Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Mexican Graphic Art

 Kunsthaus Zürich 
19 May to 27 August 2017

Kunsthaus Zürich presents an overview of the development of Mexican graphic art, from late 19th-century figurativism to the earliest abstract works in the 1970s. Many of the exhibits are receiving their first showing in Switzerland.The exhibition opens with the 19th-century social satires and skeleton images (‘calaveras’) of the internationally renowned graphic artists Manuel Manilla and José Guadalupe Posada. It then spans the arc from Ignacio Aguirre, Alberto Beltrán, Fernando Castro Pacheco, Jean Charlot, Leopoldo Mendéz and Alfredo Zalce to ‘los tres grandes’ (‘The Three Greats’): Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, who produced a large number of murals – ‘muralismo mexicano’ –on political, nationalistic and social issues between the 1920s and 1970s.


Some outstanding works come from the Taller de Gráfica Popular –a people’s graphic art workshop established in 1937 by a collective of international artists in Mexico, whose members produced flyers and posters for the masses supporting trade unions, popular education and socialist issues in the country. Revolutionary ideas and engagement with socio-cultural and socio-political concerns play a key role in the history of Mexican art. The editions published by the Taller de Gráfica Popular/La Estampa Mexicana on show at the Kunsthaus exemplify the typical Mexican tradition of black-and-white woodcuts and linoleum prints. The images depict Mexican life and the customs and characteristics of its indigenous populations, but also include the country’s first forays into abstract art.


The exhibition curated by art historian Milena Oehy comprises 47 works on paper by 27 artists who live or lived in Mexico. More than half are being shown for the first time in Switzerland. These important works, printed using a range of techniques between the late 19th century and the 1970s, deal with issues such as poverty and wealth, love and cruelty, and the poetry and hardships of everydaylife. In addition to prints by José Guadalupe Posada, there are characteristic Realist works by Leopoldo Méndez, Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros as well as abstracts by Rufino Tamayo and Francisco Toledo. Four photographs by Armin Haab on loan from the Fotostiftung Schweiz complete the presentation.


Manuel Manilla
Calavera la penitenciaría, 1882–1892
Lead engraving on green paper, sheet: 37.7 x 27.7 cm
Kunsthaus Zürich

The photographer Armin Haab (1919–1991), who was born in the canton of Zug, first travelled to Mexico in 1948, using his camera to record cultural monuments, people and their customs. He revisited the country in 1954, 1962, 1973 and 1977. Captivated by its culture, he acquired original Mexican graphic works from various galleries in the country, the TGP (Taller de Gráfica Popular/People’s Graphic Art Workshop), collectors and direct from the artists on his travels between 1949 and 1980. 

The collection of some 400 Mexican prints and portfolios accumulated up until his death in 1991 comprises works by 65 artists, all of them relief, intaglio and flat printed. This collection –the only one of its kind in Europe –offers a representative overview of the development of graphic art in Mexico from figurativism to the first abstracts, covering the period from 1847 to 1976. Haab donated it to the Kunsthaus Zürich in the late 1980s. A small number of pieces were shown in public for the first time in 2012, as part of the Kunsthaus exhibition ‘Posada to Alÿs. Mexican Art from 1900 to the Present’. Since then, the collection has been comprehensively researched.

Roberto Berdecio
Retrato de una muchacha mexicana, 1947
Lithograph, sheet: 55.7 x 66.7 cm
Kunsthaus Zürich, © Estate Roberto Berdecio

José Guadalupe Posada
Calavera Revolucionaria, 1900–1913
Zinc etching, sheet: 34.5 x 23 cm
Kunsthaus Zürich

Rufino Tamayo
Pastèque No. 2 (Sandía No. 2), 1969
Lithograph in red, purple, green and black, sheet: 75.8 x 57.2 cm
Kunsthaus Zürich, © 2017 ProLitteris, Zurich

Diego Rivera
Los frutos de la educación. Los frutos de la tierra, 1932
Lithograph, sheet: 53.7 x 39.3 cm
Kunsthaus Zürich, © Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, México D.F. / 2017 ProLitteris, Zurich

Fernando Castro Pacheco
Aquiles Serdán y su familia inician en Puebla la revolución armada, 18 de noviembre de 1910, 1947
Linocut on greenish paper, sheet: 27.1 x 40.1 cm
Kunsthaus Zürich