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					                      MEXIICAN                               PRINTS
                                         BY JEAN CHARLOT

Mexican prints and books since    700o   are being purely Indian art was attended by bloody tra-
shown in the basement of Wing J. Most of the vail. Yet the term "conquest," used to describe
exhibition-indeed most of the Museum's dis- the forceful entry of the Spaniards in Anahuac,
tinguished collection of Mexican graphic arts-     none too factual even on the military plane, is
was either given by the painter Jean Chariot or even more misleading if enlarged to describe
else collected by him in Mexico for the Muse- the clash and the resulting blend of the two
um. Mr. Charlot has continued his helpfulness civilizations it involved. A cultural conquest
by drawing on his great and sensitive knowledge    required as its first step a taking stock of the
of  Mexican art for this article.                  Indian heritage. Of the men brave enough to
                                                                            run the gauntlet of this
The power of the graph-                                                     mental hazard, none
 ic arts lies in repro-                     CON' [ENTS                      emerged intact.
duction, multiplication.                                                      The Spanish crown
And their multiplicity                     Novem ber, 1949                  and its representative
should put them into                                                        in Mexico, the viceroy,
                                  MEXICAN PRINTS
 the hands of the people                          BY JEAN CHARLOT 81        labored hard to smooth
 at large who share their                                                   over the rough colony.
                                  RECENT ACCESSIO1 OF GREEK
                                                 NS
quality of being many.        TERRACOTTA VAS;ES     OGREWhen                       Baron von Hum-
This broad premise has                  BY DIETRICHVON BOTHMER 91
                                             E'
                                              >
                                                                                        boldt visited Mexico in
been attacked by a few                                                                   1803, he marveled at
                                           r~
                              REPRESENTATION
print-lovers, who claim,      TERESA
                                                                SAINT
                                                               S OF                      the collection of Greco-
in dubious Malthusian                        BYMARGARETTA SALINGER 97      Roman plaster casts
fashion,   that rarity is                                                  housed at the Mexican
                                                 I
more desirable than                                                        Academy of Fine Arts
plenty. Perhaps   the two theories may be recon- as a gift from the crown. Humboldt also wit-
ciled if we admit two levels of art-making. Lim- nessed how fragments of Aztec temple sculp-
ited, numbered editions of prints are all very ture, when accidentally unearthed, were speed-
well for the kind of graphic art that is de luxe, ily buried again. This was perhaps because
in truth or in pretence, and thus proclaims they were pagan, but more certainly because,
itself expendable. Another kind of art may be for a taste attuned to eighteenth-century rococo,
a true necessity that it would be as senseless to they were ugly. Baron von Humboldt voiced a
ration as bread.                                   mild reproof, "Why not, side by side with the
   The story of the Mexican graphic arts paral- Apollo Belvedere or its plaster counterfeit, ad-
lels that of Mexico, whose history is not all mit the exhumed monsters reminiscent of the
pleasure and leisure. Mexican art was never art forms of Hindoos and Egyptians?" What
meant to be a hothouse flower, coddled in the the German Baron visualized as a curiosity-
rarefied air of the studio for the delectation of the chance meeting of violently contrasting aes-
connoisseurs only. Since the pre-conquest days thetics-does in fact plague the inner eye of
of the tlacuile, who brushed painted magic on all Mexican artists. They hardly need see Apol-
lime-coated paper, to influence the conjunction lo Belvedere and Coatlicue side by side to rea-
of planets and ensure the fullness of crops, lize what potent tension results from the churn-
Mexican aesthetics have remained enmeshed in ing of bloods that begat them and their art.
practicalities.                                      Their quandary is illustrated by the career
   The birth of a Mexican art as distinct from  a of the first graphic artist known to be of mixed

                                                     81




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Bicycles. WVood engraving    by Jose Guadalupe Posada (I851-I913).        Gift of Jean Chariot,   1930


parentage, Friar Diego Valadez, born in Mexi-         skulls. Unnice as death is in its plastic mani-
co of a Spanish father and an Indian mother.          festations, it has inspired great art. In Europe
Grown to be a Franciscan missionary, well-            bones, shrouds, and worms were the leitmotiv
traveled both in Europe and in his native land,       of medieval dances of death. In sixteenth-cen-
Friar Valadez engraved a set of plates meant as       tury America, the rattling of the imported
visual aids to teach the Christian doctrine to        Catholic skeletons was to find its perfect match
unlettered Indian converts. His origin as well        in the staccato rhythm of the teponastle, the
as his calling had familiarized his eye only too      Aztec log drum. In colonial times, Death lord-
well with the squatting figures found in Aztec        ed over the showy triumphal pyres that Mexi-
codices, hugging the earth, knees to their chin,      cans, with outer sorrow and perhaps secret
like his savage parishioners, their folded bodies     pleasure, erected to the death of emperors and
inscribed in a cube or seemingly gathered back        kings whose absentee power they experienced
into the sphere of the womb. Therefore Friar          only at second hand. Crowned skeletons loom
Valadez, though possessed of great technical          big in the engravings that adorn the resulting
proficiency and keen anatomical knowledge,            pieces de circonstance.
could not be content to engrave the swollen              Early in the nineteenth century, Fernandez
muscles and the extrovert gestures stamped on         de Lizardi, nicknamed El Pensador Mexicano,
art by the European Renaissance.                      ministered at the birth of Mexican political in-
   The human form is at its loveliest skin-deep,      dependence with a rash of pamphlets-of four
awaiting only the added health and glow of            to eight pages each, on cheap paper-which he
Greek genius to become a Narcissus or a Gala-         wrote, set in type, and distributed single-hand-
tea. The Aztec, immune to the sight of reli-          ed. A woodcut of a plain skull and crossbones,
gious autopsies performed with a sacrificial          modeled with deep chiaroscuro, that embel-
knife, preferred to observe the same human            lishes one of his "Dialogues of the Dead," be-
body piecemeal, as a necklace of steaming             tween the shades of the hero Hidalgo and the
hearts, or a basin full of blood, or a hill of        newly dead ex-emperor Iturbide, marks the

                                                     82
rise of the modern, wholly irreverent, comical        their endeavor, these penny sheets could not
calavera (skull). It is dated 1824.                   outlast the issues they raised. Only their names
   This graphic calavera, passing through ever        have kept a sting: The Mustard Plaster, The
more complex forms, reached a climax in the           Black Widow, The Gut-Grater, The Tickles,
metal cuts and relief etchings of Guadalupe           The Shark, The Carving Knife, The Loose-
Posada, an undoubted master, versed in the            Mouthed,     The W'hip, The Scorpion, The
low-brow art of illustrating penny sheets. His        Blind Man's Club.
work was realized in a sharp black and white             Milder-named and longer-lived than most
that spurned nu-                                                                    of them was the
ance, and, indeed,                                                                  far from mild La
little nuance was                                                                  Orquesta that fea-
needed as the en-                                                             :.   tured   Constantino
graver     separated                                                               Escalante'smasterly
with a     kick the                                                                lithographs. These
goats    from    the                                                               cover the Juarez re-
sheep.   With anar-                                                                form, the French
chistic gusto the                       '                                          invasion, Maximi-
brown-skinned mas-                                                                 lian's empire, the
ter lined up before                                                             two Juarez repub-
his graphic tribunal                                                            lics. Escalante was
the mighty of this          .                                    .
                                                              bayons  ac        as a rule "against
world, generals and
     world
       geners   ad                                                              it." He dwelt lov-
                        The trolley-car hearse d elrailed. Relief etching by                       r
bandits,   and co-
            bandis                                                                thel    the pictur-
                                                                                              p
                        Jose Guadalupe Posada. G eiftof Jean Charilot, 1930 oesque ly on
                                                                                ing     Zouae un-
quettes     as well,                                                               esqueZouave uni-
making    of all a savory mess of mustachioed         forms, but their unhappy owners were impaled
jaws and blunderbusses, of necklaces and col-         on spikes of inaguey, drubbed by barbed cacti.
larbones, of ribs and ribbons. As the revolu-         General Zaragoza funneled horse pills into a
tion, begun in 1910, entered into its giant stride    sick Napoleon III; a comical Maximilian lent
it raised measurably the quota of sudden deaths       his imperial foot to be kissed. Juarez was a
among the great. Death and Posada became              tuna, the tasty fruit of the nopal, protected
friendly rivals to see which could first transform    from French appetites by bristling vegetable
a live potentate into a grinning skeleton.            bayonets.   Mexico    was a bronze-skinned,
   Another rich source of graphic art is the          plume-skirted Indian maiden who lolled in a
political cartoon at large, quite as removed          hammock tied between palm trees. She greeted
from the concept of art for art as the more spe-      the landing of the minute, pompous French-
cialized calavera. Mexico has a strong tradition      men with a smile and a popular refrain, "Here
of political newspapers, backed by the disinter-      come the monkeys."
estedness of men who have gone to jail, have             Through this vast graphic work, as a kind of
seen their presses smashed, and have had their        hieroglyph that stands for the mechanical prog-
skulls cracked and their papers suppressed, all       ress featured in that mid-century, Escalante
for the sake of keeping an opposition alive.          drew variations of the iron horse. His locomo-
When official art tended to freeze into deco-         tives, their valves and pistons rearranged in
rutm, when marble Venuses tickled the taste of        quasi-organic fashion, chug and puff with an
the bourgeois in power, opposition cartoonists,       animal life all their own. In i868, as the artist
aiming their sharp lithographic crayons at the        and his wife were returning from a party in
liver of powerful opponents, kept alive the           Tacubaya, they both slipped under the wheels
quota of dynamism and of unnicety without             of the local they were to board, dying soon after.
which Mexican art would quickly wither.                  Heir to La Orquesta was El Ahuizote, nanled
Equally doomed by the success or failure of           after a nahluatl monster whose voice lured men

                                                     83
 to an aquatic death. It published Villasafia's          walls where their elders had frescoed brown
great lithographs of the seventies. Truly a              giants shaking fists and holding banners loud
 "blind man's club," it helped crush a democrat-         with slogans. Naturally enough, adolescent
 ic president, Lerdo de Tejada, and boosted as           scruples shied away from these hardened dis-
 a hero young General Porfirio Diaz. A genera-           plays. The young artists took refuge from the
 tion later, El Hijo del Ahuizote (The Ahuizote's       very big into the very small. Leopoldo Mendez
Son), undid in the three decades that bridge the         and others learned to cut wood so fine that a
 centuries what its father had done. It swatted          content equivalent to hundreds of square feet
mature Don Porfirio until his senile exile. From         of buon fresco could be squeezed into prints the
 1911 to 1913 a new Ahuizote kept its cartoons          size of an ex libris. As a natural antidote Mexi-
 aimed at President Francisco Madero up to the           can graphic arts branched out then towards ex-
minute when he was actually shot in the back.           quisiteness, a phase perhaps best expressed in
In this paper, on the future martyr Madero,              the few prints, rustling with a meditative quiet,
Orozco cut his milk teeth to razor sharpness.           of short-lived Julio Castellanos.
    The Mexican mural renaissance was, in the               In today's Mexico it can be said that the
twenties especially concerned with true fresco,         function of public speaking so ably performed
 the mural technique par excellence. But its ar-        in the twenties by murals has been taken over
tists had not turned muralists primarily through        by the printed poster. Perhaps simply because
a love of fresco but rather in their desire to          photoengraving remains more expensive than
bring art to the people. In sharp contrast to           obsolete methods, posters are still in Mexico
what were then the tenets of the school of Paris,       mostly handmade process or relief cuts. The
the Mexicans were bent on creating a didactic           print-lover would do well to follow the over-
type of art aimed at a wider circle of men than         alled man that walks the streets with a paste-pot,
the aesthetes. It is natural, then, that they           a brush, and a sackful of new posters that he
should also try their hand at the graphic arts in       slaps all over the walls of the capital. The yel-
an effort to reach an even wider public than the        low, pink, or purple sheets, besides advertising a
frescoes. Out of this purpose came El Machete,          sporting event or denouncing a politico, may
financed by the Syndicate of Painters, an irregu-       also be first editions, strictly unlimited, of the
lar, blatant news sheet of extra-large format.          original graphic work of some famous artist.
For it the muralists Siqueiros and Guerrero                Another branch of the arts to which, indi-
literally carved planks into brutal woodcuts.           rectly, the revolution gave a boost, is book illus-
They were run together with the type on a com-          tration. It started with the same practical intent
mercial plate press, minus the niceties of special      as many another endeavor in which art consti-
inking, graded pressure, and rag paper, that one        tuted, so to speak, no more than a side product.
associates with art work. Poor as the resulting         Modern book illustration was linked early with
proofs undeniably are, these few woodcuts re-           the campaigns launched by successive presi-
main as a precious testimonial to a moment of           dents to teach an increasing number of citizens
heroic endeavor. They were done between mu-             how to read and write. A typical example is
ral tasks by men familiar with scaffolds and            Rivera's childish primer, Fermin Lee, with its
mortar and totally disdainful of what finer             exquisitely primitive line drawings. Printed by
points may constitute the pride of collectors'          the state, it was distributed free to rural schools.
portfolios. As a result, there is a bigness in them        More sophisticated and aimed at a smaller
that no later work by these same men could              circle, the best of the later books still hold that
quite recapture.                                        technical excellence and human values are in-
   In the next decade, the pioneer muralists            terdependent. Such isEl Sombreron, illustrated
affirmed their technical proficiency and aesthet-       by Alfredo Zalce, shown here together with the
ic maturity, mostly by hard, sustained work.            preparatory studies that preceded the final line
And the new generation that was then born to            cuts. It may come as a surprise to some to see
art found itself hemmed in, as it were, by the          how the artist's mind worked; how complexity

                                                      84
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LEFT:   "Courage, my friend Sancho, however ill they treat us it's costing them money." Lithogra
Hernandez from the magazine "La Orquesta." RIGHT: The Barber, lithograph by H. Iriarte from
                              por si mismos," Murguia, I854. Whittelsey Fund, 1946
    ~.r.'tf./<,l . s.
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                        ..'      AP

LEFT:    Our Lady of Solitude of the Ranch of Saint Ines, engraving by Garcia, xviiI century.
RIGHT:   Holy card from a sample book, Murguia Lithographic Press, I889. Whittelsey Fund, I946
meant for him a first step towards simplicity.         would not be one by any famous master. Per-
   In the effort to single out of Mlexico what will    sonality is often emphasized as a paramount in-
seem, to an outsider, the most Mexican trends,         gredient of art, but the more defined the per-
there lies a danger of distortion. It is true that     sonal idiosyncracies, the more restricted the
much Mexican art was, in the twenties, clashing        public that art reaches. I do not speak of the
with much Parisian art about the why of art-           outward marks of appreciation that can always
making. It is also true that Mexican artists con-      be conjured up by published critical estimates
tributed their share to round out the interna-         or the attendant publicity drummed around
tional school. Rivera could hardly have become         big names, but rather of the inner conformity
as convincingly the local realist that he is were      of a work, felt when one is alone with it and just
it not for his earlier connection with analytical      looking. For the same reason I would not choose
cubism, which checked later all backward               either the biggest print or the loudest, impres-
glances towards Paris. In the work of Carlos           sive as these are in the Mexican version.
M6rida, of Mayan Indian stock, the knowledge              Of all the prints in the Mexican collection of
of modern art acquired in Paris when he shared         the Museum, the ledger of samples of the lithog-
a studio with Modigliani is combined with              rapher Murguia moves me most, and in it the
racial lores, with which he can communicate            set of saints, or rather of santos-as stylized, as
simply by closing his eyes. This is true of his        geometrized as an ABC. These pictures, pyram-
wash drawings on stone for Popol-Vuh, which            idal Virgin or beribboned crucifix, are anony-
are, besides, a complex technical feat.                mous chips from a truly functional form of art,
   If I had to choose, out of the whole panorama       rich in didactic clarity, meant for the people at
of the Mexican graphic arts, a single print it         large. One of these would be my choice.

                                                      86
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ABOVE:   The wounded guerrilla, woodcut by Alfredo Zalce. Whittelsey Fund, I946.
BELOW:   Night School, woodcut illustration from the "Libro de lectura para uso de las
escuelas nocturnas para trabajadores, 20. grado." Mexico, I938. Gift of Jean Charlot,
1939. Illustration by Leopoldo Medndez for "El Mlundo Grdfico." WVhittelseyFund, 1946

                                          87
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ABOVE:                Requiem for the Dead, lithograph by Jose Clemente Orozco. Dick Fund,
1929.           BELOW:      Head of a young girl, lithograph by Francisco Dosamantes. Head of a
                         man, lithograph by Emilio Amero. Gift of Jean Charlot, i93i

                                                     88
ABOVE: Mother and child, lithograph by Alfredo Zalce, from his "Estampas de
Yucatdn," I946. Whittelsey Fund, I946. BELOW: Sleep, lithograph by Diego
  Rivera. First steps, lithograph by Jean Charlot. Dick Fund, I933 and 1940

                                    89
                    V      P




ABOVE:  Detail of a lithographic poster by Jose Chdvez Morado.
Gift of Jean Charlot, 1940. BELOW: Part of a ballad sheet for the
 Feast of the Dead. By Leopoldo Mendez. Whittelsey Fund, 1946

                               90

				
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