Press Releases

Date of Release: 
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Contact Info: 

Katie Kazan, Director of Public Information 
608.257.0158 x 237 or

Richard H. Axsom, Curator of Collections
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¡Tierra y Libertad! Revolution and the Modernist Mexican Print

The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art Presents ¡Tierra y Libertad! 
Revolution and the Modernist Mexican Print 

January 14–April 15, 2012

High-resolution image files are available to the media.

MADISON, WI —In one of the great upheavals of the twentieth century, the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920) fundamentally changed the country’s political and social order. Prints in a new exhibition at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art focus on the search by Mexican artists for a national identity in the wake of the revolution. ¡Tierra y Libertad! Revolution and the Modernist Mexican Print, which will be on view in MMoCA’s State Street Gallery from January 14 to April 15, 2012, presents more than 60 prints that explore pre-revolution injustices; heroes and landmarks of the revolution; and the spirit and social structure of post-revolutionary Mexico.

A special MMoCA Nights opening celebration for ¡Tierra y Libertad! will take place at MMoCA from 6:30 to 9 pm on Friday, January 13. Guests can enjoy live music from the Tony Castaneda Latin Jazz Sextet, complimentary Latin-themed hors d’ouevres, and a cash bar, as well as a gallery talk with professor Jim Escalante at 6:30 pm (see details below). The evening is free for MMoCA members and $7 for nonmembers.

During the first decades of the twentieth century, Mexico experienced an important print revival that paralleled the country’s great mural movement, both of which were influenced simultaneously by indigenous arts traditions and modern art in Europe. For Mexican artists, prints were valued, in part, because of the influential role they could play alongside the activist program of monumental frescoes appearing on buildings in Mexico City and the provinces. Like murals, prints were an accessible, populist medium, and despite their smaller format, they embodied the socialist aspirations of the larger works. Mexican artists embraced printmaking as a way to transmit their message of political equality to the broadest audience possible.

Proponents of the revolution—politicians, writers, and artists—recognized the nation’s ideals in the actions of revolutionary figures of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; in Mexico’s ancient and pre-Colonial past; and in the belief that the indigenous peasantry was the cultural bedrock of a liberated and modern Mexico. The hard-earned success and aspirations of the revolution are caught in the dignity and importance of manual labor suggested by Raúl Agnuiano’sScaffolds/Andamios (1947); the beauty of the rural highlands in Vita Castro’s Candelabra(Oaxaca) / Candelabro (Oaxaca) (n.d.); the tragic displacement of peoples during the civil wars of the revolution in José Clemente Orozco’s Rear Guard / Retaguardia (1929); and the ideal of universal education for all Mexicans in Diego Rivera’s Open Air School / Escuela al aire libre(1932). Tierra y Libertad (Land and Liberty) was the battle cry ascribed to Emiliano Zapata, a leading figure in the revolution. It is taken from Zapata’s famous declaration that La tierra es de quien la trabaja con sus manos (The land belongs to those who work it with their own hands).

Prints included in ¡Tierra y Libertad! are from the museum’s exceptional holdings of Mexican prints acquired in 1968 through a bequest of Rudolph and Louise Langer. The exhibition presents the graphic achievements of José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros--proudly known by their compatriots as los tres grandes (the three great ones). It also includes a broad array of prints produced by the Taller de Gráfica Popular (TGP). Founded in 1937, the TGP flourished in Mexico City for over two decades, devoted to a belief in art’s capacity for social protest and the betterment of the masses. 

In their linocuts, woodcuts, lithographs, and etchings, and in posters and broadsides, Mexican printmakers sought to define a modern Mexico. Because they drew upon surrealism, expressionism, and social realism, as well as indigenous sources, their art comes within the fold of twentieth-century modernism.

Related Programming

Friday, January 13 6:30–7 pm
Jim Escalante on the Meaning of “Tierra y Libertad”
The concept of Tierra y Libertad is central to contemporary Mexican history and to its national identity. Jim Escalante, who grew up in Mexico, will discuss how this idea has influenced Mexican artists since 1910. Escalante is a professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Art Department.

This talk is part of the January 13 opening celebration for ¡Tierra y Libertad!, which is free for MMoCA members and $7 for non-members.

Friday, February 3 6:30–7 pm
Melanie Herzog on Prints for the People: Revolutionary Mexican Printmaking
In the decades following the Mexican Revolution, printmaking gave visual form to mexicanidad, an emerging national identity rooted in pride in Mexico’s indigenous heritage; profound connections with land; the tumultuous history of colonialism and independence; and the heroic achievements of the revolution. Melanie Herzog, professor of art history at Edgewood College, will highlight ways in which these “prints for the people” represented an historically grounded notion of Mexican identity and manifested the possibilities for social transformation envisioned in the aftermath of the revolution.

Thursday, February 16 12:30–1 pm
Rick Axsom on the Taller de Gráfica Popular
MMoCA curator Richard H. Axsom will speak on the history of the Taller de Gráfica Popular (Print Workshop of the People) and discuss prints from the workshop on view in ¡Tierra y Libertad!Established in 1937 in Mexico City, TGP was a printmaking collective whose members believed in art’s capacity for effective social protest and advancement. 

Axsom is professor emeritus of art history at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. He has published extensively in the area of modern and contemporary prints, including a forthcoming two-volume catalogue raisonné of Ellsworth Kelly’s prints. 

Sunday, March 11 1–2:30 pm
Kids’ Art Adventures
Kids and their families will explore works of art in ¡Tierra y Libertad! and create modeling clay stamps for making prints inspired by the stunning patterns and colors of traditional Mexican arts. Six- to ten-year-olds should meet promptly at 1 pm in MMoCA’s lobby; children must be accompanied by an adult. Space at Kids’ Art Adventures is limited to thirty children and available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Thursday, March 22 12:30–1 pm
Donald Thompson on the Mexican Revolution
Donald Thompson will discuss how works shown in ¡Tierra y Libertad! reflected the aims of the Mexican Revolution and ways in which artists included in the exhibition sought to build a new Mexican identity. Professor Thompson will also provide information on the broader cultural setting in which the works were produced and the diffusion of revolutionary ideas. Donald Thompson is professor emeritus, University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Anthropology, where he specialized in the archaeology and ethnohistory of Latin America.

Exhibition Sponsors

Generous support for ¡Tierra y Libertad! Revolution and the Modernist Mexican Print has been provided by James and Sylvia Vaccaro; Gabriele Haberland and Willy Haeberli; Dianne and Bob Gomez; Associated Bank; CUNA Mutual Group; Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission; La Comunidad News LLC (; a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts; and MMoCA Volunteers. 

The MMoCA Nights opening of ¡Tierra y Libertad! is sponsored by Newcomb Construction Company; The Alexander Company; and BMO Harris Bank; with media support from Isthmus|


Hours at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art are Tuesday–Thursday (noon–5 pm); Friday (noon–8 pm); Saturday (10 am–8 pm); and Sunday (noon–5 pm). The museum is closed on Mondays. 

Admission to exhibitions at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art is free of charge. MMoCA is supported through memberships and through generous contributions and grants from individuals, corporations, agencies, and foundations. Important support is also generated through auxiliary group programs; special events; rental of the museum’s lobby, lecture hall, and rooftop garden; and sales through the Museum Store.

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