Mexican Muralists

Intertwined with the Mexican Revolution was a revolution in Mexican Art. It unfolded in a group of buildings in Centro.

Part I: Bellas Artes
The construction of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the Palace of Fine Arts, embodied a radical transition in Mexican history and culture. Begun by President Porfirio Díaz in 1904, construction was interrupted by the Mexican Revolution (1910-17) that deposed him from his thirty-some-year domination of Mexico. Construction was resumed in 1932 and completed in 1934. The exterior and interior architecture and furnishing record this dramatic political, historical and cultural transition.
Part II: The Academy of San Carlos and Dr. Atl
The artistic revolution began within the walls of a colonial building in the heart of the Centro Historico, the Academy of San Carlos, an art school founded in 1781 under Spanish royal patronage. It was here that Dr. Atl, a teacher of painting, and some students were to come together in the midst of the Mexican Revolution and provide the fuel and fire for what was to become the Mexican Mural Movement after the military Revolution ended. 
Part III: Secretariat of Education, José Vasconcelos and Diego Rivera
When José Vasconcelos was chosen in 1920 by President Álvaro Obregón to head the new Secretariat of Public Education, he took over the former convent of Santa María de la Encarnación del Divino Verbo (St. Mary of the Incarnation of the Divine Word), built in the 1640's, Renovating it in Neoclassic style, he saw its two huge interior patios as spaces to display his vision of a post-revolutionary Mexican identity, synthesizing its indigenous past, its Spanish culture and modern, secular life through empirically based, humanistic, free public education. To execute this huge artistic and cultural project, Vasconcelos encouraged a pre-Revolution acquaintance, Diego Rivera, to return from Europe.
Part IV: Secretariat of Education and Diego Rivera's Vision of Mexican Traditions
Continuing our tour of the Secretariat of Public Education to see Diego Rivera's murals inspired by the Mexican Revolution, we move from the front Patio of Labor to the larger rear Patio of the Fiestas. Here we encounter not just one perspective of Rivera on Mexico but, actually, three.
Part V: Secretariat of Education and Diego Rivera's Ballad of the Revolution
Ascending from the planta baja, the ground floor of the Secretariat of Public Education, we leave behind Diego Rivera's reverential homages to Mexican laborers and cultural traditions and their more or less indirect references to the Mexican Revolution. Arriving at el segundo piso, the second and top floor, we come face to face with El Corrido de la Revolución, 'The Ballad of the Revoultion', a set of murals that form an unequivocal visual paean to the Revolution, at least as imagined by Rivera.
Part VI: Diego Rivera at the College of San Ildefonso
José Vasconcelos, as part of his project to create representations of a post-Revolutionary Mexican identity, decided to also have murals painted in the National Preparatory (High) School, the former Jesuit Colegio de San Ildefonso, two blocks from the Secretariat of Education. He had Diego Rivera paint the first mural, which portrayed "The Creation" of Mexican arts
Diego Rivera´s Murals in the National Palace, Part I: "History of Mexico"
Painted between 1929 to 1935, Diego Rivera's mural of The History of Mexico, which occupies a grand stairwell leading from the front courtyared, is, at first, visually and mentally overwhelming. There are a huge number of figures, all apparently jumbled together, with no obvious organization. However, after some close scrutiny, we notice five arches overhead. Within each are group portraits of various people, apparently in 19th century dress, recent Mexian history at Rivera´s time. Below these five groups, across the middle of the mural, we realize there are a series of scenes of Spanish colonial life. At the bottom, within a triangle, is a portrayal of the Spanish Conquest. So, to "read" the mural and grasp Rivera's vision of Mexico's complex and complicated history, we must start at the bottom, and move upward.
Diego Rivera´s Murals in the National Palace, Part II: Some of Mexico's Original Civilizations
When we recently entered the National Palace to view Diego Rivera's mural of The History of Mexico, we didn't know that we would encounter another whole series of Rivera murals portraying what might be called the pre-history of Mexico, that is, of some of the indigenous civilizations that existed prior to the arrival of the Spanish in 1519. On the right side of the stairwell housing "The History of Mexico"is a mural portraying some of the elements of indigenous civilization. Walking up the staircase below the mural, to the second floor and turning left, we encounter a series of murals portraying various regional civilizations. The first is a large mural of the city of Tenochtitlan.
Part VII: José Clemente Orozco Comes to San Ildefonso
As Vasconcelos put Rivera to work creating murals in the Secretariat of Education, he hired the artist José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949) to add more murals in the Preparatory School. He worked in a starkly modern style, presenting a startling perspective on the events that, a decade before, had devastated the country, a series of murals on the Mexican Revolution very different from the optimistic, idealized one Rivera was realizing nearby. In them, he gave visual life to his experiences of the brutality and senselessness of war.
Part VIII: College of San Ildefonso and José Clemente Orozco - Continued
Climbing to el primer piso, the first upper floor of San Ildefonso, we encounter murals charicaturing los de arriba vs. los de abajo, those above vs. those below and a powerful, quasi-symbolic portrayal of the results of war, La Basura Social, The Social Garbage Heap. Another flight up, we meet a quieter, more realistic, but subltly moving set of images of the Revolution: the men and women, husbands and wives, mothers and sons, separated and devastated by the war, some of whom survived.
Part IX: David Siqueiros, Painter and Revolutionary
In 1911, at age fifteen, David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974), the third member of the "Big Three Mexican Muralists" began his art training in the Academy of San Carlos. After the Mexican Revolution, in the early 1920s, Siqueiros participated with Rivera and Orozco in creating the first works of the Mexican Mural Movement in the National Preparatory School (former College of San Ildefonso). However, he did not finish the mural he began there and was not to leave his own visible artistic mark on the city until the 1940's, twenty years later.
Part X: David Siqueiros Cultural Polyforum
The Siqueiros Cultural Polyforum is the last major work of David Siqueiros. For the artist, it was the culmination of a lifetime of vision and work, the fulfillment of his desire to realize what he called the "fourth stage of Mexican Muralism" by creating a three-dimensional work completely integrated with the design of the building in which it was situated and executed by an international team of artists. Twice the size of the Sistine Chapel, it is the largest mural assemblage ever painted in the world.
David Siqueiros, Part III - His First, Unfinished Mural Forshadows His Later Work 
In our first post on David Siqueiros, we wrote that in the early 1920s, after the Mexican Revolution, he took part with Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco in creating the first works of the Mexican Mural Movement in the National Preparatory School (formerly the Jesuit College of San Ildefonso), but, becaus of changes in the political climate, he did not finish the mural he began there. At the time, we had read that this first work was not accessible to the public. Subsequently, we learned that that part of the building was now the Museum of Light. So, recently, we were able to redress that omission, and go to the Musuem of Light, not knowing whether it would lead us to the Siqueiros mural that lay somewhere within. We found the mural, which shows all the elements of his later works.
Part XI: The Abelardo Rodríguez Market
On Venezuela Street, in the Centro Histórico, a few blocks north of the former College of San Ildefonso (National Preparatory [High] School) and the Secretariat of Public Education, with their murals by Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, is the Abelardo Rodríguez Market. The venue is very different from the official government buildings of the Secretariat or the former High School. But here, virtually hidden in plain view, sit historical and artistic treasures from the era that emerged out of the Mexican Revolution and that fell, increasingly, under the shadow of an impending World War.
Part XII: Reverberations of the Mexican Revolution: Representing the Ongoing Struggle
High up under the dome of the Monument to the Revolution, along the observation walkway, enscribed in plexiglass, is the affirmation, "To the Revolution of yesterday, today and tomorrow." It is a Mexican credo, expressing the belief that the Revolution was not completed in 1917 or even in the years afterward, but remains to be fulfilled. This post seeks out symbolic representations of the Revolution and its ongoing proclamations in the cityscape and public art of the city. The images are found in unexpected places.
Part XIII: Mexican Muralists at National Autonomous University
Although the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) was founded in 1910, by Justo Sierra, Secretary of Education under President and dictator Porfirio Díaz, it is really a creature of the Mexican Revolution and the political dynamics that emerged from that series of conflicts. In 1943 the decision was made to move the university from the city center to a new campus, the Ciudad Universitaria (University City) in the delegación, borough, of Coyoacán, to the south of the city. It was decided to have leading Mexican muralists create massive works for the facades of some buildings.
Part XIV: Mexican Muralists in the Metro: Portraying Mexico City's Azteca-Mexica Origins
In Tacubaya Station, where Lines 1, 7 and 9 intersect, Guillermo Ceniceros, an apprentice of Siqueiros, chose to go back to the indigenous origins of what is now Mexico City; that is, the legend of how some seven hundred years ago the Mexícas (Me-SHE-kahs) came to arrive in what was then the Valley of Anáhuac and found México-Tenochtitlán.
Part XV: Mexican Muralists in the Metro: Clash and Synthesis of Civilizations in Copilco Station
In Copilco Station on Line 3, Guillermo Ceniceros used the division of the tracks and the opposition of the parallel walls to present the story of the confrontation, clash and subsequent synthesis of the two civilizations that are the foundation of modern Mexico: the indigenous Mesoamerican and the European Spanish.
Part XVI: Mexican Muralists: "Revolutions" by Vlady Kibalchich, Jewish Refugee from the Russian Irruption
In 1972 Mexican President Luis Echeverría invited Russian Jewish immigrant painter Vladimir "Vlady" Victorovich Kibalchich Rusakov to paint murals for the Miguel Lerdo de Tejada Library located in the former Oratory of San Felipe Neri, a 17th-century church in the Historic Center. The overall work, called “Las revoluciones y los elementos”, "The Revolutions and the Elements", doesn't focus on Mexican history but portrays various revolutions, including those in the U.S., France, Russia and Latin America. The work was completed in 1982.
Part XVII: From Mexican Muralism to Mexico City Street Art
We have been following the trail of representations of the Mexican Revolution and its particular and stunning eruption in the artistic genius of the Mexican Mural Movement. Along the way, by happenstance, we encountered contemporary street art. It shows up, usually ephemerally, on almost any available blank wall. We have been intrigued by its many styles and themes and wondered where it might fit into the story of the self-representations of the inhabitants of "the city that dreams us all, that all of us build and rebuild" ("I Speak of the City", Octavio Paz). As an unforeseen outcome of our study of the Muralists, we think we have found the connection.
Roberto Montenegro and Other Forgotten Artists of the Beginning of the Movement
Recently, we went to explore Carlos Monsiváis' curiously named Museum of the Corner Store (Museo del Estanquillo) in Centro Histórico. While perusing the author's very diverse collection of mementos of the 20th century, we were stopped in our tracks by a simple but forceful portrait by a Mexican painter we had not previously heard of, Roberto Montenegro. It turns out Montenegro was a student in the Academy of  San Carlos at the same time as Diego Rivera, and like Rivera, won a scholarship to study art in Europe. He returned to Mexico in 1921, in response to an invitation from José Vasconcelos, the first Secretary of Public Education after the Mexican Revolution, to create murals in public buildings. He was put to work in the former Jesuit College of St. Peter and St. Paul. There, he and other artists created the first murals of the Mural Movement.

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