Mexico City is Number One on the New York Times recommended travel destinations. CDMX has it all, they say, and I agree. This is probably the tenth time I’ve been here in the last two years for the art history study tour I organize, Looking for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
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I always stay in the Centro Historico around the Zocalo where it is safe, pedestrian friendly, filled with art and archeology treasures and amazing restaurants with innovative menus. First-time visitors say they join me on this study tour as an orientation to one of the biggest cities in the world.
Important and well-known CDMX destinations are the Diego Rivera murals in the Palacio Nacional and Bellas Artes. Few dig deeper into the murals at the Secretariat de Educacion Publico (SEP) and the Mercado Abelardo Rodriguez.
The Rivera murals at SEP were among his first after returning from European art study for over ten years. These were painted between 1923 and 1928. Now famous, Rivera attracted a cadre of student assistants to sketch and paint.
One of these was Pablo O’Higgins, a 20-year old Utah-born American artist who was attracted to the ideals of the Mexican Revolution and migrated to Mexico City in 1924 where he became a student of Diego Rivera.
We search out O’Higgins frescoes at the Abelardo Rodriguez market. They are well-hidden in a not-so-easy-to-access patio in a colonial building next to the market. Rivera was offered a commission to paint the murals in this then new city market built in 1934. Too busy with other work, he proposed that his students do the project and agreed to supervise it.
O’Higgins was also a printmaker and co-founder of Taller de Graphica Popular, an artists’ print collective that created sociopolitical art to renounce fascism and imperialism. Mexico has a deep relationship with the graphic arts and it’s alive and well in both Mexico City and Oaxaca, today.
There are four large O’Higgins mural panels in this area that deserve attention, which is why it is included in our art history study tour. As a disciple of Rivera, O’Higgins learned from the master’s style and then created his own. Rivera said if he ever had a son, he wanted him to be like Pablo O’Higgins.
Today, while visiting the Museo Mural de Diego Rivera that holds the fresco Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda, we were surprised with a special exhibition of Pablo O’Higgins’ work there, too. The second floor of the exhibition features a commentary about his work by art historians, fellow artists, and his wife Maria.
As one of Rivera’s top disciples, it’s fitting that O’Higgins is recognized with an exhibition in the Rivera mural museum. Perhaps the government will find a way to begin preserving his murals and those of the other students’ work at the market and other locations around the city.
Who painted at the Abelardo Rodriguez Market?
- Pablo O’Higgins
- Marion Greenwood
- Grace Greenwood Ames
- Isamu Noguchi
- Antonio Pujol
- Angel Bracho
- Pedro Rendon
- Ramon Alva Guadarrama
- Raul Gamboa
Market fresco themes were health, nutrition, quality organic food produced by labor recognized for their contributions to physical well-being, fair compensation and working conditions.
At the Dolores Olmedo Museum: Pablo O’Higgins Prints
The entire Frida Kahlo permanent exhibition of paintings at the Dolores Olmedo Patiño Museum in Mexico City is on loan to the Faberge Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, until April 30.
We discovered this last Sunday as we made our afternoon visit as part of the Looking for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera Art History Tour. Disappointed? Yes.
But, the Rivera galleries were intact and we were treated to a special exhibition of Pablo O’Higgins lithographs in the space that usually holds Frida’s work.
Pablo O’Higgins, one of Diego Rivera’s most talented disciples, participated in the making of Rivera murals in the public education building, and then painted his own at the Abelardo Rodriguez market.
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He is an enigma to many. He changed his name from Paul Higgins Stevenson (there is even controversy about his real original name) when he arrived in Mexico at age 20 to obscure his upper-class family origins and identity. His father, a conservative lawyer participated in the death sentence of miner and labor organizer Joe Hill.
Writer Susan Vogel addresses the question of his identity in her book, Becoming Pablo O’Higgins: How an Anglo-American Artist from Utah Became a Mexican Muralist.
The character of O’Higgins is fascinating if not fully articulated. Here is a blonde, blue-eyed giant among the Mexican working-class, painting and drawing powerful images of average daily life.
This exhibition, combined with the one at the Museo de Mural de Diego Rivera, shows the skill and directness of O’Higgins’ work. Real. Intense. Honest. Compelling.
So, ultimately, we were not disappointed. The visit was enhanced by this special exhibition.
I’m in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, now, and will be here for the month of April, taking care of legal and health care check-ups. (Don’t worry, all is well.)
On Friday evening, my artist friend, Hollie Taylor Novak, is opening an exhibition at the North Carolina Craft Gallery featuring her Frida Tributes. I’ll be writing more about that later.
Saludos from the state that needs to elect a new governor!
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Mexico City, Travel & Tourism, Workshops and Retreats
Tagged Abelardo Rodriguez market, art, Diego Rivera, fresco, history, lithographs, Mexican Muralism, Mexico, Mexico City, muralists, Pablo O'Higgins, painting, politics, prints, study tour