Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art: Veinte Siglos de Arte Mexicano

By Museum of Modern Art | Go to book overview

carving basalt and other hard stones; those whom we call Tarascans, in the Pacific States of Michoacán, Colima, and Nayarit, who preserved a lively influence from the "archaic" culture and who attained in their clay sculpture a caricaturish naturalism and an expressiveness of unexcelled simplicity and purity. Unfortunately, we cannot yet place these tribes even in such a general chronology as that which we have indicated for the major groups. We call these objects Huastecan, Totonac, and Tarascan, because they were found in areas occupied by these nations when the Spaniards arrived, but the objects are not all contemporaneous with the same culture; and it is very probable that we attribute to the Totonacs things which were made many hundreds of years before that tribe established itself in the central part of the State of Veracruz.

Spirit of Pre-Spanish Art . Can we determine, in spite of the multitude of cultures and the immense chronological span of its artistic manifestations, a fundamental characteristic of pre-Spanish art? In my opinion, yes. There are certain ideas which form the basis of all Mexican artistic styles; ideas that become stronger as the cultures themselves acquire power and which later, in the periods of decadence, remain like the empty framework of what was once a splendid edifice. The foremost of these ideas, which may be considered the central motive of pre-Spanish art, is its strong religious and even hieratic nature. Even in the arts which are most humble and most closely related to daily life, even in the decorative motives of pottery, we find this religious ideal so characteristic of the Mexican Indian.

A second idea, which may also be considered fundamental, is the naturalistic development of separate details, although the whole may be a purely imaginary conception. Minute observation is revealed in the work of art with an exactitude almost photographic; the whole work, however, does not represent a real being but an idea, a product of fantasy, a being that lives only in the unreal world of myth.

Finally, a third idea which has already been suggested consists in transforming each motive into a decorative motive. Mexican art is a decorative art whose fundamental mode of expression is rhythmic repetition; hence the need for symmetry and the desire to cover with decoration all available space without leaving any large plain surfaces.

When art is in full maturity in an indigenous Mexican culture, these fundamental ideas are animated by the vigorous inspiration of the artist, and what may be excessive in them is attenuated; but in the periods of decadence, these fundamental motives appear as a fleshless skeleton; the religious feeling becomes hieratic; the realism of detail is exaggerated until it obscures the basic idea; and the desire to fill up empty spaces makes the work appear over-loaded and over-rich in style.

These same characteristics of pre-Spanish Mexican art we can find later in Colonial art and in folk art, although, of course, modified by the importation of European ideals. In the exhibition being held in this museum, the observant public will note that Mexican art is not just a name given to art which happens to come from one part of the world, but that there is a unity, an inspiration, a style which is truly Mexican.

ALFONSO CASO


ARTE PREHISPANICO

Para un úblico educado dentro de las concepciones del arte europeo, toda manifestación estética que no esté relacionada de algún modo con dicho arte tendrd que provocar, por su misma extrafieza, una reacción. Esta impresión, que en un principio puede ser francamente hostil, o bien

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Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art: Veinte Siglos de Arte Mexicano
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Corrections 2
  • Veinte Siglos De Arte Mexicano 4
  • Title Page 5
  • Contents Indice 7
  • Committees · Acknowledgments Comites · Reconocimientos 8
  • Foreword of the Mexican Department of Foreign Affairs 10
  • Preliminar De La Secretaria De Relaciones Exteriores De Mexico 10
  • Foreword of the Museum of Modern Art 11
  • Preliminar Del Museo De Arte Moderno 12
  • Introduction 14
  • Introduccion 17
  • Pre-Spanish Art 23
  • Arte Prehispanico 26
  • Colonial Art 67
  • Arte Colonial 71
  • Folk Art 109
  • Arte Popular 111
  • Modern Art 137
  • Arte Modprno 141
  • Brief Biographies 183
  • Datos Biograficos 190
  • Bibliography Bibliografia 197
  • Pre-Spanish Cultures of Mexic0 *
  • Colonial Art in Mexic0 *
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