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Friday, July 27, 2012

Recent Acquisitions: Stanford Curator Seeks Mexican Works on Paper

Posted By on Fri, Jul 27, 2012 at 7:30 AM

Cultural institutions in San Francisco continually search for new acquisitions. Alexis Coe brings you the most important, often wondrous, sometimes bizarre, and occasionally downright vexing finds each week.

Elizabeth Mitchell had to have it.

The curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs was far from Palo Alto when she spotted something truly extraordinary in Manhattan. Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991) produced over 300 prints in his lifetime, but this was altogether different. Not only is Man and Woman one of Tamayo's earliest prints, but it's also one of his strongest.

Mitchell knew that Stanford's Cantor Center for Visual Arts already owned a few works by Tamayo, but they were color lithographs from the 1960s or later. While the black and white woodcut, measuring roughly 10 by 10 inches, will be an ideal addition to an exhibition planned for 2015, the curator is specifically interested in Mexican works on paper, as well as art by the Americans they influence.

"It is really unfortunate that Mexico tends to get compartmentalized or left out of the discourse of modernism," Mitchell explained, noting she has also recently acquired prints by Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. Modernist artists sought to shed the vestiges of the past, rejecting the conventions of representational art in favor of their own perspective, color, and composition. The history of modernism is complex, but tends to focus on Europe and America, often ignoring their interaction with Mexican artists.

  • Rufino Tamayo

Man and Woman stands in defiance of that narrative. Mitchell purchased the print from the Weyhe Gallery, the very same one that originally published Man and Woman in 1926. Tamayo was visiting New York at the time, and the print represents the "international abstraction he was encountering." In the woodcut, Tamayo seems to be reconciling that reality with his knowledge of Mexican pre-Columbian, indigenous, and modern art.

Mitchell names the print among her favorites "due to the raw strength of the forms -- the rough but also sensitive way he carved the block -- and the way in which the composition implies an emotionally charged story without being burdened by narrative details." A man stands in the center of the composition, but his gaze is fixed on the woman in front of him. Only he can see her face. The artist otherwise keeps her obscured, offering no more but her long hair and dress from the back. They stand in an open landscape near two agave plants, a mountain range in the background.

When asked who benefits from the acquisition, Mitchell answers definitively: Everyone. Man and Woman not only physically adds to the Cantor Center's Mexican and modernist holdings, but enhances our understanding of art in the 20th century. It will be on display in 2015, but students and visitors are welcome to request a viewing in the study room before then.

The Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts is located at 328 Lomita Drive (at Museum Way), Palo Alto. Visiting hours are Wednesday-Sunday, 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. On Thursdays, the museum is open until 8 p.m. Admission is free.

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook. Follow Alexis Coe on twitter @alexis_coe.
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