Documents of 20th-century Latin American and Latino Art

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Synopsis

Carlos Mérida starts this lecture by commenting on the effort made by U.S. artists to found a center for the Union Artists Gallery, which would surely lay the foundation for the future of art in the United States. He notes the close affinity between the work of Mexican artists and those camrades of Chicago, stating his hopes that the work they have done in common will grow, both for art’s sake, and for the cause of human freedom in its struggle against fascism. However, the painter points out that the United States has yet to see an art flourish that reflects the life and spirit of the people. So far, there is no U.S. art equivalent to its theater, architecture, dance, and music. To his understanding, this effort has not yet materialized because so many painters have followed the Mexican experiment during one of its worst phases. In spite of its revolutionary pretenses that work led to nothing more than stagnation: a counterrevolutionary movement, based on its essentially academic nature. It gave countless works with immediate utilitarian goals or propagandistic purposes, lacking any artistic sensibility. To support his opinion, the painter analyzes the Mexican art movement, dividing it into three stages. In the first period, which was merely transitory, painting absorbed the greatest influence from folklore, resulting in superficial production, without the transformation that would create original, new work. The second stage, during the social-movement period in Mexico, undertook graphic storytelling. In the third stage, young adults who had learned from their elders’ painful experiences created works that the writer still finds inadequate. Nevertheless, such works are more vital, more revolutionary and expressive than those rendered by a legion of insipid illustrators. If U.S. artists are to create fertile, vital work, Mérida recommends that they: (1) recreate the elements in their environment; (2) transform the country’s unique national and ethnic values; (3) develop the capacity to see and express themselves distinctly; (4) execute some artwork that is not representative, but rather abstract and one of a kind. Finally, Mérida talks about some of the young Mexican artists and certain characteristics of their artworks.

Annotations

This is the first document in which Carlos Mérida openly and publicly states his rejection of the Mexican mural movement, which he considers superficial, propagandistic, graphic, and lacking any artistic sensibility. In 1937, the Serie de Arte Mexicano [Mexican Art Series], Guide to Visiting Mexican Frescoes, edited by Frances Toor, published the first in a set of 12 interpretive guidebooks to murals created between 1921 and 1940. In these guides, Toor lists the artists that worked on the different murals, the murals’ locations, and the motifs represented. However, given the informational nature of the project, she does not include any critical opinion.

In other writings prior to this “Introduction,” Mérida was beginning to outline his concepts on a way forward for the visual arts, based on his Latin-Americanist ideals and his interest in the poetic, modern language of painting. These ideas can be found in a number of his articles, stated with more clarity in some, less in others. But starting with this article, Mérida constantly returns to these concepts in this “Introduction,” stating them with the most insistence in his subsequent texts regarding the visual arts integration.
Carlos Mérida’s separation from the Mexican Painting Movement—as it is called by David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896–1974)—becomes evident in the 1930s, based on his experimental work in the trend of art for art’s sake and on his writings.

Researcher
Leticia Torres : CURARE A.C.
Team
CURARE, Espacio crítico para las artes, Mexico City, Mexico
Credit
Courtesy of Alma Mérida, Mexico City, Mexico
Location
Instituto de Investigaciones Bibliográficas : Biblioteca Nacional/Hemeroteca Nacional