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From a European perspective, Paul Westheim gives his first impressions on modern art in Mexico. He identifies two of its qualities: first, an originality and independence from European art and, second, a rebirth of folk art that is removed from the picturesque. The German critic undertakes a complete review of the artistic process based on a few premises such as the universality of Mexican art and its various links through form and content, as well as its relationship to folk art, which he understands as a form of individualism transformed into community by means of a common ideal. Westheim states that art in Mexico is taking shape without reference to privileged levels of society or aesthetic rules instead it is based on the experience of the people. Westheim reviews some works by Siqueiros, Rivera and Orozco; he refers to the Aztec goddess Coatlicue; he likewise emphasizes the importance of engraving in Mexico, mentioning such engravers as Posada, Leopoldo Méndez and Chávez Morado, among others. Finally, Westheim touches upon some characteristics of those painters who are more inclined to the canvas, such as Frida Kahlo, Francisco Goitia, Rodríguez Lozano and Carlos Mérida.


Paul Westheim, a critic and art historian of German origin, arrived in Mexico in 1941 in order to offer courses and give lectures, as well as to write for various newspapers and magazines. He also wrote essays for the exhibition catalogs of such artists as Carlos Mérida, Rufino Tamayo, Alberto Gironella, and Lilia Carrillo, among others. He wrote on such topics as pre-Hispanic art and German Expressionism, a movement he was closely connected to and which he supported in the magazine Das Kunstblatt [The Art Page], which he edited during the Weimer Republic. He also published studies on modern Mexican art. It was difficult for him to adapt to the art criticism scene in Mexico, since he did not share its nationalist focus, nor did he undertake the type of aesthetic analysis that art critics in Mexico were moving towards at that time. The universal posture of the German intellectual was at conflict with the era’s ideal of wanting to express what was uniquely Mexican. For Westheim: “art that seeks to move [people] through content and not through form is journalism.”   This article is an example of Westheim’s earliest attempts to write about modern art in Mexico.

Leticia Torres
CURARE, Espacio crítico para las artes, Mexico City, Mexico
Courtesy of Margit Frenk, Mexico City, Mexico
Donación Alma Mérida : Museo Nacional de Arte