THROUGH February 1991, New York City is playing host to roughly
150 cultural events involving Mexican art, dance, film, music, and
theater. "Mexico: A Work of Art" as the festival called, is
sponsored by the Consultate General of Mexico and consolidates the
efforts of hundreds of Mexican artists and dozens of American and
Heading the 53 visual-arts events in both size and importance is
"Mexico: Splendor of Thirty Centuries,"' currently at the
Metropolitan Museum here:
- It is the largest, most comprehensive and most important
survey of Mexican art New York has seen in 50 years.
- It is the season's first "blockbuster" exhibition, with over
400 items (some of great size), ranging from roughly 1000 B.C. to
the mid-20th century.
- It is one of the handsomest, most sensitively mounted shows
the Metropolitan has put on in recent years. No matter how one
approaches it, as a means to a complex and profound aesthetic
experience, or as a way of acquiring greater insight into Mexican
art and culture, a visitor is unlikely to be disappointed.
By way of introduction, the museum has placed two massive
pre-Columbian sculptures in its Great Hall, a 5 1/2-foot-high Olmec
head, and a three-foot-high Aztec head of a feathered serpent. The
former, executed about 1000 B.C. and weighing nearly five tons, was
discovered in 1965. The latter, carved roughly 2,500 years later,
was unearthed within the grounds of the Cathedral of Mexico City in
The exhibition begins on a somber but impressive note with
several monumental pre-Columbian sculptures. It ends dramatically
but poignantly almost 3,000 years later with the canvases of a
number of early-to-mid-20th-century Mexican artists, most notably
Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, Rufino Tamayo, and Frida Kahlo.
The first severe aesthetic jolt to an otherwise smooth
chronological flow comes around A.D. 1520. Because of the Spanish
Conquest, the art of Mexico underwent a dramatic change at that
time. Everything from architecture and painting to the crafts began
to reflect (and imitate) European - particularly Spanish - styles
and themes. In a few short years, the art of Mexico was transformed.
It ceased to be bold and blunt and became exquisite and refined -
and often difficult to distinguish from its European models. Even
so, the art produced during Mexico's 300-year colonial period
includes many extraordinary pieces - enough, in fact, to make up
about one-third of the exhibition.
Of special interest are several paintings produced between
Mexico's break from Spain (1820) and the Mexican Revolution
(1910-20). Although influenced to varying degrees by European
Neoclassicism and Romanticism, these canvases achieve a mild but
distinctly Mexican flavor by their frank depiction of that country's
citizens, customs and landscape. …