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August 12th, 2005
Exhibition Documents Revolutionary Impact of Modern Mexican Printmaking

While major modern Mexican artists such as José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949), Diego Rivera (1886-1957), David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974), and Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991) continue to win broad acclaim for their murals and paintings, less attention has been paid to the wide-ranging impact these artists and their contemporaries had on the world of printmaking. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, in conjunction with the Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, will open an exhibition in fall 2006 that examines the vital contributions made by Mexican artists as printmakers.

A Revolution in the Graphic Arts: Mexico and Modern Printmaking 1920-1950 opens at the Philadelphia Museum of Art October 21, 2006, and will be on view through January 14, 2007. It will then travel before completing its tour in San Antonio. Organized by John Ittmann, Curator of Prints at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Lyle Williams, Curator of Prints and Drawings at the The McNay, the exhibition will present 125 prints and posters by 50 Mexican and foreign-born artists. The inclusion of foreigners working in Mexico underscores the powerful attraction exerted by that country and its art communities over several generations of artists and printmakers worldwide.

“Post-Revolution Mexico witnessed a broad-based revival in printmaking that developed alongside the better-known public mural program,” says John Ittmann. “Trained artists shed their academic styles and determined to bring their prints to uneducated segments of the Mexican populace, whose own daily routines and familiar surroundings became the true-to-life subjects of everybody’s prints. This exhibition presents the groundbreaking contributions of native and foreign-born artists at a pivotal moment in Mexican art.”

Fought from 1910 to 1920, the Mexican Revolution overthrew the 30-year dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz and established such far-reaching goals as economic autonomy and racial equality. The spirit of reform was accompanied by a new appreciation for the art and culture of the indigenous peoples of Mexico, launching a national art movement that wholly embodied the Revolution’s ideals.

“As Mexican artists embraced the graphic arts, they helped define a post-Revolution Mexican identity,” adds Lyle Williams. “Printmaking in Mexico changed the notion of what public art is, and posters and prints emerged as the ideal means for disseminating political and social as well as artistic ideas. This was an art of the people for the people.”

The exhibition is drawn almost entirely from the collections of the two organizing museums. The Philadelphia Museum of Art possesses exceptionally rich holdings of prints by Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros, and Tamayo, largely as a result of the collecting interests of Carl Zigrosser, the Museum’s Curator of Prints from 1940 until 1963. A distinguished print historian and enthusiastic promoter of modern printmaking, Zigrosser was the director of New York’s Weyhe Gallery from 1919 to 1940, when the gallery was a major advocate of modern Mexican art. In the exhibition, prints from the Philadelphia Museum of Art are joined by others from The McNay, which owns an especially broad range of work by artists affiliated with the Taller de Gráfica Popular. A much-celebrated print workshop founded in Mexico City in 1937, the Taller played a crucial role in sustaining the Revolution’s lofty ideals by the simultaneous publication of limited-edition prints of Mexican subjects, aimed at international collectors, and mass-produced posters, intended for widespread distribution to the native populace.

A Revolution in the Graphic Arts: Mexico and Modern Printmaking 1920-1950 will be divided into two sections: The first will examine the rediscovery of printmaking by Mexican artists in the wake of the Revolution, while the second will focus on the phenomenal success of the Taller de Gráfica Popular during its first dozen years of operation. It will also include interpretive media, such as a video of a contemporary Mexican-American printmaker demonstrating lithography and wall texts that introduce artists and themes with supporting photographs.

A 300-page, fully illustrated catalogue will accompany the exhibition, featuring essays on topics such as the history of printmaking in Mexico by Lyle Williams, the vital interaction of the Weyhe Gallery with art in Mexico between the 1920s and 1940 by Innis Howe Shoemaker, Senior Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the confluence of art and politics in prints and posters by independent scholar James M. Wechsler. Approximately 125 works by 50 artists will be discussed in 16 topical sections with entries written by the curatorial team.

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.

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