Tamayo: The New York Years at Smithsonian American Art Museum, November 3 – March 18, 2018

“RUFINO TAMAYO (1899–1991), one of the most celebrated artists of the twentieth century, formed many of his ideas about art during his extended sojourns in New York City between 1926 and 1949. Tamayo came of age during the cultural renaissance that followed the Mexican Revolution (1910–1920). Like many of his Mexican contemporaries, he considered his country’s indigenous and mestizo (racially mixed) heritage a defining element of national identity. Yet Tamayo’s exposure to international modernism in New York, coupled with his firsthand study of pre-Columbian and Mexican folk art, led him to reject overtly politicized art, especially the muralism of Los tres grandes (the three greats)Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros—in favor of his own synthesis of modernist styles and Mexican culture.

This exhibition is the first to consider how New York—its sights, artists, critics, collectors, and art venues—nurtured Tamayo’s vision of modern Mexican art. In this context, he created an art that resisted clear narratives, emphasized the creative rather than political underpinnings of art making, and mined the ancient myths and forms of indigenous art to express the existential crisis of World War II. By the 1940s, his richly colored and abstracted compositions modeled an alternative “American” modernism that challenged social realism and dovetailed with a rising generation of abstract expressionists who were also seeking a visual language that fit their uncertain times. Tamayo: The New York Years reveals how a Mexican artist forged a new path in the modern art of the Americas and contributed to New York’s dynamic cultural scene as the city was becoming a center of postwar art.” — Introductory Wall Text

Rufino Tamayo, The Family [La familia], 1925, oil on canvas, 28 3/4 x 33 in. William and Christopher Brumder Collection. © Tamayo Heirs/Mexico/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photo by John R. Glembin, courtesy Milwaukee Art Museum

Rufino Tamayo, Seashells [Los caracoles], 1929, oil on canvas, 23 1/4 x 24 13/16 in. Private collection. ©Tamayo Heirs/Mexico/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Image courtesy Colección Hemerográfica–Archivo Tamayo, Museo Tamayo

Rufino Tamayo, Academic Painting [Pintura académica], 1935, oil on canvas, 25 3/4 x 21 7/8 in. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1966. ©Tamayo Heirs/Mexico/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photography by Cathy Carver

Rufino Tamayo, Factory Workers’ Movement [Movimiento fabril], 1935, oil on canvas, 22 1/4 x 26 3/8 in. Collection of Brian and Florence Mahony. © Tamayo Heirs/Mexico/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photo by Bill Orcutt

Rufino Tamayo, Carnival [Carnaval], 1936, gouache on paper, 15 x 22 in. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Luisita L. and Franz H. Denghausen Endowment, 2017.22 © TamayoHeirs/Mexico/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photo by Greg Page/Page One Studio

Rufino Tamayo, New York Seen from the Terrace [Nueva York desde la terraza], 1937, oil on canvas, 20 3/8 x 34 3/8 in. FEMSA Collection. © Tamayo Heirs/Mexico/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photo by Roberto Ortiz

Rufino Tamayo, The Pretty Girl [Niña bonita], 1937, oil on canvas, 48 1/8 x 36 1/8 in. Private collection. ©Tamayo Heirs/Mexico/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Image courtesy Colección Hemerográfica–Archivo Tamayo, Museo Tamayo

Rufino Tamayo, Woman [Mujer], 1938, oil on canvas, 35 5/8 x 27 5/8 in. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Estate of John Hay Whitney. © Tamayo Heirs/Mexico/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY

Rufino Tamayo, Women of Tehuantepec [Mujeres de Tehuantepec], 1939, oil on canvas, 33 7/8 x 57 1/8 in. Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; Room of Contemporary Art Fund, 1941. © Tamayo Heirs/Mexico/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photo Credit: Albright-Knox Art Gallery/Art Resource, NY

Rufino Tamayo, Carnival [Carnaval], 1941, oil on canvas, 44 1/8 x 33 1/4 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Acquired 1942. © Tamayo Heirs/Mexico/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Rufino Tamayo, Dog Barking at the Moon [Perro ladrando a la luna], 1942, oil on canvas, 47 1/4 x 33 7/16 in. Private collection. © Tamayo Heirs/Mexico/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Rufino Tamayo, Lion and Horse [León y caballo], 1942, oil on canvas, 36 1/4 x 46 1/2 in. Mildred Lane KemperArt Museum, Washington University in St. Louis, University purchase, Kende Sale Fund, 1946 © TamayoHeirs/Mexico/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Rufino Tamayo, The Lovers [Amantes], 1943, oil on canvas, 34 1/4 x 44 1/4 in. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Purchase with the aid of funds from W. W. Crocker. © Tamayo Heirs/Mexico/Licensed by VAGA,New York, NY. Photo by Katherine Du Tiel

Rufino Tamayo, Fire [Fuego], 1946, oil on canvas, 44 x 34 in. Collection of Mrs. J. Todd Figi. © TamayoHeirs/Mexico/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Rufino Tamayo, Total Eclipse [Eclipse total], ca. 1946, oil with sand on canvas, 39 7/8 x 29 7/8 in. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Pulitzer Jr. © Tamayo Heirs/Mexico/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photo: Imaging Department © President and Fellows of Harvard College

Rufino Tamayo, Women Reaching for the Moon [Mujeres alcanzando la luna], 1946, oil on canvas, 36 x 26 in. Private collection, Courtesy of Christie’s. © Tamayo Heirs/Mexico/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Image courtesy Colección Hemerográfica–Archivo Tamayo, Museo Tamayo

Irving Penn, Rufino Tamayo (2 of 2), New York, 1947. © The Irving Penn Foundation

Tamayo: The New York Years is organized by E. Carmen Ramos, Smithsonian American Art Museum deputy chief curator and curator of Latino art.

Images courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum.