Mexican Modernism Comes to Life At MMoCA
by Aubrianna Willard-Lee, age 13
On a recent trip to the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA) a group of Simpson Street Free Press reporters, including me, visited the exhibit Los Grandes Del Arte Moderno Mexicano. This exhibit features seven accomplished Mexican artists who greatly influenced Mexican Modernism. The works of Diego Rivera, a famous muralist, particularly caught my attention.
Rivera’s frescos were popular in the 1920’s and 1930’s, just after the Mexican Revolution. He was part of the Mexican Modern Art movement, which focused on social reform and the country’s national identity. Although this movement around contemporary social issues, many works made references to indigenous art.
Rivera was a mural painter who used the fresco technique, in which he applied watercolors to wet plaster. He specialized in a style of heroic realism that addressed contemporary political concerns. Rivera used his large frescos to depict Mexico’s rich history and showcase opportunities for the future. Rivera strongly believed that a true Mexican identity should embrace it’s indigenous pre-Spanish past.
Rivera was born into a wealthy family in Guanajuato, Mexico, in 1886. Rivera had a twin brother but he died two years after he was born. At age ten, Rivera studied at the Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City. He also studied in Madrid and Paris. He spent time traveling and studying in Italy, where he learned the famous fresco technique. At the end of the revolutionary war, Rivera returned to Mexico where he participated in a government-sponsored group to create murals to help educate other citizens.
Rivera’s murals are featured in diverse venues. One mural site is the National Preparatory School in Mexico City. Others are in Mexico’s National Palace and the National Education Building. Rivera spent time in the United States where he painted murals for the California School of Fine Arts and the Detroit Institute of Arts. We at the Free Press felt very lucky to see his works right here in Madison.
At MMoCA, my favorite of Rivera’s works was a lithograph called El Sueño. I found this painting interesting because it looked quite gloomy and the people in the picture looked somber. At first glance, I thought that the people were just sitting there. I was curious about what they were thinking. After reading the description of the painting, I realized that they were sleeping outside because they were poor and had nowhere to stay. It made me think of my house and how fortunate I am to have a bed to sleep on. In other words, it made me thankful to be born in this time period.
Rivera advocated for social change through his paintings. He thought that the suffering of marginalized people, like the ones in El Sueño, should end. The painting we saw is a detail from a lower section of a fresco in the National Education Building in Mexico.
The MMoCA trip was very enjoyable. I liked writing about Diego Rivera because he has an interesting life. Los Grandes Del Arte Moderno Mexicano will be open until June of next year. For more information about this exhibit and hours at MMoCA, go to www.MMoCA.org.