| Modern Art of Mexico: In Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Establishing Korea-Mexico Diplomatic Relations
Professor Kim Hyun-Hwa
Mexico, the land of Mestizo1), has visited Sookmyung Women's University with 45 pieces of paintings to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Korea and Mexico. During the Korean War back in 1950, Mexico supplied materials for Korea as a member country of UN, and in 1962 Mexico officially established diplomatic relations with Korea. The two countries have quite different national identities in race, history and culture; however, they have similarities in that both countries have the modern history of civil revolutions against the western Powers and dictatorial governments.
Spain had been under the occupation of Spain since the Admiral Hermain Cortés of Spain landed in 1521 in Aztec, Mexico. In the 19th century, Mexico finally became independent; however, people had to fight against the dictatorship of the nation. Only in the early 20th century, Mexico became secure and settled. Though facing the United States in borderline, Mexico is much nearer to South America in language, culture and national characteristics. In other words, Mexico is physically in the North America, but spiritually it belong to the South America. Unlike the North America, Mexico has the history of having struggled to set up the national identity of the ancient civilization of Aztec, the ancestors of the Indians.
Mexico is the nation of murals. From the ancient Mayan civilization to the Aztec civilization of the 14th century, native Mexicans created superb murals. Even after the Spanish rule of Mexico, murals were in vogue, assimilated to the European culture. Murals were part of life to the Mexicans. Since the 19th century, mural movement was in line with the political revolution. During the period of socio-political chaos and turmoil, Mexican people expanded the mural movement to the level of national cultural movement. Murals literally mean the pictures pained on the walls. Therefore, the fact that in Mexico murals were part of life would mean that art was like a companion to Mexican life.
In the exhibitions held in Sookmyung Women's University, visitors will be able to enjoy the work of Diego Rivera, who is said to be one of the top three artists that have led the Mexican mural movements. The other two artists are José Clement Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Rivera's artwork presented in this exhibition was produced in his late years; so it is not his masterpiece. However, it is a great joy to see the painting of Rivera here in Sookmyung, who has emerged as a master of the world through his mural movement of Mexico.2) Rivera became the leader of the mural movement, forming in 1922 with Orozco and Siqueiros the Syndicate of Revolutionary Artists (Sindicato de Pintores, Escultores Grabadores Revolucionarios). Asserting the anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism, he actively participated in the nationalistic social movement rooted in the ancient civilization. He deserted the aristocratic elements of art, and searched for monumental art that the public could share. He aimed at making their country into the world for the Indians, laborers and farmers who had lived oppressed for centuries. Starting in the 1940s, however, Mexico became settled fast in politics, and the mural movement declined naturally.
Above all, the deaths of Orozco in 1949 and Rivera in 1957 respectively became the momentum to bid farewell to the art of political ideology. Since the demise of the masters, Mexican art world has been replaced by young artists equipped with new spirit and new passion.
The most prominent characteristics of modern Mexican Artists is that they have discarded political ideology and have become interested in the aesthetic aspect of plastic art based on 'art for art's sake' philosophy. Combining modernism with the tradition of the ancient Mexican civilization, which senior masters had established, they aspire to pursue international and universal art with the sublimity of aesthetic formativeness. Works exhibited here can be classified into three: surrealistic and fantastic realism; modernized works with the application of ancient civilization; lyrical and geometric abstract art.
In the exhibition, the abstract artworks created by Pedro Coronel, Vincente Rojo, and Sebastián reveal that Mexican art focuses on the development of plastic art in North America and the Europe in terms of media, technique and style. And yet, Mexican art is markedly different from Korean modern art because realistic conceptual art rather than abstract art, especially embedded with the primitive and fantastic elements, is generally dominant in Mexico. For instance, Monolith I (1990) by Xavier Esqueda is the superb mixture of abstract and conceptual elements, stimulating the Mexican Indians to search for the ancient civilization. Painting by Rodolfo Morales displays the unique Mexican folksy colors and shapes, inviting us to the world of dreams that remind us of the memories and nostalgia of the childhood. The paranoid by Antonio Ruiz gives us a fairy-tale like illusion with the boneless and fluid body shapes, simultaneously reminding us of the late surrealistic styles.
During the Second World War, surrealists of France flew to the United States, starting the late surrealism. Mexican artists became influenced by the movement through the United States. Then, Mexican art has taken a huge leap to be world-leading art style in the result of superbly combining the European surrealism, primitivism of Mexico and the fantasy of the ancient civilization. The most major artist is Frida Kahlo (1907-1954), the world famous female artist of Mexico. She was the wife of Rivera and an artistic companion to him. Through this exhibition in Sookmyung, it can be confirmed that the influence of Rivera and Kahlo is still strong in the modern art of Mexico. Antonio Ruiz, whose painting is on the display, reveals Kahlo's influence in his most works. Nahum B. Zenil shows the traces of Rivera and Kahlo in many works. Most of his works are the images of himself and his life. For example, the image of an angel is that of his lover. What makes this exhibition more interesting is that we can see the fantastic drawing of Leonora Carrington who was the love of the surrealistic master Max Ernst (1891-1976); as well as the painting of Angelina Beloff who produced the son of Rivera, but then was deserted by Rivera. Having curiosity into artist's privacy is not desirable in the aspect of art history, but it is undeniable that such understanding is partially conducive to the appreciate of works.
Most Mexican people are Catholic. As shown in the work of Nahum B. Zenil, it is the characteristics of Mexican modern art that traditional Catholic iconography such as angels, saints and devils emerges naturally, modernized. Mexican artists still continue to harmonize the Catholic iconography and folklore one, trying to modernize them.
Mexico as the nation of Mestizo tried to find the proper identity in the ancient Indian culture, but she has been closely related to the Western culture, art, economics and politics due to the long occupation of Spain, European bloodline of Mexicans and the neighboring borderline with the United States. Therefore, artistic efforts are actively being made in modern art of Mexico to reinterpret the traditional styles of Renaissance, Baroque and neo-Classicism as modern languages. Little Man 10 (2004) by Javier Marin reveals the ideal beauty of Michelangelo during the Renaissance and Rodin of the 19th century.
The Archer on Horse II (2004) by Jorge Marin is away from modernism, dealing with the mythic theme. Marin worked with bronze, the most traditional material in art history during the past decade, expressing horses, children, madonna that can be seen commonly in our life. He also sculpted the objects of the myth. Meanwhile, numerous artists including Sebastián who produced Tulip (2005) are making utmost efforts to pursue international generality through industrial materials and abstract beauty of plastic arts.
Not to do away from tradition; rather, respecting tradition and modernizing it. To make balance and harmony between tradition and innovation. This is the very modern art of Mexico.
1) It refers to the mixed race of whites and American Indians after the Spanish invasion of the Latin America.
2) Diego Rivera is the person who launched the Mexican mural movement by painting his first significant mural creation in the Bolivar Auditorium of the National Preparatory School in Mexico City in 1922.