3,000 Years of Stirring Art the Multifaceted `Mexico: A Work of Art' Festival Is Giving North Americans a Taste of Cultural Life South of the Border. Today, a Look at Two of the Most Important Art Exhibitions

By Theodore F. Wolff, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, October 24, 1990 | Go to article overview

3,000 Years of Stirring Art the Multifaceted `Mexico: A Work of Art' Festival Is Giving North Americans a Taste of Cultural Life South of the Border. Today, a Look at Two of the Most Important Art Exhibitions


Theodore F. Wolff, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


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 Mexican institutions.

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 1881.

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. …

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3,000 Years of Stirring Art the Multifaceted `Mexico: A Work of Art' Festival Is Giving North Americans a Taste of Cultural Life South of the Border. Today, a Look at Two of the Most Important Art Exhibitions
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