Modern Mexico

Another Promised Land: Anita Brenner’s Mexico at Skirball Center

Written by Constance Dunn | Photography Courtesy of Skirball Cultural Center

In the 1920s, Mexico City was a place humming with artists, writers and thinkers, many of them homegrown and many who came from Europe and America. On-hand to chronicle the decade was a unique figure: a woman, Anita Brenner, born in Mexico to Latvian Jewish parents. As an observer of and personal confidante to leading artists of her day—such as Mexican painters Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and French-born painter Jean Charlot— Brenner channeled a first-hand accounting of their lives and work in her 1929 book, Idols Behind Altars.

A current Skirball exhibit, Another Promised Land traces Brenner’s life in five sections, and with it gives one a closer, intimate look at major figures of the Mexican modern art movement from 1920-1950—called the Mexican Renaissance—and its years beyond.

The exhibit starts at Brenner’s teen years. She had returned to Mexico City after spending years in the States, specifically San Antonio, Texas to escape the violence of the Mexican Revolution, lasting from 1910-1920. There are portraits and other works sourced from her growing artists’ network in the capital. Another section of the exhibit includes photographs of Mexican cultural sites and folk art, including some pre-Columbian works. Yet another delves into the mural movement, much of it politically based and made internationally famous by Mexican artists such as José Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera, whose powerful, dream-like works are on display.

Starting in the 1930s and onward, Brenner’s focus was on promoting Mexican tourism. To do so, she emphasized the country’s cultural roots and showcased more works of her personal circle. Brenner’s output during this period included children’s books and the popular guidebook Your Mexican Holiday (1932), along with her magazine, Mexico / this month, which she published from 1955 to 1971. A select number of the magazine’s graphic-rich, creative covers are on display at the exhibit, along with vibrant images by famed Mexican photojournalists Héctor García and Nacho López.

In contrast to the folk-driven works commonly associated with the Mexican Renaissance, the exhibit spends time showcasing modern works, including those from the 1950s to 1970s created by Brenner’s friends who were involved with International movements of the day, such as geometric abstraction and surrealism.

Though Brenner passed away in 1974, a central goal of her life’s work—to give those outside Mexico a close look at the distinctive culture of her homeland—continues on with this exhibit. As both an intimate to leading Mexican artists and a chronicler of Mexican art during her life, she was afforded a unique and personal perspective, one she generously passes along to us many years after her death.

The exhibit, running through February 25, 2018, is part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, an exploration of Latin American and Latino art initiated by the Getty, and taking place at more than 60 institutions across Southern California.



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