OF MODERN ART
In presenting the exhibition of "Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art," the Mexican Government and The Museum of Modern Art seek to provide the American public an opportunity to study Mexico's art of today against the background of its cultural past. Nothing on so comprehensive a scale has ever before been attempted, and the Trustees of the Museum of Modern Art wish to express their gratitude to all those whose enthusiastic cooperation has made this great exhibition possible and especially to the people of Mexico for their generosity in permitting us to see so many of their masterpieces.
The more thoughtful of us will not see the exhibition without provocative reflections about the nature and value of our two civilizations, for Mexican culture, as expressed in its art, seems in general to be more varied, more creative, and far more deeply rooted among the people, than ours. The Mexicans, of course, have one great advantage over us. They have an incomparably richer artistic past -- two pasts, in fact -- a European and a native, both of which survive in modified form today.
When the English and Dutch colonized the Atlantic coast in the early sixteen hundreds, they found sparse and scattered tribes still living in what was virtually the Stone Age. But when the Spaniards conquered Mexico a hundred years before, they found civilizations which astounded them as much by their complex organization and culture as by their fabulous wealth, elaborate art, and magnificent architecture. We must admit, too, that our early colonists, with all their courage, shrewdness and piety, brought with them a culture which was meagre artistically by comparison with that of the Spain which the conquistadors left behind them. When we admire with a certain envy and humility the art of modern Mexico, let us comfort ourselves by remembering that its artistic heritage is the result of the conflict and mingling of what was at that time the greatest empire of Europe with the most powerful empire of America.
With the art of the pre-conquest Aztec domain we are already fairly familiar, though in this exhibition we see it with unprecedented richness. We know something, too, of the art of imperial Spain, especially its painters, El Greco, Veldzquez, and Murillo. But of the colonial art born of these two traditions we know comparatively little. Even such an exhibition as this can give us but a hint of the incomparable variety and magnificence of the Mexican baroque which, with its sumptuous palaces and thousands of polychromed and richly carved churches, makes our own colonial art seem modest indeed.
Mexico's War of Independence came some forty years after ours, and during the turbulent period of Iturbide, Santa Anna and Judrez, and the ensuing long regime of Diaz, the official art of Mexico seems bound to foreign tradition. But the creative talent of the nation was kept alive in its popular art -- provincial portraits, retablos, lacquerware, ceremonial masks, political caricature, etc. These things provided an important stimulus to the revival of the conscious national art which developed between 1914 and 1927 -- the new creative period which found its chief expression in the mural paintings of Rivera, Orozco, and their colleagues. By 1925, rumors of the "Mexican Renaissance" began to reach the United States and within a decade Mexican mural painting had become the most important foreign influence upon the art of our country.
The Mexican artists were, many of them, men of great culture and knowledge, familiar with the art of the past and with the esoteric vanguard movements of Paris. But with a common purpose they left their studios to paint the walls of public buildings with pictures of social, political, or historical subjects which were both important and immediately intelligible to the Mexican people. Their triumph was incalculably stimulating to their American fellow artists.
The social and political content expressed by the Mexican mural painters was conspicuous, but equally important was their strong nationalism.