Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism provides visitors with an opportunity to appreciate works by iconic artists from all over the world who were inspired by the spirit of post-revolutionary Mexico. Some of the featured artists, in addition to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, include Miguel Covarrubias, Rufino Tamayo, David Alfaro Siqueiros, María Izquierdo, Remedios Varo, to mention just a few. Significant photographers such as Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Lola Álvarez Bravo and Nickolas Muray are also included. In addition, the experience is enhanced by the presence of music of the period. Each musical piece was selected to complement the atmosphere of each of the different areas or sections of the show.
The artistic movement known as Mexican Modernism developed as a result of the reforms garnered with the triumph of the Revolution (1910-1920). The 1917 Constitution of the United Mexican States – the official name of the country – laid the foundation that guaranteed social and economic changes, especially in the areas of educational access, labor conditions, and land ownership. In addition, the Constitution integrated laws that sought the total separation of Church and State. This new order brought changes in all spheres of daily life in Mexico. The decades of 1920-1940 were full of a vibrant energy and optimism that were manifested in the country’s arts and culture. The Mexican writer and philosopher José Vasconcelos, who was then Secretary of Public Education, carried out a series of important initiatives that provided educational opportunities to the masses of mostly illiterate people. One of these initiatives was to commission artists to create many murals that visually depicted the history of the country on a large-scale (Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros were at the forefront of these efforts). The primary objective was to instill the population with a sense of national pride and identity. Other creative disciplines such as architecture, photography, film, literature, and music similarly referenced the country's deep cultural roots and were inspired by the artistic traditions of the past and the prospects of a better future.
Regarding the music selected for the exhibition, the iconic “Huapango Moncayo” starts us on a journey through the art and times of the Mexican Modernists. José Pablo Moncayo, who was a member of the Orquesta Sinfónica de México (Mexican Symphonic Orchestra) and a student of its director Carlos Chávez, composed the piece when he was only 29 years old. At the request of his teacher, Moncayo traveled to Veracruz to study the music of the region. There he took inspiration from popular songs such as "El Siquisiri," "El Balajú," and "El Gavilancito" to create what would become his masterpiece, "Huapango," which premiered at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in 1941, under the direction of Carlos Chávez. The “Huapango Moncayo” is a well-known and well-loved composition with recognizable melodies that capture the spirit of Mexico and it is part of the repertoire of symphonic orchestras all over the world. Its beauty and purely Mexican notes evoke the essence of the country, its places, and its people.
For the section of Mother Earth the selection is “Xochipilli: An imagined Aztec music,” composed by Carlos Chávez in 1940. Maestro Chávez, mentioned earlier, was a composer who had the opportunity to travel to Europe and the US in the early 1920s and was exposed to their modernist ideas. He applied these concepts and interwove them with the sounds of instruments from pre-Columbian times. Like Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros in the area of muralism, Chávez received commissions from Vasconcelos to create music that would inspire a post-revolutionary nationalist sentiment. These compositions were included in the repertoire of the National Orchestra and performances were offered at no cost to communities all over the country, in order to educate the masses.
The selection for the Circles of Influence section is “La Macorina,” performed by Chavela Vargas. The lyrics of the song derive from a poem written by the Spanish poet Alfonso Camín to Maria Calvo Nodarse, a woman of who was well known in Cuba for her beauty. Chavela Vargas was born in Costa Rica, but lived most of her life in Mexico and is said to have had a love affair with Frida Kahlo. Vargas also met Calvo Nodarse in Cuba, where she became familiar with the song that was written in her namesake and made it popular internationally. This interpretation of the song is notable because Vargas, as a woman, refused to change the lyrics that address a female lover as the subject.
In this same section of the exhibition, the group Conjunto Jardín interprets the son jarocho from the state of Veracruz, "La bruja," a song with double entrendre lyrics loaded with veiled sexual references that is said to have also been one of Frida's favorites.
The Modernist Heart section musically envelops visitors with the beautiful music of the UNAM Philharmonic Orchestra performing “Danzón número 2,” composed by Arturo Márquez. It is a piece that is considered a jewel of Mexican music. Although it was released in 1994, it may well have been composed in the 1940s, because of its beautiful notes, nationalist flavor, and popular reach.
In the Marvelous Real section, Chavela Vargas accompanies the viewer with her powerful interpretation of “La llorona,” while Patricia Trujano interprets “Canción mixteca,” written by José López Alavez in 1915 and “Dios nunca muere,” a waltz by Macedonio Alcalá music written in 1868 and lyrics written by Vicente Garrido Calderón in 1955. Each of these three songs goes to the Mexican heart directly and immediately. The song “Canción Mixteca” is considered the unofficial anthem of Mexico, and its lyrics evoke a feeling of longing and nostalgia that any individual Mexican living abroad might feel or a sense of connection that any person who has a deep love for Mexico might experience.