Visual art is a bright expression of a soul of a nation. Although Latin America is an impressively diverse place, it is perceived as a holistic region, which has its common characteristics, features, and peculiarities. The history of this region is very ancient and influenced by various natural and social factors. Thus, the region acquired its unique and unmistakable soul masterly expressed by artists of different epochs. The roots of Latin American artistic tradition can be traced back to the art of indigenous tribes living there before European conquest. Afterward, Latin American art became strongly related to European trends. However, the painters of this region managed to implement original cultural and political features into their artworks and, therefore, brought some new ideas into styles established in Europe. One exhibition, even the most comprehensive, can hardly encompass the way of Latin American art developed because of its immense diversity.
Thus, the following exhibition is focused on the art of the first half of the 20th century; it was, definitely, one of the most flourishing epochs in Latin American art history. The majority of artists of this time gained their education in Europe, where they absorbed avant-garde ideas. By implementing their unique cultural background into modern styles, they managed to create unique masterpieces. This epoch was dominated by the artists who made Latin American art famous worldwide; who established such peculiar style as muralism, which soon greatly influenced street art all over the world and introduced Latin American culture and social lifestyle to the rest of the world. The impact was so significant that they are remembered by now. This exhibition shows paintings of such prominent Latin American cubists as Diego Rivera, Emilio Pettoruti, and Joakin Torres-Garcia and surrealists Wifredo Lam and Rufino Tamayo. The gem of the collection is probably Diego Rivera’s painting “Zapata Style Landscape” (1915); therefore, we kindly request you to loan this painting for the time of the exhibition.
At the begging of the 20th century, Latin America art tradition was widely exposed to the influence of European styles; it was the time of significant changes and innovations in the art of the region. A new generation of artists emerged; the majority of prominent Latin American painters of this time studied in Europe, basically in Paris, which was the world center of bohemian life and attracted creative people from all parts of the world. It was the place where artists implemented the boldest ideas into their works while creating new styles and techniques. Following the best practices of cubism and surrealism, the Latin Americans embodied cultural peculiarities of the region and their social concerns into their paintings.
While thinking about Latin American visual art, the majority of people recall the paintings of Frida Kahlo firstly. However, the local avant-garde tradition has much more representatives, which deserve particular attention. Therefore, the ultimate goal of this exhibition is to show people the depth of Latin American cubist and surrealist art introducing all its nuances and details. Thus, during the exhibitions, viewers will be able to see the works of very famous but not mainstream Latin American artists of the first half of the 20th century. The show suggests cubist landscapes and still lives of Diego Rivera made at the begging of his career before establishing muralism. These paintings are excellent examples of cubist tradition embodying unique peculiarities of Mexican culture and painter`s political views. Moreover, the collection has a lot of paintings by Emilio Pettoruti, the Argentinian artist from Buenos Aires, who became one of the most significant figures in Latin American avant-garde art. His works present an extraordinary combination of cubism, constructivism, futurism, and abstraction.
During the exhibition, some of his still lives will be demonstrated; and, more importantly, the visitors will have the chance to see his famous painting of musicians and harlequins. These images represent one of the key motives of Pettoruti’s art. The musicians compose very deep cultural symbols, they are the soul of his native Buenos Aires with its streets full of tango and music. The paintings of another prominent cubist Joakin Torres-Garcia from Uruguay will be exhibited as well. He has unmistakable style: “In his canvases and wood boards, he flattened three-dimensional objects into evenly coloured geometric shapes separated by thick black lines” (Scott). Even though the artist was dedicated to cubism and constructivism styles, he ignored the attempt of their supporters to refuse national traditions in search of universal truth. In turn, Joakin Torres-Garcia managed to implement the traditions of indigenous tribes from Peru and Colombia in his painting and sculptures. Therefore, the artworks from this exhibition emphasize the intrinsic link of the Latin American avant-garde art with ancient traditions and features of the region.
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Furthermore, the cubist collection is supplemented by surrealist masterpieces of Afro-Cuban artist Wifredo Lam and Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo. These artists created their most prominent works in their thirties and forties, when surrealism was predominant in Europe and had its impact on art throughout the globe. Combing the features of cubism and surrealism, Wifredo Lam refers a lot to his African and Cuban identity including the exotic specialties in his paintings. Rufino Tamayo also uses the motives of traditional indigenous culture and Mexican folk art. Hence, the painting of these artists stress the importance of racial, cultural, and national identities in Latin American avant-garde art and prove that the connection between history and modernity is an inspiring element of the creative work for the painters of the time.
One of the pioneers of avant-garde art in Latin America is Mexican artist Diego Rivera. He is probably one of the most prominent figures of regional visual art in the first half of the 20th century. During his life, Diego was painting in various styles. There are some motives of impressionism in his early works; then he turned to cubism achieving impressive mastery in this style; and his later works are marked by surrealist features. Moreover, he was among the founders of muralism in Mexico, which soon spread all over Latin America and then to the US. Besides being a unique phenomenon in art history, muralism may be treated as a social and political movement because of its content and strong political position of the creators of mural. In fact, murals of Diego Rivera made him a famous artist worldwide; however, this exhibition is focused on his cubism heritage. One of the key aims of the exhibition is to show his style of painting before becoming a muralist and to demonstrate his contribution to the development of cubism in Latin America. The organizers of the show aspire to capture the moment when Rivera had already formulated his political position but still expressed it in conventional painting before turning to bigger format of street walls. “Zapata-Style Landscape” is definitely one of the most significant cubist paintings in his carrier and essential to accomplish the whole aim of this exhibition.
Since Diego Rivera was one of the first Latin American cubists, to some extent, his paintings set the rules of the style in the region and influenced other artists who worked in this style as well. While living in Paris, he kept an eye on the developments in Mexico, where the civil war took place from 1910 to 1917. Therefore, the painting “Zapata-Style Landscape” was created in 1915. Rivera said later that it was “probably the most faithful expression of the Mexican mood that I have ever achieved” (“Zapata-Style Landscape”). Emiliano Zapata was one of the main leaders in Mexican civil war, and his socialist views correlated with political position of Rivera; therefore, the painter implemented this revolutionary character in his several works. Critics agree that “Zapata-Style Landscape” is a cubist masterpiece of Rivera. Furthermore, this work is important because it demonstrates how Latin American artists manage to introduce soul of their culture within European art styles. This painting is full of Mexican national elements combined together as a collage and depicted against the background of a simplified mountain landscape. All the elements are symbolic and introduce the Mexican reality and culture (e.g. sombrero, serape, and mountains on the background. Other elements such as rifle, cartridge belt, and ammunition box refer to the events of the civil war. The image of elusive Zapata is also presented in the picture: the elements of sombrero and serape in the middle create an all-seeing eye, which is an allegoric expression of Zapata`s role in Mexican guerilla. Being a pure masterpiece of Latin American avant-garde art, “Zapata-Style Landscape” is supposed to become the headliner of this exhibition.
According to the conception, each paintings collection of the above mentioned artists has one leading picture which specifically represents the style of a particular painter. Moreover, this five leading paintings including “Zapata-Style Landscape” serve to emphasize the idea of a tight connection between history and traditional folk art of Latin American countries and modernity. Among the paintings of Emilio Pettoruti, the selected one is “Quinteto” (1927). As mentioned above, the character of street musicians is the most important for the artist in his creative work. The masterpiece depicts five street musicians in abstract cubist manner; these musicians are associated with tango, the brightest cultural expression of Buenos Aires and Argentinean cultural identity in general.
Among the paintings of Joakin Torres-Garcia, the leading one is “Constructive City with Universal Man” (1934). This painting was made by the artist after his coming back from Europe to Uruguay at the time when he became interested in ancient pre-Colombian art. This constructivist composition includes masklike figures, geometric patterns; it is also painted in earth colors. All these elements were essential for Latin American indigenous art and were effectively combined with modern styles of constructivism and cubism. The most representative work of Wifedo Lam’s style is “The Jungle” (1943), which will be demonstrated during the exhibition as the main painting of his collection.
The masterpiece “depicts hybrid male and female figures, their bodies blending human, animal, and plant imagery within a crowded jungle filled with sugarcane and banana leaves” (“Wifredo Lam: Cuban Artist.”). The same as it was in the picture of Joakin Torres-Garcia, the faces of figures here are masklike and resemble heads of horses. This imagery stems from Afro-Cuban religion and refers to the artist’s cultural identity. The painting combines cubist and surrealist traditions with ancient African folk art, which was kept with some transformation in Cuba. This painting shows the importance of the influence exerted by African slaves who came to Latin America in the 16th century and enriched the cultural landscape of this region with their traditions.
Finally, the main painting from the collection of Rufino Tamayo’s artworks is “Women of Tehuantepec” (1939), which depicts the atmosphere of market in the Southern Mexican city. The picture is painted in vivid colors to emphasize the brightness and cheerfulness of the event. Women of Tehuantepec (or Tehuanas) were known for their beauty, sensuality, colorful dressings, and their role as of traders as well (“Rufino Tamayo “Women of Tehuantepec”). Thus, this panting is one of the best representations of the artist’s affiliation with his native country and culture.
According to the above mentioned facts, the common idea reinforced in all these paintings is evident. It is the idea of continuous connection between history and modernity, between folk and avant-garde art, and between artists’ peculiar cultural identity and European influence. This idea is the most significant for the exhibition, and introducing it to the visitors is the ultimate goal of the organizers. Therefore, all five paintings listed and described above are of extreme importance for the success of the show.
Each of these artworks reveals unique structural element of the above mentioned idea. Hence, there are few reasons why the painting “Zpata-Style Landscape” is so significant and irreplaceable for the exhibition. First of all, it is one of the brightest examples of cubism in Latin American art, and it will help the organizers to develop the topic of avant-garde art in Latin American tradition. Secondly, it is one of the best cubist works of Diego Rivera, who is among the most impactful artists of the time in region. Thus, this work will help to introduce his creative transformation from conventional painter to muralist. Thirdly, the painting brightly represents the link between Latin American avant-garde art with the national and cultural identity of the artist. “Zapata-Style Landscape” is even more important because of its political and social context. When the other four works, which are headliners of the exhibition, are concentrated on culture and history, this one demonstrates strong political beliefs of the artist.
Visual art of Latina America has its ancient history; it was exposed to considerable foreign influence, but it managed to acquire its unique and unmistakable image. The art of this region is tremendously varied and deep; therefore, it is impossible to encompass all of its features and peculiarities in only one exhibition. Therefore, this show is concentrated on the Latin American avant-garde art of the first half of the 20th century. All the works chosen for the exhibition are united by one principle – they show the connection between indigenous arts and special cultural identities of different Latin American countries and European modernist tradition.
Thus, being focused only on a particular epoch, the organizers managed to create an overview of all the region and cultural influences, which shaped the art or the area over time. In fact, a visitor who comes to this exhibition will be able to see not only cubist and surrealist artworks widespread in European art but will also enjoy the elements of folk art of indigenous tribes from Peru and Colombia, will admire African cultural traditions brought by black slaves to Cuba, will feel the soul of Mexican and Argentinean culture, and will explore the impact of political events on the local art.
Even though the show represents the limited number of styles and is very specific, it provides a comprehensive account of art development of the region and shows full landscape of the factors that played significant role in this development. Hence, all the paintings have their specific purposes, and nothing can be excluded. Therefore, the organizers would be really grateful if you could loan one of the greatest masterpieces of Diego River “Zapata-Style Landscape” for this exhibition, which will be a powerful contribution to the success of our work.