"Mexico Modern" reveals dynamic network of cultural exchange between Mexico and the U.S. —
August 9, 2020

“Mexico Modern” reveals dynamic network of cultural exchange between Mexico and the U.S.

By Carola Rivera

Chronicling two decades of cultural exchange between Mexico and the U.S., the exhibition Mexico Modern: Art, Commerce, and Cultural Exchange, 1920–1945 showcases examples of modern Mexican art and design. Through exhibitions, books and articles, it also documents the ways this art was broadcast to new audiences, primarily in the U.S. The exhibition demonstrates how, in the 1920s and 1930s, Mexican art that was initially received as avant-garde gained mainstream acceptance.

The exhibition highlights the important history of 20th-century art and how artists, museum curators, gallery owners, journalists and publishers in both countries instigated a cultural phenomenon by creating and promoting art that pioneered a synthesis of indigenous traditions and international aesthetics.

The more than 200 items in the exhibition, drawn primarily from the Ransom Center’s collections, reveal the importance of the transnational networks of individuals and institutions that sought, championed and interpreted many great, often radically new, works of art. The materials include paintings, photographs, jewelry and decorative arts, as well as correspondence, periodicals and exhibition brochures.

“’Mexico Modern’ provides a unique opportunity to showcase the Ransom Center’s remarkable collections to present a memorable cast of characters, whose connectedness is revealed not only through great works of art, but also via intimate media such as letters and snapshots,” notes guest curator Thomas Mellins.

The popularity and prestige of Mexican art throughout the 1920s and 1930s was the direct result of a dynamic exchange between Mexico and the U.S., where New York, Chicago and Los Angeles served as epicenters of cultural activism.

This Mexican moment encompassed artists such as painters Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jean Charlot; graphic designer and art historian Miguel Covarrubias; photographers Nickolas Muray, Tina Modotti, Edward Weston and Manuel Álvarez Bravo; and jewelry designer William Spratling. Their work was championed by journalist and writer Anita Brenner, curator René d’Harnoncourt and publishers Frances Toor and Alfred and Blanche Knopf, among others. These individuals, many of whom traveled back and forth between the two nations, collectively became an important part of the historical narrative.

Accompanying the exhibition is the book “Mexico Modern,” which will be published by the Museum of the City of New York and the Ransom Center in conjunction with Hirmer. The book
features essays from the curators and profiles of leading figures showcased in the exhibition, as well as an introductory essay by George F. Flaherty, assistant professor of Latin American and U.S. Latino art history at UT Austin.

The “Mexico Modern” exhibition is on display from September 11 through January 1 in the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin. For more information, visit hrc.utexas.edu.

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