Tag Archives: art history

Mexican Muralists Envision New Nation Post-Revolution

Art history is a fascinating way to learn more about Mexico and the figures who shaped the nation — political, social, cultural. Through their interpretation of characters and events, the famed muralists — Diego Rivera, David Alfara Siqueiros, and Jose Clemente Orozco — gave definition to a new nation seeking to redefine itself post-1920 Revolution. We call this Mexican Muralism.

Mexico City skyline with active volcano Popocatepetl in distance
Marion Greenwood mural, circa 1934, Abelardo Rodriguez Market

While I’m now in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, I’m reflecting back to last weekend in Mexico City, where, in collaboration with my art historian friend Valeria, we led a group of nine participants from the USA through the historic center. Here is where a turbulent history is interpreted through art. We started on Thursday evening and ended on Sunday afternoon, packing it in, walking miles each day, absorbing a fascinating evolution.

Rivera mural at SEP, circa 1923-1928
Orozco’s bleak worldview, Colegio San Ildefonso

Mexico is defined by many internal and external forces, mostly her on-going desire to reconcile the Spanish conquest with her indigenous origins. Embracing Mestizaje — blending indigenous roots with conquerors, occupiers and immigrants, is what makes Mexico unique among nations, and very different from her northern neighbors.

At Colegio San Ildefonso, Orozco mural Cortes and La Malinche
Rivera’s idyllic Aztec landscape, another worldview

Rivera, who sat out the 1910-1920 Revolution, painting and making a name for himself in Europe, returned to Mexico City in 1921. Jose Vasconcelos, the first minister of education, recruited Rivera to paint the murals at the Secretariat de Educacion Publica (SEP), his first commission.

Unfinished Siquieros mural, SEP — newest building near Plaza Santa Domingo

The murals of Rivera, Orozco and Siquieros are commentaries on national identity, statehood, oppression and power. The Rivera murals at SEP in particular were part of a national communication plan (aka propaganda) to embrace native culture and arts. Critics say Rivera’s murals are romantic and idealistic. His contemporaries, survivors of the Revolution, painted a more hopeless, violent vision, expressing their belief that the past must be destroyed in order to create a new order.

Mazahua vendor at Casa Azul
Orozco’s interpretation of death of the old order

By Sunday, we move more deeply into the life and times of Frida Kahlo with a visit to Casa Azul, a stark contrast to the muralists.

Frida Kahlo was born in 1907, the year Rivera went to Europe as a young man. During her lifetime she was dwarfed literally and figuratively by her imposing husband. It wasn’t until after her death in 1954 at age 47, that she became the iconic figure she is today — representing women’s strength, pain, fortitude, perseverance, endurance.

1953 self-portrait, injured areas in 1925 accident, 22 lifetime operations

We revere her because her art is self-expression. She painted emotion and the internal life. She was a participant, not an observer. She hid her deformities under extraordinary handmade Mexican clothing — popularizing the style, corseted beneath to hold her injured spine erect. Andre Breton called her surrealist. We call her survivor.

Who needs feet when I have wings to fly
Juan O’Gorman designed Frida’s Casa Azul studio, a window on the garden

Our art history tour weaves the relationship between Diego and Frida with the times in which they lived and worked. We also examine the politics of Socialism and Communism in Mexico, how the Rivera’s gave sanctuary to Leon Trotsky, the idealism of young American artists like Pablo O’Higgins, Isamu Noguchi, and the Greenwood sisters — Marion and Grace, who were drawn to the movement. We see their deteriorating murals in an obscure market blocks from the city center.

Murals behind the chicharrones, Abelardo Rodriguez Market
Water-damaged, deteriorating Pablo O’Higgins mural, Mexico City
Frida’s last signed painting before she died, 1954

We understand Mexico more now, how the creative stream of artistic energy here continues to express social and political inequalities, injustices, and discontent.

Manuel Rodriguez Lozano 1945 mural, The Holocaust, at Downtown
Lunch break at Restaurant El Mayor, poached salmon with fresh corn salsa

Here in Oaxaca, our beloved Maestro Francisco Toledo, carried the mantle of social justice art until he died in September 2019. Young graphic artists follow in the footsteps of the masters, use wood, linoleum block and metal plates to carve out images of truth to power. Mexico offers creative opportunity to any and all who choose to express themselves.

Our October 2019 group at Casa Azul
Beneath Metropolitan Cathedral lies unexcavated Aztec city

Note: If you put together a group of 5-6 people, I am happy to organize this experience over a long weekend in Mexico City.

Diego Rivera’s experiment with Cubism, 1910-1920
Sculptor/muralist Isamu Naguchi is ardent anti-Fascist, installation
at Abelardo Rodriguez Market

Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera: Mexico City Art History Tour, October 2019

Arrive October 17 and depart October 21, 2019

We have not offered this program since 2017. Now is your chance to register and explore the lives of Frida and Diego through their art. One space open. Click on this link and then contact me: norma.schafer@icloud.com

Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera 2019

Details, Another View of Frida Kahlo at Casa Azul

In the last three years, I’ve probably visited Casa Azul, where Frida Kahlo was born and lived with Diego Rivera, over ten times. I come because I organize the art history study tour, Looking for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

Frida Kahlo Calderon, daughter of Jewish Hungarian father and Oaxaquena mother

Can you get to Mexico City next weekend?

On this latest visit last Friday with a group from Australia and New Zealand, I served as a consultant for their leader who wanted a one-day quick immersion into Frida’s life for her group.

Frida’s father and mother, her portrait of them

I wondered: How do I continue to take photos of the same iconographic details of Frida and Diego’s life?  The paint brushes. The photographs. The furniture. The folk art collection.

Detail of studio paint brushes, her strokes became weaker at the end

The pre-Hispanic ceramics and lava rock sculpture. The clothing. The frog urn that contains her ashes. The paintings she created out of pain. Reverence. Disappointment. Courage. Commitment to love and family. Passion.

Watermelons. Celebration of Life. Finished just before death.

Go to the details, I told myself. Captures the parts, not the whole. Focus on the brush strokes. The lace. The color. The shadows and reflections. The images of the men and women she loved.

Colored oil crayons, still neatly boxed, waiting. Ready.

Go to the details. Find the ribbons. Find the ribs of the plant leaves. The shape of flowers. The accoutrements of the corsets and built-up shoes to hide her deformities. The textures and reflections.

Palm ribs in the expansive garden, Casa Azul

She put such a strong, uplifting face to the world despite her injuries — physical and emotional.

She called Diego “Toad” and “Panza” — ashes contained within the frog jug.

This trip to Casa Azul was different for me and I used the experience to examine the infinite, small parts of life that we often scan over to take in the big picture.

Visceral, the insides of a gourd, like a fertile womb ready to give seed. But she couldn’t.

If you want to join me in Mexico City, Thursday, July 29, for a July 30 morning start to a three-day immersion into the murals, paintings and lives of Friday and Diego, there is a space for you. It’s so easy to fly in and out!

Lover, sculptor Isamu Noguchi, in Mexico

Why is Frida Kahlo an icon? Perhaps you would like to help me answer this question.

Supported by a frame, a corset, exposed, bare and barren.

What does she represent for women who aspire to be independent, strong, feminine and vulnerable?

Painting from a wheel chair, Casa Azul

She hid her misshapen body beneath glorious hand-woven and embroidered dresses, put her best foot and face forward. Persevered and thrived.

Loved by photographer Nicolas Murry. She was devoted to Diego.

Today, she is more famous, more revered than Diego Rivera because she exposed herself and revealed the internal, damaged self.

Frida refused to let her polio define her, though she wore a brace, sturdy shoes.

Andre Breton called her Mexico’s surrealist painter. She is more than that. Surrealism conjures up Salvador Dali and the distortions he saw in life. Frida reflected on her own distortions and created beauty from them.

Saludos, Norma

On the bus, a fateful day of destruction and a lifetime of reconstruction

Would Frida have become the painter she did without having suffered the trolley car accident that sent a metal spear through her uterus?

Frida Kahlo, 1907-1954

Self-portrait, through Frida Kahlo’s looking glass

Sometimes courage requires that we each put one foot in front of the other to move forward, despite set-backs. We love Frida Kahlo because through her story she teaches us that life requires risk, innovation, and that being afraid is part of our existence.

Painted gourd adorns kitchen table in Casa Azul

When Frida died, Diego Rivera wanted to establish a museum to honor her. She was not yet recognized. He convinced his friend, Dolores Olmedo, to invest in purchasing Frida’s paintings and Casa Azul.

Closet where Frida’s belongings were sealed for 50 years

But, he made her promise not to open the green closet door, where clothing, diaries and photos remained secreted for fifty years.

In 2006, the closet was opened and art history was rewritten.

The garden at Casa Azul

Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera in Mexico City: Art History Study Tour,

Arrive Thursday, October 17 and depart Monday, October 21, 2019. Space available for 4 people. Cost is $795 per person. (Does not include lodging)

Come to Mexico City to explore the lives of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera through their art. This is in-depth art history education at its best! We offer you a narrated, leisurely cultural immersion that you can miss if you visit on your own. Our expert guide is a bi-lingual Mexican art historian! Come solo, with a partner or friend. Norma Schafer participates in all programs. Small group size limited to 10 people for quality experience.

We will send you the zocalo area meeting location after you register.

 

Arrive by 4 p.m. and meet for a group dinner on Thursday at 7 p.m. We will have a long weekend — three full days —  to learn about Diego Rivera‘s stunning Mexico City murals, visit Casa Azul where Diego and Frida Kahlo lived, and see the largest private collection of their work at the Dolores Olmedo Museum.

Man Controller of the Universe mimics destroyed Rockefeller Center mural

Through their eyes, you will better understand Mexico’s political, cultural and social history, and their personal lives together. Theirs is a story of Mexico’s development as a post-revolutionary modern nation.

If you want to register, send me an email.

A few little nips

A few little nips — Frida painted this after Rivera’s affair with her sister

This is an incredible experience! The Rivera murals at the Secretary of Public Education building were like nothing I expected. The scale, the intensity, the variation of themes, the continual flow of connecting  vignettes – just mind blowing! It isn’t just an art tour. It is an intense immersion into the beginning of an art movement, a cultural movement, and a culmination of historic events that come alive. — Christine Bouton, North Carolina

 

Our expert guide is a noted art historian who holds a master’s degree in art history. She will soon begin a doctoral program. She shares her passion for the Mexican Muralists, narrates the expedition, and leads us through these spaces to give you the most meaningful educational experience:

  • Palacio Nacional
  • Palacio Bellas Artes
  • Museo de Mural de Diego Rivera
  • Secretaria de Educacion Publica (SEP)
  • San Ildefonso National Preparatory School
  • Abelardo Rodriguez market
  • Casa Azul — the home of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo
  • Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño

MuralsSEP+Best81-28 

Yes, you can visit these places independently. But it’s not likely you will get the same in-depth knowledge, insights, and perspectives we offer.

 

She called him toad. He was 20 years older. They were passionate about life, politics, each other. They shaped the world of modern art and she became an icon in her own right, creating an independent identity that serves as a role model for women. They were twice married and unfaithful, the subjects of books and film, and art retrospectives around the world.

Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Park mural covers 500 years of Mexican history

Rivera’s Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Park

 

Rivera’s mural at the Palacio Nacional (National Palace) covers detailed Mexican history, from pre-Hispanic America to the Spanish Conquest through industrialization, including the French and U.S. invasions, from 1521 to 1930.

David Alfaro Sequieros, Rivera rival, painted this mural at Palacio Bellas Artes

David Alfaro Sequieros, Rivera rival;  Palacio Bellas Artes mural

Plus, you will have lots of options for independent exploration: shop for outstanding folk art, and eat at local markets, historic and fine contemporary and traditional restaurants! Visit the Anthropology Museum.

Lunch at the gourmet Mercado San Juan

Lunch at the gourmet market, Mercado San Juan

See our reviews on Trip Advisor!

Base Trip Includes:

  • welcome dinner at renown restaurant Azul Historico
  • guided discussions by an expert, bilingual art historian educated at UNAM and graduate Southern Methodist University
  • introduction to Norma’s favorite restaurants (meals not included) and folk art galleries
  • transportation to Casa Azul and Dolores Olmedo Museum
  • complete travel packet and readings sent in advance via email

DiegoFrida4Group2-5 copy 

Preliminary Itinerary

  • Day 1, Thursday:  Meet for group dinner at 7 p.m. at an excellent zocalo area. Dinner included in your tour cost. Overnight in Mexico City.
  • Day 2, Friday: guided visit to SEP, Colegio de San Idlefonso, where Diego met Frida, and the Abelardo Rodriguez market where Rivera’s students, including Pablo O’Higgins, painted. Lunch and dinner on your own. Includes museum admission fees. Overnight in Mexico City.

One of 125 Rivera painted at SEP, 1923-28

One of 125 Rivera painted at SEP, 1923-28, this one mocking the bourgeoisie

  • Day 3, Saturday: guided visit to Palacio Bellas Artes and Museo Mural de Diego Rivera. Optional folk art shopping or visit to Anthropology Museum. Lunch and dinner on your own. Includes museum admission fees. Overnight in Mexico City.

Palacio Bellas Artes built during Porfirio Diaz presidency

Palacio Bellas Artes built during the 30-year Porfirio Diaz presidency

  • Day 4, Sunday:  guided visit to Casa Azul and Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño. Includes transportation, admission fees. Lunch included.
  •  Overnight in Mexico City.
  • Depart on Monday for home or extend your visit.

The oldest street in Mexico next to the Palacio Nacional

The oldest street in Mexico next to the Palacio Nacional looks like Europe

Be ready to WALK and then, walk some more!  Don’t forget to bring an extra suitcase to pack treasures you pick up along the way.

  • Cost is $795 per person for the tour package.
  • Cost DOES NOT include lodging
  • Includes all art history, city transportation, museum admission fees, selected meals as specified in the itinerary

Please make your own lodging arrangements, reserve and pay your hotel directly. You are asked to book your hotel in the Historic Center of Mexico City within walking distance to the Zocalo. We recommend Hotel Catedral or Chill Out Flat or El Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico. 

Tiffany glass ceiling at El Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico

Tiffany ceiling, El Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico

What the cost does not  include:

  • hotel accommodations/lodging
  • meals except noted in itinerary, alcoholic beverages
  • transportation to/from Mexico City
  • mandatory international health/accident insurance
  • tips for hotels, meals and other services

MuralsSEP+Best81-22 MuralsSEP+Best81-21MuralsSEP+Best81-24 

You might like to arrive early to stay later to discover Mexico City and her incredible museums and restaurants. We will give you a list  of recommendations to explore on your own.

Katharsis, 1934 mural by Jose Clemente Orozco, Palacio Bellas Artes

Katharsis, 1934 mural by Jose Clemente Orozco, Palacio Bellas Artes

Reservations and Cancellations.  Full payment is requested to reserve.   We will send you an itemized invoice using Square. You can use your credit card. It’s easy.

If you cancel on or before September 1, 2019, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

Frida died July 12, 1954 not long after she painted these watermelons

Frida died July 13, 1954, at age 47, soon after she painted these watermelons

Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance:  We require that you carry international accident/health/emergency evacuation insurance.  Proof of insurance must be sent at least one month before departure.  Unforeseen circumstances happen!

 

To register, email us at norma.schafer@icloud.com. We accept payment with Square only. Thank you.

Frida’s sketchbook & journal; notice the deformed leg from childhood polio.

This workshop is produced by Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  We reserve the right to adjust the itinerary and substitute leaders without notice.

A note to Frida from Diego two years after her death … “you live in my heart.”

Paint brushes in Frida’s studio at Casa Azul, exactly as she left them

Artist Hollie Taylor Creates Frida Kahlo Retablos

At Casa Azul in Coyoacan, Mexico City, one of the largest collections of folk art ex-votos (also called retablos) hangs along with pre-Columbian art and memorabilia collected by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

Ex-voto in Casa Azul, the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City

Traditional ex-voto/retablo in Casa Azul, the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City

They were avid supporters of artists who had no formal training but who represented the naive, populist art of Mexico.

I am broken but I am happy. Frida Kahlo Retablo by Hollie Taylor

Ex-votos are small devotional paintings that offer thanks or prayers to a saint for a gift granted, wish fulfilled or for good health. It usually includes a hand-written note of gratitude at the bottom of the painting.

After a foot amputation, Kahlo gave us this inspiration, interpreted by Hollie Taylor

Hollie Taylor is a North Carolina artist who loves Mexico and Frida Kahlo. On Friday, April 8, the North Carolina Crafts Gallery in Carrboro, hosts an opening reception for Hollie and artist colleague Madelyn Smoak from 6-9 p.m., Dreaming of Frida: Hollie & Madelyn at Casa Azul. 

Frida Kahlo Retablo by Hollie Taylor Novak

Hollie has  adapted the ex-voto concept to offer thanks to Frida for her courage, strength, femininity, resolve and creativity by creating Frida Retablos. These are small devotional wall plaques with many of the icons and sayings that represent Frida Kahlo.

Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera in Mexico City Art History Study Tour

Kahlo studio at Casa Azul

Kahlo studio at Casa Azul, just as she left it

As we know, Frida’s health issues — childhood polio and a debilitating accident at age 18 that rendered it impossible for her body to carry a child — defined her and shaped her art. French artist Andre Breton named her a surrealist, a brand she refuted.

I paint because I need to. Frida Kahlo Retablo by Hollie Taylor

She was a woman who painted her emotions and that is what makes her a great artist. We can identify with her pain, passion and joy.

I paint self-portraits because. Frida Kahlo Retablos by Hollie Taylor

Hollie captures the spirit of Frida Kahlo in the retablos she created for this show. At the gallery, the retablos are offered at $58 USD.

Shrine to Frida Kahlo by Hollie Taylor

Shrine to Frida Kahlo by Hollie Taylor

You can order your retablo from Hollie at a direct-from-artist price.  They are lightweight, ready for hanging, made from collected objects on hand-painted rice-paper covered foam core.

Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera in Mexico City Art History Study Tour

Hollie also teaches retablo workshops in her Chapel Hill home studio. Email her at hollietaylorart@icloud.com her for details about ordering and scheduling a workshop.

Hollie Taylor Novak, mixed media artist

Hollie Taylor Novak, mixed media artist