Revolution on Paper: Mexican Prints 1910 – 1960

Supported by The Monument Trust and the Mexico Tourism Board

22 October 2009 – 5 April 2010
Room 90
Admission free

The exhibition will be the first in Europe focusing on the great age of Mexican printmaking in the first half of the twentieth century.

Between 1910 and 1920 the country was convulsed by the first socialist revolution, from which emerged a strong left-wing government that laid great stress on art as a vehicle for promoting the values of the revolution. This led to a pioneering programme to cover the walls of public buildings with vast murals, and later to setting up print workshops to produce works for mass distribution and education. All the prints in the exhibition come from the British Museum’s collection which has been acquired thanks to the generosity of the Aldama Foundation, Dave and Reba Williams and The Art Fund.

Some of the finest of these prints were produced by the three great men of Mexican art of the period known as ‘los tres grandes’: Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros. The best-known print is Rivera’s Emiliano Zapata and his horse which has achieved iconic status in twentieth century Mexican art. Other prints including Rivera’s portrait of Frida Kahlo, Siqueiros’ Dama Negra, Orozco’s The Masses, demonstrate the extraordinary breadth, imagination, and quality of the works shown. In addition to the Los Tres Grandes, many other artist were involved and rose to prominence, especially after the founding of the Taller del Gráfica Popular (TGP) in Mexico City in 1937. The range of material is fascinating: as well as single-sheet artists’ prints, there are large posters with designs in woodcut or lithography by these same artists, and illustrated books on many different themes. The exhibition will also include earlier works around the turn of the century by the popular printmaker, José Guadalupe Posada, who was adopted by the revolutionaries as the archetypal printmaker who worked for the people, and whose macabre dances of skeletons have always fascinated Europeans.

Printmakers in Mexico often belonged to groups, societies and movements which were underpinned by their commitment to politics. The earliest movement was Stridentism, an avant garde group which was launched 1921 and was similar to the Italian Futurist movement because it rejected the past. The Taller de Gráfica Popular (TGP) was formed in 1937 by Luis Arenal, Leopoldo Méndez and Pablo O’Higgins as a graphic arts workshop which was influenced by communism. TGP members had access to printing equipment at the workshop and did not need to have artistic training. The collective produced prints for posters, flyers and portfolios which were printed on cheap paper. Their prints often supported the campaigns of trade and workers unions in Mexico. For example, Pablo O’Higgins and Alberto Beltrán collectively made a poster advertising the first Latin American Petrol Workers conference. The TGP was also particularly committed to the fight against international Fascism. Angel Bracho’s striking red and black poster, Victoria! (1945), which celebrates the allied victory over the Nazi’s in 1945, is a key example of the TGP’s anti-Fascist stance. Other printmakers addressed subjects such as corruption, capitalism and Mexican daily life in their prints.

In 1957, the TGP held a major exhibition at the Fine Arts Palace in Mexico City to celebrate its twentieth anniversary as a printmaking collective and its activity continues even today on a minor scale. Members of the TGP and other artists’ groups have published extensively in support of the visual arts. Other artists associated with the TGP went on to establish art schools, institutions or museums.

The exhibition is supported by The Monument Trust and the Mexico Tourism Board. The exhibition will tour to three venues across the UK after it closes at the British Museum.

For further information or images please contact Esme Wilson on +44 (0)20 7323 8394 or ewilson@britishmuseum.org

Note to editors

  • In September 2010 the exhibition will travel to three venues across the UK after its closure at the British Museum. Details to follow. The tour is organised under the British Museum’s Partnership UK scheme. 
  • A beautifully illustrated catalogue will accompany the exhibition. Published by British Museum Press and priced £25.
  • As important as the period of Mexican history that this exhibition is covering, is the inspiration that the revolution gave to the artists displayed in this exhibition. They lived through this time and as such their art has become a part of the history of Mexico and the world.  We at the Mexico Tourism Board are very proud to support this exhibition.
  • The Department of Prints and Drawings: The Department cares for the national collection of prints and drawings, all of which are accessible to the public through its Students’ Room and through changing exhibitions and loans around the UK and abroad. The collection comprises approximately 60,000 drawings and over two and a half million prints dating from the beginning of the fifteenth century to the present day. More than one million works from the collection are searchable online, 321,000 of them with images.
  • The Art Fund is the UK’s leading independent art charity. It offers grants to help UK museums and galleries enrich their collections; campaigns on behalf of museums and their visitors; and promotes the enjoyment of art.  It is entirely funded from public donations and has 80,000 members. Since 1903 the charity has helped museums and galleries all over the UK secure 860,000 works of art for their collections. The Art Fund also acts as a conduit for lifetime gifts and bequests of works of art to UK museums and galleries, and since 1903 more than 60,500 objects have entered public collections through this route
  • The Aldama Foundation was set up by two collectors who regularly spend time in Mexico, where they have acquired a wide range of prints and illustrated books. Last year, through The Art Fund, they presented the British Museum with a collection of 16 Mexican posters, created between 1938 and 1954. The prints are by Alberto Beltran, Ángel Bracho, Arturo García Bustos, Jesus Escobedo, Leopoldo Méndez, Francesco Mora, Pablo O’Higgins, Isidoro Ocampo and Alfredo Zalce, a selection of which are included in Revolution on Paper:  Mexican Prints 1910-1960 .
  • Zapata by Diego Rivera was acquired for the British Museum thanks to a 100% grant of £25,061 from The Art Fund. For more information contact the Press Office on 020 7225 4888 or visit www.artfund.org . The Art Fund is a Registered Charity No. 209174