This exhibition of Mexican art begins with the Mexican Revolution of 1910 that lasted for 10 years, but you don’t have to know much about the history to understand the photos on display. One shows a series of different sized bullets all lined up. Another series of four shows a triple execution in 1916 with one image for each execution and a final one of their fallen bodies. Sounds pretty graphic? Well perhaps, but these were actually made into best selling postcards. There was a real appetite for images of the Revolution and much money was to be made from it and popular folk heroes to be created.
The most striking image in this room and one which has been repeated in different mediums is that of four Mexican hat adorned revolutionaries riding on the v-shaped platform at the front of a train. Its easy to see how the image of lawless Mexican revolutionaries, sombreros and moustaches is created from scenes such as this.
The second room takes you beyond the revolution and the themes change dramatically, with the photography focusing on studies of light, objects and structures rather than dead bodies and falling down buildings. And native Mexicans are returning to their country having studied abroad and bring new influences. For instance, Diego Rivera’s Dance in Tehuantepec with its bold colours and modern look influenced by his time in France.
But the Revolution hasn’t been forgotten and the striking, dark, brooding image of Zapata by David Alfara Siqueiros reminds us of this.
The photography in the third room explores the gritty Mexican streets once more with a young Henri Cartier-Bresson photographing prostitutes and men collapsed in the street, Manuel Bravo’s Murdered Worker and four images of individuals by Paul Strand with shaded melancholy faces looking towards you or slightly away from the camera.
International artistic interest in Mexico continues into the last room which is described as showing the “dynamic internationalism of Mexican art in this period” (1935-40) as the ‘International Exhibition of Surrealism’ is held in Mexico in 1940 and interest in Mexican art is established abroad and international artists come to Mexico. For instance, we see abstract work by Josef Albers who had fled Nazi Germany after the closure of the Bauhaus and settled in North Carolina. In 1935 he took 13 trips to Mexico and created work inspired by this.
The themes in the exhibition were very new to me, but I found it an accessible introduction, particularly as a major theme is international interest in Mexico and familiar names such as Cartier-Bresson and Josef Albers turn up and I liked the mix of photography and paintings. However, I think I could have done with some more explanation about the importance of some of the paintings there and what this really meant in the context of Mexico and the exhibition.
The exhibition is on until 29 September 2013
London W1J 0BD