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Date of Release: 
Monday, May 6, 2013
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Erika Monroe-Kane, Director of Communications
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Los Grandes del Arte Moderno Mexicano

Los Grandes del Arte Moderno Mexicano
At the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
June 7, 2013-June 2014

MADISON, WI--Los Grandes del Arte Moderno Mexicano (Masters of Mexican Modern Art) showcases the artists who, more than any others, defined Mexican Modernism in the 1920s and 1930s: Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Frida Kahlo, Leopoldo Méndez, José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros, and Rufino Tamayo. The paintings, prints, and photographs that comprise the exhibition are drawn from the permanent collection of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, which is particularly strong in twentieth-century Mexican art. Los Grandes del Arte Moderno Mexicano will be on view in MMoCA’s Henry Street Gallery for approximately one year, beginning June 7, 2013.

Modern Art is generally understood as belonging to Europe and the United States. But as the works in this exhibition demonstrate—by artists considered to be among the finest of the twentieth century—it also found a home in Mexico. In presenting Los Grandes del Arte Moderno Mexicano, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art places the Mexican achievement in a world context for acknowledgment and celebration.

Following the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), modern art enjoyed a vital period of artistic achievement in the country’s newly egalitarian society. Mexico City was the movement’s hub and the city played host to an international gathering of artists. Although their presence created a cosmopolitan exuberance comparable to that generated by the international avant-garde in Paris, it was the Mexican painters, muralists, photographers, poets, and printmakers who dominated the art scene, especially the artists represented in this exhibition.


In rejecting the art of the past, modern art was itself a revolutionary model. As Mexican artists wished to recognize and honor the ideals of the Revolution in their art, they departed from the academic tradition of their colonial history and enlisted the principles of modern art. The modernity of Mexican art was found in contemporary subject matter of social import, signified by fresh expressiveness. Like artists in Germany, the Soviet Union, and the United States, Mexican artists in the period between World Wars I and II sought a new modernized realism that championed social reform and national identity. This new artistic movement was nationalistic but tempered by Expressionism and Surrealism, which were among the most important avant-garde directions in Europe. Mexican Modernism was also enriched by references to indigenous folk art and Pre-Columbian art, which, as markers of pre-colonial identity, were also compatible in their exaggerations and simplifications with the precepts of modern art.


José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Siqueiros, the esteemed muralists known collectively as Los Tres Grandes, also made significant contributions to the modern print, and works by each artist are included in the exhibition. The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art has a nearly complete set of Rivera’s lithographs, most of which rephrase in lithographic crayon portions of his famous murals.

Equally celebrated is Frida Kahlo, whose Still Life: Pitahayas, a major still-life painting executed in 1938, will also be on view. Kahlo’s meditation on death is rendered in terms of a magical realism that links her to both European Surrealism and native folk-art traditions. Rufino Tamayo, of all the masters of Mexican modern art, was most indebted to European modernism, especially to the Parisian avant-garde. A painter and printmaker, he is represented in the exhibition by a selection of early woodcuts and color lithographs from a later portfolio of his lithographs.

Modernist photography reached new heights in the hands of Manuel Alvarez Bravo, who was the most important Latin American photographer of the last century. Selections from two of his photography portfolios will be on view, including Retrato de lo Eterno (Portrait of the Eternal) of 1935. This gelatin silver print is modernist in its clear focus, artful contrasts of black and white, and embrace of everyday life. A portrait of a nameless subject, a humble young woman looking into a mirror while combing her long hair, it speaks to Mexican identity. In its title—an allegorical tribute to timeless beauty—it makes the ordinary wondrous, a critical aspect of surrealist art and literature.

Leopoldo Méndez’s El Rebozo de Soledad (Soledad’s Shawl), from 1952, is a woodcut by an artist esteemed as the greatest Mexican printmaker of the twentieth century. Méndez’s social agenda was to show compassion for the indigenous peoples of Mexico, but the slashes of white and emotional intensity of this print ally it to the sensibilities of expressionist movements abroad.

Exhibitions in MMoCA’s Henry Street Gallery are generously funded through an endowment established by the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation.


A major grant from the Madison Community Foundation has enabled MMoCA to develop a broad range of educational programming for Los Grandes del Arte Moderno Mexicano. The exhibition’s year-long display allows the museum to present an extensive series of programs and events that illuminate Mexico’s modernist period and celebrate Mexican art and culture.

 Programs will include after-school programs for youth and weekend family art workshops, musical performances, film screenings, and gallery talks by specialists in twentieth-century Mexican art, history, and politics. A child-centered learning center will feature bi-lingual activities and books about Mexican art and culture. Modern Art/Contemporary Art/MMoCA Collects, a website dedicated to significant works from the museum’s permanent collection, will prominently feature pages dedicated to each artist represented in Los Grandes del Arte Moderno Mexicano. The site will also include a narrated virtual tour of the exhibition, as well as teaching resources for educators planning onsite exhibition tours.

The Madison Community Foundation encourages, facilitates, and manages long-term philanthropy. It was established in 1942 as a tax-exempt community trust and is governed by a Board of Governors representing the broad interests of the community.


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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