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Two Summer Exhibitions at Palmer Museum Highlight the Spirit of Mexico

on June 04, 2019 5:00 AM

UNIVERSITY PARK — The Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State announced the openings of two summer exhibitions that bring the rich visual culture of 20th-century Mexico to life.

"Under the Mexican Sky: A Revolution in Modern Photography," drawn from the significant private collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg, is the major exhibition for the season and is on view now through July 28. The exhibition is organized by art2art Circulating Exhibitions.

Following the upheaval of the Mexican Revolution from 1910 to 1920, Mexico City became a magnet for an international roster of prominent modernist photographers who used their cameras as tools to embrace social and political subjects, experiment with light and form, and represent or comment on modern life and its contrast to older, traditional methods and depictions.

“'Under the Mexican Sky' narrates the important story of modern photographers whose experience in Mexico in the mid-1920s transformed their work,” said Erin M. Coe, director of the Palmer Museum. “It also demonstrates the incredible cultural richness to be found across the border, not to mention the vital cross-cultural exchange that historically has been integral to the development of art in the 20th century.”

Included in the exhibition is the work of the noted photographer Edward Weston, who reinvented his approach to the medium of photography during his stay abroad in Mexico from 1923 to 1926. The soft-focus pictorialism of Weston’s studio portraiture of the previous decade gave way to a more direct understanding of form, shape and texture. Weston did not work in isolation, but alongside his partner, the Italian film star Tina Modotti, whose photographs evince both her communist political leanings and modernist sensibilities.

“These photographers significantly expanded the formal possibilities of the medium,” said Adam Thomas, curator of American art, who oversaw the installation of the exhibition at the Palmer. “They were deeply embedded in the cultural scene, and in some cases, the political scene, of Mexico.”

In addition to examining Weston’s and Modotti’s immersion in the artistic scene of Mexico in the 1920s, "Under the Mexican Sky: A Revolution in Modern Photography" features rare masterworks from the 1930s and 1940s by New Yorkers Helen Levitt and Paul Strand, Frenchman Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Mexico’s own Manuel Álvarez Bravo, whose work also is presented in a related exhibition, "Myth Meets Modernism: The Manuel Álvarez Bravo Portfolio," which opens at the Palmer on June 11.

Hand-selected by the artist in the late 1970s, the Álvarez Bravo portfolio includes 15 prints that span several decades and reveal the prodigious Mexican photographer’s career-long preoccupation with myth, folklore and death. Álvarez Bravo’s subjects, like those of his contemporaries, Modotti, Weston and Strand, are seen through a distinctly modernist lens. However, the photographer’s frequent juxtaposition of banal, everyday subjects set within the Mexican landscape yields complex, often enigmatic, compositions. Álvarez Bravo’s predilection for poetic language in the titles of his works only heightens the ambiguity of his photographs, while rooting his project within the ancient and modern artistic traditions of Mexico.

"Myth Meets Modernism" is on view through Aug. 4 and was curated by Keri Mongelluzzo, graduate assistant and doctoral candidate in art history at Penn State.

Related programming

Friday, June 7

Gallery Talk

"Under the Mexican Sky: A Revolution in Modern Photography"

12:10 p.m.

Adam Thomas, curator of American art

Friday, June 28

Gallery Talk

"Myth Meets Modernism: The Manuel Álvarez Bravo Portfolio"

12:10 p.m.

Keri Mongelluzzo, graduate assistant and doctoral candidate in art history

Sunday, July 7

Docent Choice Tour

"Exploring Images of Mexico"

Susan Hirth

2 p.m.,  Christoffers Lobby

Saturday, July 27

Family programs

Family Day: "Fun with Photos!" Noon to 3 p.m.

Enjoy a brief, family-friendly guided tour of "Under the Mexican Sky: A Revolution in Modern Photography," then explore a variety of photographic processes, including cyanotypes, photo transfers, and digital green-screen magic. Family Day at the Palmer is ideal for families with children ages 5 to 11, but all ages are welcome.

Tina Modotti, Campesinos (Workers' Parade), 1926, gelatin silver print, 8 3/8 x 7 1/2 inches. Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg

Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Carrizo y tele (Reed and Television), c. 1976, printed 1977, gelatin silver print, 6 13/16 x 9 3/16 inches. Gift of Mr. H. S. Arukian, 80.62.1.

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