Sunday, October 22, 2017


What is the TGP? It sounds like the acronym for a complicated chemical formula or something they put in your soda!  Searching on line the first thing that came up on my computer was “The Naked TGP”. I don’t want to know what that stands for.  In this case, however, I am referring to the “Taller de Gráfica Popular” (The Peoples Graphic Workshop) which is the subject of “Mexican Mirror” a small but exquisite exhibition at the New Mexico History Museum.

The TGP started during the tenure of President Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-1940).  This progressive administration saw social and economic transformations initiated by popular demands of the Mexican Revolution. As often happens, out of this came a new art movement.  The TGP mostly created prints and posters and it is these that are being shown.   The inspiration came from Jean Moss, co-curator for the exhibition who had the opportunity to see the collection of Jeff and Anne Bingaman.  He was our five-term senator from New Mexico, a much beloved individual in this town.  His wife says this is entirely the Senator’s collection which he started when he found a book on the artist Leopoldo Méndez and the TGP in a used bookstore in Zacatecas, Mexico..   I asked the Senator, who wants to be called Jeff, how many prints were in his collection and he modestly said not much more than 60.  While the exhibition is not confined to Anne and Jeff’s collection the vast majority are theirs as are all those illustrated here.

Jean Moss suggested the exhibition to Tom Leech, long time Curator at the History Museum and Director of the Press at the Palace of the Governors. He loved the idea as it gave them the opportunity to do a show that was not only interesting for the art but related to issues of our time on both sides of the border.

Political commentary in art is always fascinating and this is no exception.  Jeff summed it up, writing “the main themes are the dignity and nobility of the Mexican people, oppression of the people by the government and the Catholic Church, U.S. imperialism, the greed and inequality resulting from capitalism, and the condemnation of fascism and corruption in all forms.” His appreciation grew after he learned that it was a collaborative effort of artists from many backgrounds and, though most were Mexican, there were artists from the States as well.

The image that is right up front in the show and says it all: it is a linocut by Leopoldo Méndez (1902-1969), one of the founders of the TGP.  It shows the printer, José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913) in his workshop looking out on a scene of armed response to demonstrators around 1900. This linocut was done a while after the fact, 1953.  Posada was working during the Mexican Revolution producing broadsheets and political commentary.  His work had a great influence on the TGP.

A 1960 linocut celebrates the Contribution of the People to the Expropriation of Petroleum in 1938.  The people are donating their property to be sold to buy back the petroleum interests from foreigners. Note the oil rigs with flags behind the crowd.  The artist, Elizabeth Catlett also known as Betty Mora, (1915-2012) was an African American who moved to Mexico and joined the TGP where she met and married the Mexican artist Francisco Mora. She was born and raised in Washington D.C. and is also known for documenting the African American experience.

In 1947 Alfredo Zalce (1908-2003) did this linocut titled “The Criminal Victoriano Huerta Seizes Power”, still today he is known as “The Jackel” and “The Usurper”.  He was a military officer and 35th President of Mexico, but for only 17 months, since his family coup was then overthrown and he had to flee the country in 1914.

My last illustration is by Guillermo Bonilla of The Vegetable Carrier.  Does it remind anyone else of Goya?  To me it shows how closely Mexican Art can still echo that of the old country.

Impressed as I am by these prints I neither have the room nor the stamina to start yet another field of collecting, but ... as I have learned ... never say never ...

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