Tuesday, 29 March 2011


Mexican Art: from 1500 BC to the Present Day
Tate Gallery
4 March – 26 April 1953

Mexican art, throughout history, and in all its forms, has sprung from the same creative force. From the archaic Indian civilisations to modern times, it was always closely related to the life and spirit of the people. This exhibition has been arranged in chronological order, and special emphasis has been laid on the important aspects of each period. It is divided into four major sections: pre-Columbian, colonial, modern and contemporary, and popular. Each of these sections contains works of the greatest artistic importance, as well as examples of what are known as the ‘minor arts’.

Under the general term, Pre-Columbian art, is collected the art of all those peoples who inhabited Mexico before the arrival of European culture. All over the country are to be found buildings by great architects, cities with magnificent religious monuments, such as the pyramids, temples, palaces and tombs, containing sculpture and mural painting.The finely wrought gold objects, the engraved and carved jade, obsidian and rock crystal, the turquoise jewellery and the magnificent plumed ornaments, are proofs of the richness of Mexican personal attire.

Colonial art is the art of New Spain, as Mexico was called during the three centuries of Spanish domination. It should not be confused with Spanish art, as it resulted rather from the combination of the two cultures, the native and the European.

Baroque, sober and restrained in its inception, reached its apogee in the eighteenth century in a grandiose art of extraordinary wealth and splendour, exemplified in hundreds of churches, exuberantly carved stone façades and altarpieces (retablos).

The gilded altar shown in this exhibition comes from the disused convent of Tepotzotlán in the State of Mexico, and is one of the finest examples of Mexican baroque; it is, however, only the smallest of the ten possessed by the convent. It has been moved for the first time from its site, so as to give some idea of the unique wealth of this art.

Modern Mexican art started with the neo-classical movement, which came at the end of the colonial period and during the struggle for national independence.

The finest work of this period are the paintings of the great landscape artist, José Maria Velasco, some of which are included here. Though his technique was in the European tradition, his very personal conception of nature helped to rediscover our land and our valleys, which he depicted with poetic feeling and a panoramic sense of great spaces.

Another art, which flourished in the nineteenth century, grew up at the same time as, but independently from, the academic movement. Local artists in various parts of Mexico expressed themselves naively, but with charm and surprising vigour.The work of artists such as José Maria Estrada and Hermenegildo Bustos, with many other anonymous painters, confirms the artistic value of this movement, which reveals intimate aspects of Mexican life, and has its roots deeply embedded in an old popular tradition.

Mention should also be made of the exquisite fantasies of Frida Kahlo, and the poetically expressive work of Manuel Rodriguez Lozano. The paintings of Guillermo Meza are characterised by imagination, and those of Guerrero Galván by human tenderness. Maria Izquierdo’s pictures have an immediate appeal.

The section devoted to popular art is a magical explosion of shapes and colours.

Mexican folk art expresses the essence of Mexican people: great variety of objects can be found here from many parts of the country, each with its own technique, and each disclosing the personality of the craftsman, but all expressive of the same spirit and knowledge of form which give a unity to the collection.

Fernando Gamboa


  1. Thanks for posting the catalogue images and text.

    It makes me laugh and shudder at the same time to think that “Mexican art, throughout history, and in ALL its forms, has sprung from the SAME creative force… always closely related to the life and spirit of the people.” I’d love to know how Gamboa’s show was received. Obviously it seems in line with many universalizing curatorial projects around that time (Family of Man at MoMA being another) with its impetus of global-outreach and the image of social cohesion.

    Hindsight is 20/20. But still, I have a hard time thinking people even within that context could swallow such trite given Mexico’s sustained political and social instability throughout the twentieth – and now the twenty-first – century.

    Case by case, the affiliations between contemporary artists and earlier specific forms might still be interesting to play around with – if and when relevant. Shows like Gamboa’s have made this too fraught a strategy to experiment with in shows structured around nationality.

    1. Hi Ali, hi Pablo. My PhD thesis is exactly about the reception of this exhibition in Paris, Stockholm and London. Shoot me a message if you are interested in knowing more.

  2. ¿tienes el catalogo de la expo de Mexico en el MOMA en los 40's?

  3. no, would love to see it! who are you?