Mexico's ancient cultures, varied landscapes, lively folk traditions and exuberant urban scenes provide the fertile sources of inspiration for 27 artists represented in Eye on Mexico: Photographs from the Collection, on view in the Julien Levy Gallery of the Philadelphia Museum of Art through December 7, 2003.
The installation brings together for the first time more than 60 portraits, landscapes, and modernist compositions from the Museum’s collection. It spotlights photographs by Mexican artists including Manuel Álvarez Bravo, his first wife Lola Álvarez Bravo, Emilio Amero, Graciela Iturbide and Mariana Yampolsky, as well as images by photographers born outside the country, such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Helen Levitt, Paul Strand, Danny Lyon, and others.
"These photographs comprise a rich and fascinating aspect of our fine holdings," said Katherine Ware, the Museum’s Curator of Photographs. "Some of the works are famous images familiar to our audiences while others are little known. Taken together this group conveys a multi-dimensional portrait of Mexico, full of surprising perspectives from within and outside this rich and varied culture."
Six works represent the country’s foremost photographer, Manuel Álvarez Bravo. As a young man in the 1920s, he began using the camera both to explore social contradictions he observed in Mexico City and to express his own poetic sensibility. His embrace of photography coincided with a period of heightened social and artistic activity, sometimes called the Mexican Renaissance. This cultural flourishing emerged in the aftermath of the Revolution of 1910-1920 and attracted numerous artists, writers, and musicians from the U.S. and Europe to the country. Álvarez Bravo met and exchanged ideas with many of these visitors, including Edward Weston, Tina Modotti, Paul Strand, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. His photographs were collected by New York art dealer Julien Levy in the 1930s and several works on view are from the recently acquired Julien Levy collection of photographs. By the time he died in 2002 at the age of 100, Álvarez Bravo had achieved an international reputation as one of the great figures of 20thcentury photography.
One of Álvarez Bravo’s most famous students is Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942), who worked as his assistant in the early 1970s. Like her teacher, she explores issues of Mexican identity and diversity, but as she often lives among her subjects while working, they convey a particularly personal voice. She frequently documents such indigenous peoples as the Seri of Northern Mexico and the Zapotecs of Juchitán in their daily and ceremonial activities and her work often emphasizes the synthesis of both ancient and popular culture that is commonplace in Mexico. The Museum mounted the first U.S. retrospective of Iturbide’s work in 1998.
The exhibition features works by prominent photographers from outside Mexico who were drawn to the country’s cultural renaissance in the 1920s and '30s. In 1923, American Edward Weston (1886-1958) and Italian expatriate Tina Modotti (1896-1942) went to Mexico for a period of several years. Modotti began her photographic career there while Weston struggled away from his Pictorialist roots toward a sharper, modernist vision. In 1925, he wrote in his Daybooks, "I might call my work in Mexico a fight to avoid its natural picturesqueness." Captivated by the apparent purity and spontaneity of indigenous crafts, the two artists photographed vernacular pottery, painted gourds, and straw dolls for Mexican Folkways and other periodicals. They became members of a circle of Mexican artists and intellectuals that included Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Weston’s striking portraits of Modotti and Rivera (1923), are installed along with a 1938 portrait of Kahlo, on view for the first time, from an intimate series taken in 1938 by Julien Levy (American, 1906-1981). Kahlo’s father Guillermo (1872-1941), a German immigrant, supported his family as a studio photographer. From 1904 to 1908 he was commissioned to document the country’s colonial architecture, an example of which can be seen in the exhibition.
German photographers Hugo Brehme (1882-1954) and Fritz Henle (1909-1993) became permanent residents of Mexico in the 1930s. Brehme established a studio called Fotografia Artistica Hugo Brehme, in which Álvarez Bravo and other Mexican photographers worked and learned the fundamentals of photography, including the making of postcards that sustained the studio financially. For more than 40 years, Brehme celebrated Mexico's natural beauty in his landscapes and portraits of the Mexican people. Henle saw Mexico for the first time in 1936. For the next ten years he documented the country’s revolution into modernism, contrasting pairs of urban and rural views in his 1945 book Mexico.
The exhibition also demonstrates how the allure of Mexico has continued to attract American photographers through the present day. Among the contemporary artists who have been drawn to the subject of urban Mexico, with its power lines, exuberant color that extends from storefronts to advertising, and street culture are Danny Lyon (b. 1952), Joel Meyerowitz (b. 1938), George Krause (b. 1937), and Laurence Salzmann (b. 1944).
Housing some 150,000 works of art, the Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is nationally recognized for the breadth and depth of its collections as well as the flair and scholarship of its exhibitions. The Department presents rotating installations of its vast holdings in the Berman and Stieglitz Galleries and the Julien Levy Gallery on the Museum’s ground floor and the Eglin Gallery on the first floor. Individual works are also on view in the Museum’s permanent collection galleries.
Wednesday Nights at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Day of the Dead
October 29, 2003
Free with Museum admission
An evening of music, dance and gallery talks supported by the Mexican Cultural Center and the Latin American Studies Program at Saint Joseph’s University.
- Music: Claudia Martínez, a supple, imaginative musician and vocalist, found the vein that awakened her creativity in the ancient world of the Zapotec, located in the valley of Oaxaca, Mexico. Since then, she has continued to search the universe of the first Mesoamericans with unending curiosity. Martínez uses the language and poetry of the indigenous writers, composers, and poets as a source of inspiration to create sounds of a new era while echoing the magic of an ancestral culture.
- Up Close: Meet dancers and Artistic Director, Carla Maxwell, from The Limón Dance Company, as they share the choreographic principles developed by José Limón and Doris Humphrey, in an intimate lecture/performance.
- Gallery Talks: Highlights of Eye on Mexico: Photographs from the Permanent Collection with Museum staff, 6:00 p.m. Sister, Scholar, Scientist, Slave Owner: The Enigma of Sor Juana Inés de La Cruz with Diana Roberts, art consultant, 7:00 p.m.