Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Commerce and Communism

cover of Mexican People
Patronage is complicated. It's especially complicated when you're a member of a Mexican communist artists' collective but you live in a capitalist society, so you need money to continue your quest to inspire revolution.

Enter Mexican People, a portfolio produced around 1947 by the Taller de Gráfica Popular (TGP, the People's Graphics Workshop). The TGP was established in 1937 by a group of Mexican leftists who wanted to create art that reflected the daily struggles of the Mexican people.

Mender's print "Grinding Maize"
Leopoldo Méndez, "Grinding Maize"
In 1947, the TGP faced a crisis -- they needed money, and they turned to the United States. Associated American Artists was an American gallery established in 1934 to provide affordable art to the middle class, primarily in the form of prints such as lithographs. The TGP created Mexican People, a portfolio of twelve signed lithographs, for an audience in the United States that was hungry for "authentic" images of Mexico.

As students in Professor Coffey's art history class on Mexicanidad (Mexican Identity) pointed out last week, Mexican People creates an ambivalent vision of Mexico. Are the images of backbreaking work (quarrying, grinding maize, rolling logs down a river) celebrating the culture of Mexico and the indomitable spirit of Mexicans? Or are they a critique of capitalism?

To see it, ask for Rare Book NE2314 .A8 1947

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