The Mexican Revolution lasted from 1910 to 1920. This series of civil
wars represented, in cultural terms, an attempt to transform society and
rid it of the deeply entrenched foreign influences that had
characterized Mexican visual and other arts prior to this time. The
first Secretary of Public Education, Jose Vasconcelos, began a project
that would result in the Mexican Muralist movement. Vasconcelos invited
artists to paint on the walls of large public buildings, creating scenes
of Mexican history and daily life. "Ground Zero" of the mural movement
was the National Preparatory School in the capital, where Rivera did his
first mural in the theater and Jose Clements Orozco and David Alfaro
Siqueiros painted powerful images that were very harshly received when
first painted. These three artists became known as the "tres grandes"
(three great ones), and they became, in a sense, artistic dictators.
There were, of course, many other painters associated with the movement,
but this lecture will concentrate on these three.
Of the three Rivera was perhaps the most prolific, painting murals
throughout Mexico City, Cuernavaca and also in the USA (San Francisco,
Detroit, NYC). The work of Rivera and other Mexican artists in the US
proved to be a critical force in the development of a muralist movement
throughout the US in the 1930s (associated with the WPA).
Orozco - who also spent long periods in NYC, and whose most outstanding
work in NY may be seen at The New School 60 W. 12th St, 7th floor, was
highly attuned to the expressionist power of images, creating works that
were less narrative than those of Rivera but more intensely moving.
Siqueiros was perhaps the most politically committed of the three. He
worked in Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, Uruguay and the US. He would also
spend long periods of time not painting but working in political
activism. The youngest of the three, he was active well into the 1960s.