Holland Cotter reviewed in February “Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925-1945” at the Whitney Museum of American Art through May 17, 2020.
Cotter traces a thread of Mexican art history leading from the “big three” — Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siquieros, and José Clemente Orozco — to a number of American artists whom they influenced.
… Works by artists who learned from [Diego Rivera] — Ben Shahn, Philip Evergood, Thelma Johnson Streat, Xavier Gonzalez and Marion Greenwood — outnumber his own. You can see why he was a popular model. There’s something expressively boilerplate about his art, making it adaptable to varied uses and settings and patronage.
Cotter highlights the student-teacher relationship between Siqueiros and a young Jackson Pollock beginning in 1936.
We see examples of the increasingly anti-conventional techniques the muralist developed: spraying, splattered, dripping paint, building up glazes in ugly lumps on the canvas surface, anything to make the results look unpolished and unsettling. And we see Pollock beginning to test out these unorthodoxies.
The critic advances a hedging conclusion about Mexico’s influence on its northern neighbor.
Is it too much to say that we owe Abstract Expressionism, at least the Pollock version of it, to Mexico? Maybe, but only a little too much… Did influence run both ways? Student to teacher? South to north and back? Undoubtedly.
(Holland Cotter, “How Mexico’s Muralists Lit a Fire Under U.S. Artists, NYTimes, 2-20-20)
(c) 2020 JMN