August 12, 2009

Camino A La Modernidad ~ Modern Mexican Masterpieces at Setagaya Art Museum

For most people if you say Mexican Art, they will think of Frida Kahlo or Diego Rivera, or perhaps the Muralist movement of the post-revolution years carrying strong political and social messages. The Modern Mexican Masterpieces exhibition currently showing at the Setagaya Art Museum show features a little Kahlo, and also works from the Muralist "Big Three", namely Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco, as well as a whole host of other artists depicting different aspects of life in Mexico. In all, there are over 70 works on display in what is said to be one of the biggest exhibitions of modern Mexican painting ever held in Japan.

The first work you see as you walk into the exhibition in a room reserved for this painting alone is the only work by Frida Kahlo here, Autorretrato con medallon, being shown in Japan for the first time. As with many of her self-portraits it is a depiction of pain and sorrow, all the more striking for its solitary display.

The rest of the exhibition is divided into three themed rooms, La Civilidad, Cultura and El Progreso, with some paintings depicting aspects of daily life and social progress in Mexico in the first half of the twentieth century and others having allegorical or overtly political messages. I was particularly struck by Rivera's Paisaje Nocturno and the Soviet propaganda style imagery of Siqueiros' Alegoria del progreso, though there is much to be impressed with in this collection of paintings from a group of artists who worked hard to carve out a clear cultural identity for a nation going through its growing pains after a particularly violent revolution. Well worth seeing.

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