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Muralism without Walls
Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros in the United States, 1927–1940
Indych-López, Anna
Examines the introduction of Mexican muralism to the United States in the 1930s, and the challenges faced by the artists, their medium, and the political overtones of their work in a new society.
Anna Indych-López is associate professor of art history at The City College of New York and The Graduate Center, The City University of New York.
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Illuminations: Cultural Formations of the Americas Table of Contents
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The art of muralists Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros emerged after the violence of the Mexican Revolution. Beginning in the 1920s, promoters sought to bring the work of these artists to the U.S. public, who had acquired a newfound taste for Mexican culture. Muralism without Walls examines the introduction of Mexican muralism to the United States and seeks to account for the specific strategies and networks by which the muralists both engaged and resisted the broader fascination with “south of the border” culture.

Indych-López investigates the dynamics of cultural exchange for the artists and the viewing public. She analyzes the presentation of works by Los Tres Grandes in three influential exhibitions of the 1930s, probing critical reactions to the exhibitions, the visual strategies utilized to convey and downplay cultural nationalism, and how U.S. attitudes toward Mexican muralism evolved over time.

The presentation of muralism in the United States faced numerous ideological, logistical, and aesthetic challenges. Perceptions of Mexican cultural identity as rural and folkloric initially skewed the reception of the politicized, vanguard art of the muralists. And the reinterpretation of murals in entirely new media (small-scale portable frescoes, paintings, prints, photographs, and drawings) intersected with debates in the United States and Latin America about the role of public art in society. Indych-López reveals that despite the tendency of U.S. institutions to attempt a stifling of the revolutionary and panoramic power of the work, the museum-going public still held expectations for political content from the muralists.

Although Mexican culture is often used as a tool for diplomacy in the United States, this study reinserts the work of the muralists into the broader story of international modernism. Muralism without Walls opens a new perspective on the cultural politics of modern Mexico and the United States and the ways in which muralism fashioned Mexican modernity.

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“Examining exhibitions and works by Los Tres Grandes, Indych-López brilliantly shapes a new vision of the relationship between cultural nationalism and pan-Americanism on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. In a welcome shift, Muralism without Walls bridges the old opposition between abstraction and figuration, and reveals the complex forms of Mexican modernism's political intervention into global modernity.”—Esther Gabara, Duke University

“The author has carved out a most necessary topic of inquiry from the larger field of Mexican muralism and has taken full intellectual possession of it. We learn much about the complex infrastructure of art and politics in the United States, especially in terms of the different sorts of patronage and critical reception to Mexican art. The bigger question of how nationalisms play out in a growing internationalist definition of modern life and modern art is presented in a truly persuasive manner.”—Leonard Folgarait, Vanderbilt University

“Essential. A crucial book for anyone interested in the cultural exchanges between Mexico and the U.S.”—Choice

“Indych-Lopez’s research is first-rate. She is ‘au courant’ with the latest literature on the movement. The book’s ample illustrations crisply illuminate her thesis.”—Art Libraries Society of North America

“An invaluable contribution to the burgeoning literature on Mexican muralism.”—A Contra corriente

“Scholars and students of art history, museum studies, U.S. foreign relations, and post-revolutionary Mexico will appreciate Indych-Lopez’s nuanced explanation of the changing perceptions of Mexican modern art in the United States during the 1930s.”—The Latin Americanist

“An exemplary work of art historical scholarship.”—Hispanic American Historical Review


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