Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Adventure Continues: Mexico City

As said in my blog two weeks ago, scholar James Oles was a fabulous guide but we had to sing for our supper.  There were extended periods of walking in the historical zone but mostly it was standing and most important listening and seeing, which also take some effort.  Former Cleveland Museum Director, Sherman Lee, used to say if just going to a museum every day you could become an art expert then every guard in a museum would be one.  You actually have to see what you are looking at and Jay was determined that we should see AND understand.

In Mexico City one can gain a full appreciation of Diego Rivera as he was first and foremost a muralist and a number of the government buildings are heavily decorated by him. Working In the Palacio National in 1928 and 1929 he created a monumental mural that went around the great staircase. He was trying to tell the entire history of Mexico: on the right side wall, the Aztec past; on the left wall, the future; and in the center everything in between. Here is a view of the center wall:

In the Palacio de Bellas Artes we saw Rivera’s recreation of mural that was commissioned in 1933 by the Rockefellers for their new center in mid-Manhattan, something New Yorkers may have heard about  but never seen because it was destroyed. The artist ,who was a devout Communist, though  in and out of the party, insisted that a portrait of Lenin be in the composition and that could not be tolerated by the rental agents for Rockefeller Center. The best example we have of his work in the States is his mural for the Detroit Art Institute commissioned by the Ford family showing the toil of the workers with no obvious communist symbols.

Someone in our group asked Jay, “Wasn’t the Mexican government anti-communist?”  Jay said they were, but left the artists pretty much alone, figuring if they were busy with their art they would not be a danger to the government.  The ones they were scared of were orators who went around the country organizing workers.  According to Jay there were really two revolutions in Mexico,-- an agrarian one and later an industrial one.  Both are illustrated in the mural cycles lining the patios of the Secretaría de Educación Publica building.  Of the many, many panels Rivera painted between 1923 and 1929 there were several that stood out ... here is the one where the themes of our tour came together as Diego painted Frida handing out weapons to workers.

When we visited Diego and Frida’s international style twin studios we began to focus on their relationship and learned that while sex was obviously involved, Diego and Frida were held together by their intellectual bond.

Dolores Olmeda was a major patron  of Diego’s. The Dolores Olmeda Museum, in what was her home, has, in addition to major works tracing Diego’s career, the most paintings by Frida anywhere. This is because on Frida’s death Olmeda acquired the paintings the artist had kept for herself. Although it is a small work. I was particularly moved by the painting titled “Henry Ford Hospital” where Frida suffered a miscarriage  or abortion . In the distance are scenes from the factory that Diego was studying for his Detroit mural.

In the Museum of Modern art we saw Frida’s most famous painting, “ The Two Fridas”:  twin portraits where one Frida is wearing a European dress and the other a traditional Tehuana dress. It could refer to her two heritages since her mother was Mexican and her father German, but it was painted in 1939 when she and Diego were in the process  of divorce and she identified the figures as the Frida Diego loved (in ethnic attire) and the Frida he no longer loved.   If it had not been pointed out I would have missed the fact that in the Mexican portrait Frida is holding a locket with Diego’s portrait as a child. Here is the painting and detail.

Our formal tour ended with a private visit to the Casa Azul (The Blue House) Frida’s family home which she continued to go back to. The wing she and Diego added has been kept exactly as it was when they lived there. The original house shows drawings, paintings and much of her written and photographic archive of which they have facsimile’s on the walls. Here is the inner courtyard and her easel do note the wheelchair in front.

I have only scratched the surface of all we saw and I am sure, for me and my companions, the concepts and memories will live on with me remembering things I didn’t even know I heard!

No comments:

Post a Comment