Orozco is not here for your hot potato of Mexicanism

I’m knee deep in thesis writing. It’s crunch time. I have two weeks to get my final draft in before the final revisions are undertaken. All this to say, I haven’t had much time to update on the blog, but I did want to share this excellent letter I came across from José Clemente Orozco to Jean Charlot, after Orozco had seen Rivera’s 1927 exhibition at the Wehye Gallery in New York. It’s seriously giving me life in these dark times.

“Diego Riveritch Romanoff is still very much of a threat to us. Deeply rooted is the idea that we all are his followers. To speak of ‘Indians,’ of ‘revolution,’ of ‘Mexican Renaissance,’ of ‘folk arts,’ of ‘santos,’ etc. … is all the same as to speak of Rivera. . . . Even the ‘syndicate’ (?), ‘proletariat,’ ‘Maximo Pacheco,’ ‘agrarians,’ etc. … all those terms are synonymous with Diegoff. Perforce, we must with every means at hand rid ourselves of this hot potato of Mexicanism of which Mrs. Paine and Anita Brenner are today the prophets.

“I heard that, up to now, people were kindly inclined towards things Mexican . . . but that is all ended with the Art Center show. I rejoice, should it mark the beginning of a new era, wherein each one would be appreciated at his own worth, rather than for the exotic-picturesque-renaissance-Mexican-Rivera-esque.

“The Mexican fashion or mode de Mexique, whatever you wish to call it, or more simply this joke, is over. Proof of it is the exhibition they gave Diegoff at the Gallery Wheye, so-called, or Wyhe. It is more like a bookstore . . . a sort of flea market in miniature where one may find some-thing of everything, even old irons. In season, their shows are at the rate of one every three days. You imagine the quality. One show was of Diegoff, and I saw there his cubist follies. One canvas had a toothbrush glued to it. Another was in the style of Zuloaga. Water colors there were, in the style of Cezanne.

“Of course, the newspapers reviewed the show kindly. They brought out the Mexican Renaissance, Indians, and the Revolution. They dubbed him ‘many-sided’ and ‘great man.’ Renaissance with a toothbrush!!!!!

“I doubt if he sold any.”

“As to potentate Rivera, here the problem is worse than in Mexico. The amount of publicity is incredible, and deeply rooted the idea that he is the great creator of everything, and that all others are his followers. Each time that one is introduced as ‘a painter from Mexico,’ they say, “Oh! then! You know the great Rivera, don’t you ?”‘

-Letter from Orozco to Jean Charlot, after attending Rivera’s exhibit at the Wehye Gallery in 1928.