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MoMA and the MET: Similarities and Contrasts in Portraying the Modernist Movement

A favored subject of modern artists is the depiction of flowers; while many critically acclaimed artists throughout the modernist movement such as Matisse, Warhol, and Van Gogh created many works depicting these plants, their works stand-alone contrasting greatly to one another. Andy Warhol’s painting, Flowers, was initially displayed at the MET in 1979, shortly after its creation in 1967. The painting is depicted through the mediums of acrylic, and Warhol’s pioneering silkscreen enamel on canvas. The four, bright orange flowers encapsulate the refreshing and surprising departure from Warhol’s initial themes of pop art and culture, and a transcendence into fresh, nature-focused works. In his Flowers print, the several blocks of color comprise the four flowers while a variant of black outlines the bed of grass. Warhol is calling for a national recognition of the appeal flowers have each spring. He has once said, “My fascination with letting images repeat, or run-on, manifests my belief that we spend too much of our lives seeing without observing.” Warhol’s interest in flowers has also been said to speak to his larger interest in cohering floral elements and fashion– a fascination that still persists in art and sartorial spheres of the modern era. It is believed by many critics that Flowers resonated with the 1960’s fashion set due to the fact that they considered the flowers’ simple shapes, bold patterns, and bright colors as promising fixtures of the then-contemporary design.
In an earlier work by Henri Matisse, the theme of flowers becomes reiterated in his work Lilacs. In the years just before World War I in 1914, Matisse challenged the traditional views held on painting. With Matisse’s mass intrigue in the sensory nature of objects, and the arabesque line to join them, one could see how the motivations behind Lilacs is similar to that of Flowers. Calling for attention rather than observation, the brightly colored blossoms and leaves of the Lilacs Matisse paints portrays a still life replica of individuals most anticipated subject of spring. Contrastingly to that of Warhol however, Matisse used the simple medium of oil on canvas for this work. Regionally, Matisse is a French artist while Warhol is an American artist residing in Pittsburgh, New York, and Pennsylvania. Although the origins of these two painting are different, the underlying tones of experimentation, liberalization, color, problems of color-as-energy, and color-as-light are still prominent. Matisse’s ability to dematerialize objects while simultaneously illuminating the stems of the flowers and having them disappear under Matisse’s gaze. The colored lilacs show Matisse’s draw to action from the viewer to appreciate the coming of spring, as opposed to observing it—a message very similar to that of Warhol.
Contrarily to the modernist movement, more recent works exhibited at the MoMA such as Rodney McMillian’s Succulent and Isa Genzken’s Rose II, portray flowers and plants in a different light, from a very different perspective. In Rodney McMillians sculpture Succulent constructed in 2010, the perspective of welcoming spring, and attention over observance transcends into a contemporary perspective stillness and political critiques of American social history. McMillian presents a hand-sewn room made from black vinyl fabric encapsulates the social critique of waste and human consumption, acting as a liminal space between inside and outside. This fusion of spatial and bodily categories instead draws a call to action against the killing and elimination of our planet and its natural sources. While Matisse and Warhol called for individuals to comprehend a deeper beauty for flowers, McMillian is calling for comprehension in the need for reform in American social history in regard to the destruction of our planet. The black vinyl background most likely represents the decay of Earth, and the lifeless, colorless, sewn succulent vines represent the struggle of the Earth’s resources to break free of the destructive nature humans have imposed on the Earth. As a political, personal, and social investigation, McMillian’s sculpture serves a very different purpose than that of Modernist depictions of nature.
Isa Genzken’s sculpture Rose II was built in 2007, with the mediums of stainless steel, aluminum, and lacquer. Standing an astonishing 8 feet tall, the flower in this sculpture reimagines architecture, assemblage, and installation by giving form to a new plastic environment and precarious structure. Originally created in 1993, the work was reprised in 2007 in its culmination of a practice, exploring the way humans perceive objects and images through their senses. Much like that of Matisse and Warhol, perception as opposed to observation is the goal of Rose II. The mere scale and placement of the rose on the building it is seemingly growing from, draws a similar message as McMillian’s Succulent. The integration of architecture, nature, and mass culture elicits the message of natural beauty growing from a structural time period. The growth of nature in the midst of an industrial revolution of American social history is portrayed through the rose protruding from the stainless-steel building.
The works from the MET by Matisse and Warhol encapsulate a modernist perspective of the beauty flowers bring to the nature of spring. Demanding perception over observation, these works are from a time period where political and social history was extremely different than that of the works displayed in the MoMA. This historical difference is most likely the underlying reason for the difference in the works call to actions. While McMillian and Genzken call for social reform on American’s treatment of the Earth, their sculptures reflect the beauty that is struggling to be observed with the constant destruction of American society. Similarly, however, the works present the perceptual beauty flowers represent. Whether it be through silkscreen enamel canvas, acrylic, or sculptures, the overall call to action and meanings of these works remain the same.
References
Genzken, Isa. “Isa Genzken. Rose II. 2007 | MoMA.” The Museum of Modern Art, www.moma.org/collection/works/174065?locale=en

Members of Los Tres Grandes in the Mexican Muralist Movement

Los Tres Grandes
“The artist must paint as he would speak. I don’t want people to speculate what I mean, I want them to understand.” David Alfaro Siqueiros, a key member of the Mexican Muralism movement said this to describe how he felt about his work as a muralist. Siqueiros, like other muralists during this time, used murals as a way to spread visual messages to the masses. These murals were effective because they were shown in very public forums and although the masses were often illiterate, the use of imagery and art allowed for the message to be understood by everyone.
The Mexican Muralist movement started in 1920 as a way to promote pride and nationalism after the Mexican Revolution. This revolution ended with the Díaz regime overthrown and the country in a political turmoil. New political movements sprung up with intentions to establish a new Mexican society founded on its rich culture and traditions. Mexican Muralism became a big piece of this new identity as all members of society could understand the visual images, it was free, and it was made public so everyone had access to see the works of art. The murals were commissioned by the government, which allowed these murals to be painted on various buildings around Mexico. These murals were put on buildings, schools, and national offices and the art included topics such as indigenous culture, winning the revolution, and much more. Some of the most famous artists of this movement were Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, known as “los tres grandes.” Although these famous muralists were artists in the same movement, they each had different ideologies, styles, and influences that affected their work. Rivera was inspired by cubism and European styles and his artwork often depicted indigenous peoples and traditions of Mexico. Orozco often painted artwork showing fear and darkness and Siqueiros was a strong communist who painted political murals.
Diego Rivera
Diego Rivera was an incredible Mexican artist who has changed the world of art and made many incredible pieces. He is the most noteable of los tres grandes and like the others, left a lasting impression and legacy on those that came after him. Mexican muralist and artist, Diego Rivera was born December 1886 in Gushajuato, Mexico. When Rivera was a little boy at the age of three years old he began to draw, during this time Rivera‘s father created a studio for him to color and use canvases and his art supplies to keep Rivera from coloring on the house and furniture. When Rivera was a little boy he was very interested in trains and mechanical things, and was therefore nicknamed, “the engineer.” His family always encouraged Rivera’s talent in the art world and they decided to enroll him in a school called San Carlos Academy of Fine Art’s at the age of 12 years old. While he was there he chose to study traditional painting and sculpting techniques.
Rivera learned a lot from his professors at his school, a professor named Para showed him a type of Mexican arts that was different from the European art that he was used to see. Another professor named Rebull taught him the idea that “a good drawing was the basis of a good painting.” Another professor named Lasko taught him how to create three-dimensional effects. The school was filled with a more conservative staff and professors. In the 20th century there was a Mexican Mural movement and Rivera took part in it. Rivera got involved by sharing his views through his painting as well as by protesting. In 1902, Rivera was expelled from his school because of a student protest he led after Porfirio Diaz was re-elected as president of Mexico. The president created a country where the people who disagreed with his policies were faced with harassment, imprisonment, and possible death. Most of the citizens that lived in Mexico were living in poverty and they did not have any protected rights to help them in their workplace. Instead of working, Rivera decided to focus on painting and drawing. Rivera decided to travel to Europe to continue to study art in the year 1907. He met many famous artists, one of them being Pablo Picasso. In the year 1911, Diego married a woman named Angela Bel. The two had a son who they named Diego, but he only lived for two years. While Diego was married to Angelina he was having an affair with a woman named Maria, who gave birth to a daughter that they called Marika. This caused Diego and Angelina‘s marriage to end 10 years later.
While Diego was in Europe, he became a very successful painter. His art and murals were heavily inspired by the Mexican Revolution and also the Russian Revolution of 1917. This caused the style of Rivera’s artwork to change and the subject of his artwork to become more meaningful to him. He wanted to create work that would reflect the lives of native peoples in the working class. Rivera had many different things that inspired him, but when he was in Italy he was very inspired by the murals of the Renaissance period. In the year 1921, he began to make many different murals in Mexico City’s buildings. In 1922, he finished his first mural in Escuela Nacional Preparatoria. Around the same time, Riviera married a woman named Guadalupe Marin and the two had two daughters together named Guadalupe and Ruth.
During the time Rivera was married to his wife Guadalupe he met his soon-to-be third wife Frida Kahlo. Frida Kahlo is also a famous Mexican painter who is most known for her self portraits. In between the 1930s in the 1940s Riviera had completed different mirrors in the United States he created one for the Rockefeller family in New York City that he called “Man at the Crossroads.” However, the painting was destroyed because the family thought it was not appropriate because it included the Russian leader at the time. Because they destroyed it, they faced a lot of heavy criticism. From 1945 to 1951, Diego began a project on a series of murals that is known today as “From the pre-Hispanic Civilization to the Conquest.” The last mural Diego ever created was called “Popular History of Mexico.” In the mid-1950s Diego’s cancer began to grow stronger and could not be cured. On November 24, 1957 Diego died in Mexico City due to heart failure.
Diego Rivera‘s childhood home was turned into a museum, parts of his life were put into films such as “Cradle Will Rock” and “Frida.” Diego was an artist who did work for his country and for his people. He cared for others and the citizens of his country. My favorite painting of Diego’s is the “Man at the Crossroads.” I love this painting for multiple different reasons. The first reason is how it looks. For example, there are many different things happening in this painting including various people in the background, a man in the middle, and varying shapes throughtout the image. There are many different shapes with designs inside of them that are very beautiful and there are statues on each side. I also love this painting because of the story behind it. The story that the Rockefeller family decided to destroy the painting due to the fact that there was a Russian leader in the painting. The family decided to destroy his painting, putting a lot of heat onto the family. Additionally, it showed a lot about the way that the American people live and their distrust of Russia and communists and the climate of fear that existed in the U.S. during the Cold War era.
There are two quotes that I like from Rivera. One of them is, “I’ve never believed God, but I believe in Picasso” and the other quote I like is, “ If I ever loved a woman, the more I loved her the more I wanted to hurt her.” I love these quotes because it shows you the mind of the artist Diego Rivera. To be an artist, sometimes you have experience the lowest of lows or the highest of highs to express yourself truly and create beautiful pieces of art as well as be able to share those points with an audience. For Rivera, he was able to get into the minds of the citizens in his country, because he grew up as a citizen of this country, and paint murals that the public was able to relate to. He was able to truly understand the lifestyle of the people around him. He chose to participate in movements, such as the Mexican Muralist movement, to show how he wanted to change his country and the world. He created art that showed that he was not happy with the way that this world was that he wanted it to change. His quote about Picasso that I mention above shows, first off that he did not believe in God, but second off that we are the ones in charge of the way our country goes in the way our world changes. Artist can use their work to show the evil of the world so that people are able to see the world in ways that they were not able to before. They are pointing out the bad that exists in the world and highlighting it for the public, hoping it will promote change. An artist is very powerful if people listen to them and their messages in their art and people want to hear what they have to say. If an artist is able to show their work in a way that will affect others they are doing a very good job. The second quote about loving a woman might be a little confusing to me. Rivera had many marriages in his life and loved very woman. I do not know what would make Rivera want to hurt a woman more the more he loved her. Maybe this means that as time went on it the more he grew to love her the more he knew That he had the power to hurt her because she too loves him as their love grow deeper they had more control over each other and baby this love held him back. Overall Diego Rivera changed the world of art and the way art can be used. He used it to change people minds and make them think about what is happening around them and want to change that. Diego Rivera Inspires me.
José Clemente Orozco
José Clemente Orozco studied art at San Carlos Academy where he was encouraged to reject European styles and adopt Mexican traits and themes into his work. He began his career as a political cartoonist, where his artwork was printed in newspapers during the revolution. Orozco witnessed the darkness and destruction of the Revolution firsthand and this affected his artwork. Despite his background as a political cartoonist, of the three muralists, Orozco’s artwork was least likely to portray his political views. Instead, his work sometimes mocked partisan politics. Of los tres grandes, Orozco’s artwork was the darkest and most ominous. His work often depicted human suffering and cruelty, most of which came from what he witnessed during the Revolution.
Orozco left Mexico for the United States in 1917, where he worked as a sign-painter. He returned to Mexico in 1920 and received a public commission at the National Preparatory School in Mexico City to paint a mural as the new government’s plan to depict the new Mexican identity that was prevalent after the Revolution. He joined both Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros in painting on public buildings commissioned by the government, starting the Mexican Muralist movement. While many artists during this movement used the murals as a way to memorialize the revolution, Orozco used the murals as a way to create art to show the masses and elicit certain feelings from them. He stated that, “The highest, the most logical, the purest, and the strongest form of painting is the mural. It is also the most disinterested form, because it cannot be hidden away for the privileged few. It is for all the people.”
Unlike Rivera and Siqueiros, Orozco depicted the horrors of the revolution in his murals. He believed in portraying the realness of the events, not celebrating the victories. He was against militarism and tyranny and believed the machine had destructive potential. These ideas can be seen in his painting “The Epic of American Civilization,” which consists of several panels that depict various scenes. In one particular panel called Hispano-America (see image), Orozco shows his view towards the Mexican Revolution and what it was like for the average man. In the center of the panel is a man holding a gun, which indicates that he took part in the fighting. Behind him on one side are government officials, one of which is holding a knife up ready to stab him in the back. This seems to convey that the government and military during the Revolutionary era were corrupt. In front of the man are two men who are leaning down gathering gold coins. This demonstrates the greed that existed during this time period as well. From this one panel alone, Orozco’s view of the Revolution is clear. For his darker themes and less than celebratory approach to the revolution and historical events, his artwork was heavily criticized and many of his murals were defaced. Despite many critics, Orozco’s murals at several colleges, including Pomona College and Dartmouth University, where the panels making up “The Epic of American Civilization” are found, are considered great works of art that have influenced countless artists after him.
David Alfaro Siqueiros
David Alfaro Siqueiros studied art and architecture in Mexico City during his early life. During this time, he partook in various student protests, mainly for educational improvements. He partook in the Mexican Revolution and later joined the Communist Party. Of the three great muralists, Siqueiros was the most radical. He was radical in his ideology as well as in the material and techniques that he used in his art. He believed in Marxist ideology and believed that his art could enact change. He believed that art could both inform and incite the masses to stand up for their beliefs and take part in a revolution if need be. His themes in his art were often of connections between money and oppression and imperialism and war. He often depicted communist political messages in his artwork. If Siqueiros were offered a painting opportunity, or commission, that conflicted with his ideology, he would refuse to do it. In addition, Siqueiros rarely used an easel because he deemed it to be too “bourgeois,” in other words, something that the wealthy would use. As someone with a Marxist ideology, Siqueiros enjoyed the idea of painting murals because it was something that could be viewed by everyone. He pained murals throughout Chile, Cuba, and Mexico, spreading his communist ideals. During his later career, his political views threatened his career and even landed him in jail for the crime of “social dissolution.” After various encounters with Mexican authorities, Siqueiros came to the United States in the 1930s and painted murals throughout Los Angeles.
Siqueiros rejected the more traditional fresco techniques and used new methods and materials in his works. For his materials, Siqueiros experimented with automobile paint, painting on concave walls, and using air brushing techniques. In one of his works called Collective Suicide, Siqueiros creates a volcanic looking background. He does so by creating what he called a “controlled accident.” This “accident” consists of Siqueiros putting various automobile paints together and moving them around with different chemicals and then brushing them out. Siqueiros’s technique and style influenced others, including the famous Jackson Pollock, who also used a “controlled accident” style in his artwork. Today, Siqueiros’s artwork can be seen on walls in Los Angeles and across Latin America.
While these three men discussed above are the most notable muralists after the Mexican Revolution, they were not the only ones. Leonora Carrington, Fernando Leal, and Rufino Tamayo are also muralists who were a part of this movement. Rufino Tamayo, for example, created surrealist and cubism artwork that drew on his heritage. Fernando Leal was one of the first Mexican painters to depict the Mexican Revolution and often painted religious art. These painters, including Los Tres Grandes, depicted messages of their ideologies, mainly communist, and of Mexican heritage and traditions to spread their ideals and reach the masses. Their murals were used to encourage change within their country and across the world.
The muralists and their movement reached far beyond Mexico. Its ideals reached the United States, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Brazil. In the United States, this movement inspired the Chicano Art Movement of the 1960s. The Chicano movement used art to show their struggles and depict the social issues they face living in the United States. This movement is similar to the Mexican muralist movement in that they both used art as a way to convey the experiences of a group of people and share a message about these experiences and ideas. Another way the Mexican muralist movement was influential in the United States was during the Roosevelt Administration. The Mexican muralists inspired a program in the U.S., the Public Works of Art Project of 1933, which created murals and sculptures for public buildings all around the United States.
Though each member of “Los Tres Grandes” had their own style, ideology, and techniques, they all used art as a way to convey a message to the masses. The Mexican Muralists spread messages of political and social resistance as means to inspire the public. They created beautiful, multi-dimensional pieces of art in these murals and influenced many artists that followed after them. The Mexican Muralists can be remembered through examination of their movement’s history as well as in observing their art left for future generations around Latin America and the United States.
Works Cited
Cocking, Lauren. Culture Trip. An Introduction to Mexican Muralism in 10 Iconic Artworks. March 16, 2017.
https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/mexico/articles/an-introduction-to-mexican-muralism-in-10-iconic-artworks/
Coyle, Laurie. PBS. American Masters: José Clemente Orozco: Man of Fire. https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/database/orozco_j_interview_en.html
Diego Rivera. Diego Rivera, His Life and Art. https://www.diegorivera.org/
Folgarait, Leonard. Oxford Research Encyclopedias: Latin American History. The Mexican Muralists and Frida Kahlo. July 2017.
https://oxfordre.com/latinamericanhistory/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199366439.001.0001/acrefore-9780199366439-e-464
Kordic, Angie. WideWalls, All You Need to Know About Mexican Muralism and Muralists. June 17, 2016.
https://www.widewalls.ch/mexican-muralism-muralists/
Mann, Jon. Art History Teaching Resources. Mexican Muralism.
http://arthistoryteachingresources.org/lessons/mexican-muralism/
Roberts, Jodi. MoMA. Diego Rivera. 2016. https://www.moma.org/artists/4942
Souter, Anna, The Art Story: Modern Art Insight, Mexican Muralism, Jan. 22, 2017
https://www.theartstory.org/movement-mexican-muralism.htm

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