One of the perks of having a day job shelving books at a library is that I get to spend a lot of time cruising those shelves, scanning lots and lots of books. Now and then, one grabs my attention and demands to be read. This was the case of Mexico's Revolutionary Avant-Gardes: From Estridentismo to ¡30-30! by Tatiana Flores. The cover, a detail from Fernando Leal's mural,The Feast of the Lord Chalma, intrigued me and triggered memories from the days when I read stacks of art books.
Decades later, I wasn't really clear about what Estridentismo and ¡30-30! were. But my art is suddenly getting attention, and I'm writing manifestos. Looks like a refresher course is in order.
Mexico's art has always been different. There's something about this continent that inspires art. It can be argued that avant-garde and postmodernism have existed there (here? Is that border still there?) for thousands of years. Like that talking statue that told the Chichimecs leave Aztlán to go searching for an eagle and snake fighting on a cactus on an island on a lake, to build Tenochtitlán, which is now the largest urban center on the planet. Things like that don't happen in the European tradtition.
Estridentismo came along in the 1920s, after the Revolution, as a reaction against academic art in the European tradition, not only trying to connect with an ancient past and a folkloric present, but to express what it's like to live in a modern, urban, technological Mexico. Almost futuristic, and like Italian Futurism, but without the facism.
It started with Manuel Maples Arce plastering the walls of Mexico City with his manifesto Actual No. 1, more like graffiti than the social media blitz that would happen today. Later they would try to reenvision Xalapa into Estridentópolis, parking and photographing a car on the steps of the cathedral in a precursor to performance art.
They also produced magazines, murals, prints, masks, as well as paintings and sculptures. They were trying to reach the public, instead of complaining about how the public is ignorant.
Grupo de Pintores ¡30-30! (named for the .30-.30 Winchester rifle that was popular during the revolution) came after Estridentópolis failed to materialize, and was lead by Ramón Alva de Canal, Fermin Revuletas, and Fernando Leal, who were also involved with Estridentismo. According to Tatiana Flores, “¡30-30! sought not just to destroy retrograde attitudes but to construct a progressive future.” They were mostly teachers and students of the open-air painting schools, and art education centers rebeling against academicism.
The tradition of revolution continued, and still continues today. The student rebels of the twenty-first century could learn a few things from this book, if only to look at the illustrations to steal some ideas.
Ernest Hogan stopped trying to be avant-garde a long time ago, but he gets called that anyway. And some of his drawings have sold in a gallery.