBARA: It was interest.

There was a Rouse created that there was an American collector that was going to commission Orozco to do a series of work on the Mexican Revolution. So that's why he came to New York. Rivera went to San Francisco because he was offered commissions there that had been really organized by art ists who had worked with him in Mexico. And Siqueiros went to L.A. because he had met Eisenstein in Mexico, the great Russian filmmaker. He had a cousin in the film industry. And I think he felt he would find a market there which he did. >> MARCELA GUERRERO: Yeah. And commissions in Mexico for

at least Siqueiros and Orozco started dwindling . They weren't as common as they had been in the previous years. >> SOFIA SILVA: Someone else is wondering, how can art spaces such as museums or galleries in the U.S. work with Mexican artists in our generation to create a muralist movement like that in the 1930s and 50s? More on the contemporary side. >> BARBARA HASKELL: I think there is a vibrant movement in Mexico. And there's a vibrant movement in the United States.

Whether there's a lot of interaction at this point I think remain s a question. But the idea of muralism and the idea that art can be public is seen everywhere in cities across the country. Street art by anonymous artists is something that everyone has come to expect. The idea that art really can have a place within a community started with the muralists but it hasn't ended. >> SARAH HUMPHREVILLE: And I think, too,

as we've seen tonight in a lot of the examples, not only by Mexican artists but by the American artists in the show as well is that the themes that are dealt with at that time are really as relevant as ever today. So I think there's still a lasting impact with art of this period and with this show that really demonstrates how art can actually be used to facilitate political and social change. >> MARCELA GUERRERO: And a big difference between the 30s and now is the role of the government in, you know, as a patron of the arts. And that is something that unfortunately we don't see at least in the U.S.

as much as back in the '30s and '40s. In the '30s and '20s and in Mexico and the U.S., we saw that great alignment of a need, a cause , and a government willing to put the resources and to employ artists to paint, you know, works of art that would really impact society. And so it feels at time s that some of those elements are present nowadays. But the patronage of the government , it's missing. >> SOFIA SILVA: Thank you. Someone else is asking how the idea of this

exhibition came about. And what really was the inspiration behind this? >> BARBARA HASKELL: So I had the idea of the exhibition about 14 years ago because I began to see comparisons or similarities between the art of Rivera and Ben ton, among others. And I thought it deserved more investigation. So I had thought about the exhibition and actually proposed it to The Whitney. It didn't end up getting scheduled at that point . And then four years ago, it was scheduled . And Marcela and Sarah and I join ed together to work on the show. And the interesting thing is that it -- in looking back, I'm so happy that it wasn't presented 14 or 15 year s ago. That even when it opened in February, it already

seemed one of -- as one critic said, one of the most relevant shows of the 21st Century, that it made so much -- the themes that it dealt with -- police brutality, racial injustice , inequality, were front and center in this country already when the show opened in February . In the last ten months, the show has become even more relevant so that although it started as an idea 14 years ago, it really -- it seems more important and maybe was meant to be to happen now. >> SOFIA SILVA: Someone else is asking if you can elaborate a little bit more about the influence of women in the Medical examiner can in the Mexican muralists movement in this time period. >> SARAH HUMPHREVILLE: It's a very macho movement. And it's

-- there were certainly female artists who were present and who are in the show. And I think one of the most rewarding parts of the research that went into this project was kind of discovering those women artists. And Rivera actually was very supportive of two women artists in particular. Marian Anderson who Marion Goodman.

And she taught her how to do true fresco. And that little painting is fresco encased in a wooden box. And Thelma Johnson Stre at who we also showed a mural study was actually really, really championed by Rivera. He brought her name forward to galleries in Los Angeles. And she was one of the only artists who was allowed to actually paint on the fresco by him. But

it's -- it's a very masculine field. And obviously the major mural commissions were largely awarded to male artist s. >> MARCELA GUERRERO: And we have -- I mean , I think another aspect to highlight is the role that women like Anita Brennar and other women played in finding and helping secure commissions -- mural commissions for the Mexican artists. So that's not something that

one should minimize. And in the catalog, we have a chapter dedicated to women art artists and to women promoters. So that's a resource that I would , you know, point out for those -- for the person who has the question in the audience who are curious more about the role of women in this kind of chapter of our history. >> SOFIA SILVA: Another question is , what notable murals from students of or artists inspired by the Mexican muralists still exist in New York? Or in the U.S. in general? >> BARBARA HASKELL: Well, a lot of the artists that worked with Rivera and the Mexican muralist s were employed by the WPA. So a number of those murals still exist around the country in hospitals, schools, and post offices . And all of those had a direct sort of origin with the Mexican movement. As Sarah

said, it was really George Bittl e's letter that allowed them to be part of the WPA. But a lot of those murals still exist . And in New York as well as around the country. >> SARAH HUMPHREVILLE: Yeah. And in the case of American murals -- and I was just talking about fresco. But very

few of the murals made under the WP A are actually painted directly on the wall. A lot of them are on canvas . So a lot of them are still in their original sites . A lot of them have been glued onto that surface. But many of them ended up in museums. So the Smithsonian Art Museum has a few great collections. Other mural

s that Barbara showed. In New York, there are a few examples . Some of them like the Bronx Post Office has murals there. They're privately owned so they're not necessarily accessible . And then I saw it in the chat but someone had asked about the Gropper. It's still in Detroit but not at the post office. It's now at Wayne State.

>> SOFIA SILVA: They say, I was wondering if you could comment on today's unintended or intended effort to neutralize these efforts , especially Kahlo by popularizing them by putting them on tote bags and tokennizing them and oversimplify ing their connection to communist when many would condemn their politics. Rivera tried to kill Trotsky. Do you think their popularity has negative effect on their legacy ? >> SARAH HUMPHREVILLE: It was really a shot against them that they were communists and that wasn't the kind of thing this many people wanted to get behind. So it took -- you know, they had this period of major popularity. And then they got down and got covered again.

But, you know, I think the artwork is so powerful that I still feel the political feel of it regardless if it's reproduced on a tote bag or a coffee mug. On a personal opinion, I love art wherever possible as a reminder of it. And also bring ing in however we want. And I think it's something even if it's wrapped update in commercialism, there's something quite democratic about that impulse. >> SOFIA SILVA: Someone else is wondering in the muralists were influenced by futurism. I see esthetic similarities in the large block-like forms amongst many of the work s. Or is that just coincidental

? >> BARBARA HASKELL: All the muralists were very aware of what was happening in Europe. Rivera was a cubist. Very successful cubist during the revolution . And Siqueiros went to Europe. They were -- they really incorporated the strategies of modern art in their murals. But they combined that with subject matter that was accessible. Not art

for art's sake. But imagery relevant. But they were very knowledgeable. They looked at the Italian renaissance , for example. The flat plane s of Rivera. So they were very well informed . And their brillance is really to combine that with Indigenous traditions and as I say subject s that were meaningful to everyone.

>> SOFIA SILVA: Another question -- which I really think is really interesting is if the muralists ever reflected on the Latino or Latin x presence in the United States at the time ? >> MARCELA GUERRERO: I'll take that one just because I -- I think the essay that I wrote for the article touches on that question. It's a fascinating question . And I think the clearest example that I can give is when Rivera was in Detroit, it was during a moment in the history of the U.S. that -- which is very kind of aligned with what's happening and what was happening during the time when we were putting together the exhibition. And that was that back in the

'20s and '30s, there was a movement to repatriate -- that was the word used. Repatriate Mexican people back to Mexico . Historians say it was about 1 million to 2 million people that were repatriate d. And 60% of those were U.S. born people of Mexican descent that were sent to Mexico. And Rivera was part of these discussion s at least in Detroit among the Mexican -American community there. And it's very interesting because at the beginning, he was basically the message that he was sending was, yes, go back to Mexico. You know, the

term that was used was create colonies back in Mexico. And then he flip flops and he goes back and says, no, you have all the right to stay here. And so it's a conversation that is very, as I said, relevant to what's happening -- what's still happening in 2020. And yeah. So there was this kind of almost chasm of the experience of Mexicans and Mexican Americans in this country and what they as famous muralists experienced when they came to the U.S. even though they all three had FBI files but they were celebrated . So there's definitely a disconnect between the experience of the artist s and then of the general Mexican, Mexican-American population in the U.S.

>> SOFIA SILVA: Another participant is asking -- oh, just left. Here we go. About the influence of the Mexican muralists -- well, they say that they see the influence of the Mexican muralists ranging from Benton to Polluck. But they're also wondering if the muralists large scale experienced other abstract impressionists such as Si ll. >> BARBARA HASKELL: The large scale of the murals was definitely a factor in abstract expressionism. Just But all the artists that were part of the abtract generation saw what was happening and kind of the power and impact of this large scale panoramic work. So yes, it was definitely

a big influence. >> SOFIA SILVA: Someone else is wondering how did the connection between Rivera and Ford and Rockefeller happen? >> BARBARA HASKELL: He was considered the hero of the Western world . They both wanted to capitalize on that n notoriety. [ End of captioning ]

2021-02-18 03:30

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