Photography in Mexico from the Collection of SFMOMA

Apr 16, 2015 - Jun 14, 2015

Lourdes Grobet, Ponzoña, Arena Coliseo, ca. 1983; gelatin silver print; 14 x 11 in.; Collection SFMOMA, gift of Jane and Larry Reed; © Lourdes Grobe
        
 Graciela Iturbide, La Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas,    Juchitán, Oaxaca, México (Our Lady of the Iguanas, Juchitán,  Oaxaca, México), 1979; Collection SFMOMA, gift of the    artist; © Graciela Iturbide
April 16 - June 14, 2015 - When the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art closed its doors in June of 2013 to undergo a three year expansion project, “SFMOMA On the Go” was launched. The unprecedented program is aimed at presenting exhibits throughout California while the Museum’s expansion is under way.  Photography in Mexico is part of a statewide tour drawn from SFMOMA’s internationally acclaimed photography collection. Since 2013, Photography in Mexico has traveled to the Bakersfield Museum of Art and the Sonoma County Museum. The Haggin Museum is the tour’s final venue.

Featuring approximately 65 photographs, Photography in Mexico reveals a distinctively rich and diverse tradition of photography in Mexico. The show begins with works from the medium’s first artistic flowering in the wake of the Mexican Revolution (1910–20) and goes on to explore the explosion of the illustrated press at midcentury, the documentary investigations of cultural traditions and urban politics that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, and more recent considerations of urban life and globalization.
As arts and  culture flourished in Mexico after the Revolution, many European and American artists were drawn to the country. Among them were Edward Weston and Tina Modotti, who arrived in Mexico in 1923. Inspired by what they saw there, Weston and Modotti in turn motivated Mexican photographers to pursue the medium’s artistic possibilities; their influence helped provide Mexican photographers with confidence that art photography was a viable path. Hence, the exhibition opens with a selection of works made in Mexico by Modotti and Weston during the 1920s and 1930s.

One of the Mexican photographers encouraged by Modotti and Weston was Manuel Álvarez Bravo, who went on to become one of the most influential photographers and teachers in the country’s history, as well as a key figure in the broader international history of the medium. In considering Álvarez Bravo’s career, the exhibition illuminates the birth and development of a tradition of art photography in Mexico.

In mid-20th-century Mexico, as in the United States and Europe, earning an adequate income as an art photographer was an unlikely proposition. Instead, many photographers made a living through photojournalism, contributing to the numerous illustrated publications in circulation during this period. In the decades following the Revolution, there was great interest in traditional ways of life and in defining what it meant to be Mexican. Some photographers, such as Manuel Carrillo, created images documenting the nation’s traditions and celebrating its common people. Others, like Héctor García and Rodrigo Moya, rejected this sentimental approach, focusing instead on contemporary concerns and the political and social turbulence that continued to influence post-revolutionary Mexican life.

The late 1960s and 1970s saw the rise of critical theory and a new interest in investigating the nature of photography as a medium; in Mexico as elsewhere, there were more opportunities to study photography and to pursue noncommercial projects. A number of Mexican photographers, such as Lourdes Grobet, Graciela Iturbide, Pedro Meyer, and Pablo Ortiz Monasterio, created extended documentary series. Iturbide lived among indigenous people and recorded the details of their daily lives; Grobet focused on wrestling and the cultural concept of the mask; Ortiz Monasterio captured gritty, dystopian views of Mexico City.

​Since the 1990s, the attention of many Mexican photographers has turned away from cultural traditions and rural landscapes and toward the cities and suburbs where many Mexicans now live. The exhibition closes with works by Alejandro Cartagena, Pablo López Luz, Daniela Rossell, and Yvonne Venegas that reflect this interest in the changing social landscape, looking at wealth and class, urbanization and land use, and the effects of the globalized economy. The exhibition draws extensively on  recent gifts from Los Angeles collectors Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser. Exhibition texts are presented in English and Spanish.     

Business in a Newly Built Suburb in Juárez,  Suburbia Mexicana, 2009; Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase; © Alejandro Cartagena

Photography in Mexico from the Collection of SFMOMA is organized by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition is made possible by a grant from The James Irvine Foundation and by Bank of America.


                                     
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