Editors' pick: Originally published Nov. 14.
In 1932, the Mexican painter José Clemente Orozco travelled to Hanover, N.H., to lecture at Dartmouth College, where he painted the first piece of what became his mural "The Epic of American Civilization." Covering the walls of a room in Dartmouth's Baker-Berry Library, it offers a view of the history of the Western hemisphere that's as gorgeous as it is vicious. Its unlikely location in a stronghold of the American elite shows the fascination that artists such as Orozco exerted because of their radical political views and their compelling artistic vision. The Philadelphia Museum explores that combination in its special exhibition "Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism 1910-1950," which runs through January 8.
Like his contemporaries, Orozco was shaped by the Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910 and lasted for the next decade. When Álvaro Obregón took office as president in 1920, he tried to use the arts as a way of uniting the country. One result was the murals that Orozco, Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros painted both in Mexico and the U.S., which are represented in the show by a number of paintings and several digital projections, including one of "The Epic of American Civilization." It was an art as ideologically driven as it was artistically informed. Much of the work in the show recalls Goya's horrific vision of a society riven by bloodshed; in a more peaceful vein, Siqueiros's Peasants has the flowing strokes of a Van Gogh work.
Rivera spent the bulk of his time between 1906 and 1921 in Europe, where he absorbed a range of influences from El Greco to Cezanne, the Cubists and Picasso. The figures in Rivera's Liberation of the Peon have the classical simplicity of some of Picasso's early work, while their arrangement is that of a Pieta, a painting of Christ's deposition from the cross.