‘Mexico: A Revolution in Art’: An interview with Dr Adrian Locke

Only 1 more week left to see ‘Mexico- Revolution in art’ (until 29th September at the Royal Academy of Arts)

 The exhibition is truly the first of its kind, comprising of 120 pieces of paintings and photographs from public and private collections. It portrays the 30 years 1910-1940, during which Mexico underwent a huge political change, when the artistic community flourished under a state sponsored programme, designed to promote the ideals of the new regime.

 “It reveals a dynamic and often turbulent cultural environment that included some of the most seminal figures of the twentieth century reflecting on their interaction with each other and their differing responses to the same subject: Mexico.”

 ’Mexico-Revolution in Art’ displays fascinating and at times shocking and gruesome as well as inspiring artworks from Manuel Ramos, Edward Weston, Laura Gilpin, Edward Burra, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and many more artists and photographers who travelled to Mexico and embraced her pre-colombian history and indigenous culture and popular art, at a time when all art was seen as equal.

 

We have asked Dr Adrian Locke, curator of this exhibition, about his thoughts on a few specific items on display.

Why was the painting by Morado (Carnival in Huejotzingo) chosen as the ‘face’ of the exhibition?

 That is an interesting question. The work appealed to many people across the Academy and was chosen independently by different departments as representative of the exhibition and Mexico itself. I think it is because this is a very confident and unambiguous image. It is bold and colourful without being cliched. To me it also represents the different faces of Mexico and suggest that the exhibition is going to be full of surprises.

 What is your favourite piece and why? 

This is very difficult to answer as there are so many works that I could call my favourite. In terms of paintings I would say Edward Burra’s ‘El Paseo’, since this has not been seen in public for forty years and is shown alongside one of his two other works of Mexico for the very first time since they were painted in 1937/38. They have never been exhibited together before.

In terms of photographs, I think I have to say this is even harder but Manuel Alvaro Bravo’s ‘The Crouched Ones’ is a simply stunning image that also appealed to Andre Breton (he owned the copy). The mystery of the image and the deep shadows with its impenetrable black background that Alvarez Bravo creates (thanks to the printing skills of his first wife, Lola) is compelling.

One of my favourite is actually one of Lola Bravo’s photo, ‘Indifference’. Could you tell us a bit more about this particular image?

A brilliant and much under-rated photographer Lola Alvarez Bravo’s work is incredibly powerful. ‘Indiferencia’ is somewhat ambiguous. Is it a pilgrim making her way on her knees to a miraculous sanctuary or a beggar on a street? Either way, life passes her by as if she were not there, a commentary on the social conditions of Mexico at the time. Is she indifferent to the crowd or are they to her?

 What about Antonio Ruiz’s ‘Summer’?

 Ruiz, a little known artist outside of Mexico, painted these detailed small works mainly for his own satisfaction (he only sold four of them). To me, these paintings are a very subtle attack on the failure of Mexico to reconcile its people in the sense of the social classes (middle classes versus peasants), some of whom have time and money for leisure pursuits and others for whom such thoughts are nonsensical. Thus the traditional and modern worlds collide, highlighting the failure of the Mexican Revolution to integrate the divergent people of Mexico into ‘modern’ nation.

 Dr Locke added: “There has been a very positive response to the exhibition. Most people have been surprised by the breadth of artists working in Mexico during this period, including the high number of female artists.Visitors had a particular interest in the photography of the period.”

 For more information and tickets, please visit:

www.royalacademy.org.uk

By: Melinda Szucs

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