As of tomorrow and for the first time in Argentina, a collection of works, in two parts, by Mexican artists Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros — all three of whom made mural painting a thing — will be on show in Buenos Aires at the National Museum of Bellas Artes. Also known as Los Tres Grandes, they are the pioneers of Mexican Muralism in fresco. They are the Dadaists of the Americas.
Mexican Muralism emerged following the end of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) — triggered by a protest against long standing dictator Porfirio Díaz — when the new government started an innovative literacy campaign and commissioned artists to create large scale art with the aim of educating the masses (especially those with low or no literacy) about Mexican history.
Born in Mexico in 1883, Orozco made a name for himself through his political murals alongside Rivera and Siqueiros. From a young age he became aware of the powerful use of art as an expression of political revolt thus pushing him to express his strong messages of suffering and dark views of the Mexican Revolution onto the walls of many US and Mexican major institutions throughout the 1920s and 30s. He died in 1949 at the age of 65, acclaimed as a “master of the human condition, an artist bold enough to cut through the lies a nation tells its people.”
Also known for his volatile marriage with Frida Kahlo and controversial atheist art, Rivera, born in 1886 started expressing himself on walls with colors when he was three years old. Following time spent in Paris in the early 20th century, Rivera returned to Mexico inspired by the work of his artist friends such as Amadeo Modigliani, no biggie. He left Paris just as cubism was kicking off and was heavily influenced by this dysfunctional style of art as well as post-impressionism, which enabled him to make a name for himself once back in Mexico. Many painted walls, five marriages, even more lovers and four children later, he died in 1957, aged 70.
David Alfaro Siqueiros
This third pioneer of Mexican Muralism was born in 1896. The “social realist” painter and member of the Mexican Communist party was a strong political activist whose life choices were dictated by his militant ideologies more than by his talents as an artist. At the age of sixteen he fought in the revolution, where he came face to face with the realities of the struggles of workers and indigenous peoples while on his military travels around the country. In 1919, he went to Europe where he pursued his artistic passion and met Rivera. He painted, he wrote, he returned to Mexico. The painting persisted. 1936 called for him to make his way to Spain where he commanded several Republican brigades during the Civil War and once the war over, went back to Mexico before being exiled to Chile for his involvement in the murder of Leon Trotsky in 1940, the Bolshevik leader, who was there at the time (and who so happened to be having an affair with Frida Kahlo). When he had a free minute, he also painted some murals in public spaces. He died in 1974.
Part I: La Exposición Pendiente (The Pending Exhibition)
Why pending? Because more than 40 years have past since Fernando Gamboa (not the retired Argentine footballer) originally put the Mexican artists’ collection together ready to be made public in Santiago de Chile’s Bellas Artes on September 13th 1973. However, it was never made public. On September 11th of that year, the United States-backed coup d’état overthrew Chilean President Salvador Allende, marking the end of the country’s “Presidential Republic” and the start of Augusto Pinochet’s 17-year long military regime.
With Pinochet in power, the exhibition was cancelled and its 168 pieces (76 of which will be in Buenos Aires’ Bellas Artes as of tomorrow) were wrapped up, packed onto a plane and flown to Mexico with the Mexican Ambassador to Chile on September 27th.
Fast forward to 2015. Thanks to Fernando Gamboa’s meticulous documentation of the exhibition’s organization, Mexican curator Carlos Palacios, has been able to recreate the 1973 display to the very last detail. The city of Santiago was finally reunited with the collection and the exhibition went ahead from November 2015 to February of this year. And now, it’s here for us.
When talking about the significance Mexican murals had in Chile at the time, Carlos Palacios told Telam that these oeuvres are “the vision of a heroic people. The popular figures of the Mexican Revolution embody a myth, which is the myth of organized people, rising to fight oppression; a triumphant people.” Today, Argentina is the second country to showcase the exhibition: an example of historical justice, reviving the realities of the repression and our wounded memories of the past in a push for remembrance and interpretation.
The 76 works of Mexican art on display in Buenos Aires were produced between 1912 and 1958.
Part II: La conexión Sur (The Southern Connection)
The second part of this historical exhibition, curated by Cristina Rossi, brings together a collection of paintings, drawings, sculptures, engravings and sketches showing exchanges between the three Mexican artists with Argentine artists such as Antonio Berni, Carlos Alonso, Lino Enea Spilimbergo, Juan Carlos Romero and Diana Dowek, among others. The point of this documentation is to make room for interpretation regarding the shared concerns of Latin American artists and density of the events they use to base their aesthetic responses on.
Bellas Artes National Museum (Libertador 1473)
From May 3rd to August 7th (Tues-Fri: 12.30PM to 8.30PM, Sat-Sun: 9.30AM to 8.30PM)