Cesáreo Moreno, Chief Curator at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago, Illinois, begins with slides of Pre-Columbian clay figurines, and perhaps the most well-known piece, an 11 foot, carved-stone Aztec sun to show present-day artisans’ historical context. He continued with an overview of the social and political forces during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries when the art world saw the transformation of folk art to gallery acquisitions. In this lecture, we learn how folk art transformed from household utilitarian items sold in village markets to decorative fine art pieces in galleries and museums.
Folk Art to Fine Art, was a rare opportunity to see famous Mexican artisans and their families in their village surroundings. Their brightly colored works of woven blankets, carved wood, and fired clay included fanciful, fantastic, scary and sometimes religious imagery. This slide survey of contemporary Mexican artisans’ works of nopal greens, watermelon reds, ocean blues, flower magentas and sun yellows, was carefully assembled for the attendees.
Moreno’s presentation was punctuated with anecdotal stories about the origins of some contemporary folk art. One artisan waking from days of a high fever began recreating animals from his delirious dreams. We know these creatures as alebriies. Originally made of paper mache, today, alebrijes can frequently be seen carved and painted from twisted tree roots.
As the slide show progressed, we learned how papier mache, fired and unfired clay, carved wood, and stone are the sculptural mediums used by artisans. Supernatural creatures, scenes of villagers chatting in groups and going about their daily lives or the Virgin de Guadalupe enshrined in the Tree of Life, were some of the figures shown. He also showed examples of complex tepetes, traditional wool blankets or rugs, woven with vivid earthen hues of natural dyes contrasted with the coarsely woven fiber petates, so popular as floor mats even today in rural villages.
McAninch Arts Center FRIDA Exhibit Connects Crafts to Fine Art
The connection between fine art and these traditional crafts was the center of the lecture. This lecture is a prelude to the upcoming Frida Kahlo exhibit at McAninch Arts Center . Frida Kahlo was one of the key players in the popularizing of the artisans, as were, Diego Rivera, Siqueiros, Tina Modotti, and a host of other 20th Century painters, sculpturers and photographers. Artisans’ works went from objects in the backgrounds of their art to subjects even influencing how some of their figures were drawn. Nelson Rockefeller, was one of the famous early collectors of the artisan’s works.
A broad array of contemporary artisans’ work was made very accessible for the public that might not otherwise be familiar with Latin American Folk Art. In this writer’s opinion, curator Moreno was knowledgeable and gave the lecture in a very conversational fashion. Following the lecture, he was on hand to answer questions and provided specific details requested by the audience.
If you have some background in Latin American Art, this lecture may have covered material you were already acquainted with. On the other hand, if the viewer is, like this writer, a lover of Latin American Art,you can never spend too much time with artists’ works.
This was the first of several lectures scheduled in conjunction with the Frida Kahlo exhibit, FRIDA TIMELESS, at the McAninch Art Center, Cleve Carney Museum of Art, June 5, 2021-September 6, 2021. These lectures are being streamed virtually from February through May 2021.