The wonderful exhibit that is testimony to the European aspect of Mexican art moves to the Metropolitan in New York.
Not only Frida Kahlo. Not just the colourful modernism in the pastel shades of the 20th century revolutionaries. Before Pancho Villa, Mexico was – or at least, it was thought for a long time – a European country transplanted in Central America. This was a thesis also offered by the writer who, with sagacity and detachment, has best expressed the contradictions of what was once the cradle of Aztec civilization: Roberto Bolaño.
Today, this art exhibit is hosted at the Metropolitan in New York, going right to the root of the western presence of what was called the “New Spain”. A ninety-year span, perhaps a parenthesis, that lasted from 1700 to 1790. This was the era of haciende and lords, as well as the time of Franciscan missions – a period in which Mexico, from a political point of view, lapped the west coast up to what today is called Oregon. Moreover, this was a time defined by great art, with a taste for continental classicism, where the “continent” is that of the Habsburgs and the Bourbons: Europe.
This was an idea that could only come from one of the most “Hispanic” cities in California, Los Angeles, precisely at Lacma, the most important encyclopaedic museum (telling the story behind the development of art history from the ancient times onwards) of the «West», i.e. west of Chicago. Here, “Painted in Mexico Pinxit – Mexici” was exhibited to the public from November until March 18th. The show’s success, from critics as well as the general public, has been resounding. As a result, the event can now triumphantly move into one of the East Coast’s art temples, the Met, as New Yorkers affectionately call it. The exhibit will open its doors on April 24th and lasts until July 22nd.
These one hundred paintings are unlikely to be seen again together in this lifetime: the curators have divided them into seven large sections [editor’s note, under the names: “Great Masters, Master Story Tellers, Noble Pursuits and the Academy, The Power of the Land Portraiture, The Allegorical World, and Imagining the Sacred”], some dedicated to the academic works of those years, others to portraiture and dulcis in fundo, to the sacred art, which in the exhibition takes centre stage.
The symbol of this exhibition is the portrait Doña Tomasa Durán López de Cárdenas, created by Juan Patricio Morlete Ruiz around 1792. It appears to be from the area of Velazquez, even if the austerity of certain details leads us towards the realism of the later Mexican painting. Moreover, there is that baroque taste that is found in the long series of works dedicated to the Scriptures, especially the New Testament. Much of the art produced in Mexico in the 18th century was destined for the many churches that were built during that period: an example is the three paintings by José de Páez on display: one is dedicated to the patron saint of America, the Virgin of Guadalupe, accompanied “Christ carrying the cross, the saints and souls of Purgatory”.
The most impressive work, both in terms of size and subject, is an oval altarpiece measuring 4×3 metres (about 12×9 feet). The piece’s author is Juan Rodríguez Juárez. «Apotheosis of the Eucharist», dated 1723, is a true encapsulation of the religious feeling of those years in Mexico – adoring the Body of Christ carried in triumph, we find St. Francis of Assisi and Santa Clara, venerated by the missionary fathers and sisters, who brought the Good News of Jesus Christ to the edge of the Pacific. This piece of history still survives in churches and monuments from the Anáhuac Valley to California. And now it is on display for art lovers from around the world.