Monday, June 25, 2012

The Cubist Paintings of Diego Rivera

On view at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. April 4 through July 25, 2004, The Cubist Paintings of Diego Rivera: Memory, Politics, Place celebrated a significant but little-known Rivera painting of 1915, No. 9, Nature Morte Espagnole (No. 9, Spanish Still Life), a recent gift to the National Gallery from the estate of Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham.

No. 9, Nature morte espagnole (No. 9, Spanish Still Life), 1915

Organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in collaboration with the Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City, the exhibition coincided with the Gallery's showing of the Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya. The Rivera exhibition then traveled to the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City, where it was on view from September 22, 2004, through January 16, 2005.

Diego Rivera's work has been studied and shown in depth, yet his cubist period remains a less understood aspect of his career. The Cubist Paintings of Diego Rivera included some 20 works that demonstrate his distinctive approach to synthetic cubism--his use of complex structures of transparent planes, with a particular emphasis on sensory and memory association.

The exhibition explored the intersection of history and the avant-garde at a key moment in the artist's development. The selection emphasized the years 1914 and 1915, when Rivera was working in France and Spain. These works also illuminate the artist's deep engagement with themes of identity and place during a period that coincided not only with World War I but also with the most active period of the Mexican Revolution.

In key works in the exhibition, Rivera explored evocative links between objects, people, and places.

Among them are such works as Eiffel Tower (1914),

and En la fuente de Toledo (At the Fountain of Toledo), 1913 oil on canvas Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño, Xochimilco

with emotionally charged references to the cities Rivera inhabited,

and portraits of figures he associated with these cities, including his Portrait of Martín Luis Guzmán (1915)and

The Architect (Jesús T. Acevedo), 1915 oil on canvas Museo de Arte Carillo Gil, CONACULTA, INBA, Mexico City

Many of the works in the exhibition, such as Zapatista Landscape (1915), incorporate objects that serve as emblems of Mexican identity: sarapes, petates (straw mats), an equipal (reed chair), and guajes (peasant gourds). The inclusion of Mexican motifs and Rivera's frequent use of the colors of the Mexican flag present a souvenir of his native land from afar, filled with revolutionary sympathy, nostalgia, and longing.

Together these paintings represent Rivera's finest cubist work and offer important meditations on self-identity and nationalism.


The exhibition was organized by Leah Dickerman, associate curator, modern and contemporary art, National Gallery of Art, in consultation with Luis-Martín Lozano, director, Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City. The exhibition was accompanied by a fully illustrated brochure.