By Robrt L. Pela
By New Times
By New Times
By Robrt L. Pela
By Robrt L. Pela
By Katrina Montgomery
By New Times
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
But not all art produced during the Porfiriato was so Eurocentric. Provincial painters uninfluenced by academic painting of the era produced environmental portraits, Mexican landscapes and beautiful still lifes using exotic tropical fruits, everyday ceramics and picturesque native birds and flowers as subjects.
Anonymous artists created ex-votos, several of which are displayed in "South of the Border," albeit without any explanation. These small tin paintings were dedicated to various saints to give thanks for miraculous cures or intervention. Throughout the 19th and into the early 20th century, the walls of most churches throughout Mexico were covered with these tin tributes. And, most important, during the 1890s, Jose Guadalupe Posada, along with other less-well-known printmakers, was producing bawdy broadsides for the Day of the Dead, political caricatures satirizing both rich and poor, and cheap illustrated novellas and religious tracts. Posada's work eventually provided inspiration to a number of post-Revolutionary painters, including Diego Rivera, Jos‚ Clemente Orozco and Jean Charlot, who venerated Posada for being what Charlot claimed was the first truly Mexican artist. It was against this backdrop that Mexico entered one of the bloodiest periods of its history. When the smoke cleared and the last political shots had been fired, it was 1921. D¡az had been dethroned, Alvaro Obreg¢n was president, and a new generation of Mexican artists profoundly influenced by the revolutionary experience and the discovery of their own indigenous culture would make an indelible mark on art history.
The very presence of these artists, as well as the newly discovered treasures of Mexico's pre-Conquest past and its centuries-old folk-art tradition, lured many Americans south of the border.
@body:For years Americans had been discovering Mexico and the mysterious cultures of its ancient past through books and newspapers. The imaginations of America's armchair travelers were kindled by the absorbing, but often inflammatory and racially biased, accounts of this exotic destination. Literary treatment of Mexico's masses ranged from indulgent paternalism to outright bigotry.
Fanny Calder¢n de la Barca, the feisty Scottish wife of the first Spanish envoy to Mexico since its independence from Spain, delighted reading audiences with Life in Mexico, published in both London and Boston in 1842. Her colorful account of life in both urban and rural Mexico during her two-year tenure between 1839 and 1841 was an instant success.
In 1841, John Lloyd Stephens published his archaeological accounts in Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucat n, which was painstakingly illustrated with exotic drawings of abandoned Mayan ruins by Frederick Catherwood. William Prescott's History of the Conquest of Mexico soon followed in 1843, stoking the American imagination even further.
Unknown Mexico: Explorations in the Sierra Madre and Other Regions, 1890-1898, by Carl Lumholtz, the father of American archaeology, appeared in 1898. Lumholtz mesmerized his American readers with his perilous experiences among the cave-dwelling Tarahumara tribe of northern Mexico (illustrated with photographs of bare-breasted Tarahumara women), the Huichols of Jalisco and the Tarascos (now known by the Indian name of Purepecha) of Michoac n. Armed with a passport personally issued by Porfirio D¡az, Lumholtz had no compunction against taking pre-Columbian artifacts home with him, sometimes against the will of the indigenous people he was studying.
Travel books about Mexico and attractive tourism literature whetted the American appetite for the country's charms even more. But the "ugly American," whether resident alien or tourist, did not escape the critical glare of fellow countrymen living in Mexico during the Porfiriato, nor of post-Revolutionary Mexican artists. Mexico's Jos‚ Clemente Orozco and American artists Ren‚ d'Harnoncourt and Caroline Durieux would unleash their brushes against the invading American tourist hordes on a regular basis.
Viva Mexico, by Charles Macomb Flandrau, an American writer and Mexican coffee-plantation owner, was one of the few books to honestly describe the rather ugly nature of Americans in Mexico, including the American tourist, during the heyday of heavy U.S. investment in Mexico encouraged by the Porfirian regime.
"There are said to be about thirty thousand American residents in the Mexican Republic," writes Flandrau in the 1908 volume, "and the men pursue vocations ranging from that of tramp to that of president of great and successful business ventures. There are American doctors and dentists, brakemen, locomotive engineers, Pullman-car conductors, civil engineers, mining engineers, 'promoters,' grocers, hotel keepers, dealers in curios; there are American barkeepers, lawyers, stenographers, photographers, artists, clerks, electricians, and owners of ranches of one kind or another who grow cattle or coffee or vanilla or sugar or rubber. . . .
"An always interesting phase of the American in Mexico," Flandrau continues, "is the annual invasion of the country, from January to March, by immense parties of 'personally conducted' tourists from the United States . . . when on a tour to Mexico, [they] go out of their way to do things that make the very peons blush. . . . The least of their crimes is their suddenly acquired mania for being conspicuous. . . . "The effect that [American female tourists wearing sombreros and serapes, both usually only worn by rural Mexican men] produced upon the local mind was somewhat analogous to that which a party of Mexican ladies would produce upon the mind of New York should they decide to drive up Fifth Avenue wearing policemen's helmets and variegated trousers. Only Mexican women would never do the one, while American women frequently, from motives I am at a loss to account for, do the other."
After 1910, these genteel tourist forays into Mexico came to an abrupt halt because of fighting aimed at overthrowing the D¡az government. American newspapers and magazines fed stories and gruesome photographs to the American public about various Revolutionary personalities and skirmishes. At one point, American photographers were selling these grisly photographs as postcards to American soldiers stationed at the borders and in Veracruz, who in turn sent them to the folks back home in the States.