José Clemente Orozco with his fresco “Dive Bomber and Tank,” commissioned by MoMA during the exhibition “Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art,” May 15–September 30, 1940. Photographic Archive. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York

Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art

May 15–September 30, 1940 The Museum of Modern Art

Curated by three of Mexico’s leading art historians along with the painter Miguel Covarrubias, Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art had originally been intended for a French museum, but was rerouted to New York due to the risk posed by shipping precious artworks by sea during World War II. This unparalleled exhibition featured some 5,000 examples of ancient, colonial, folk, and modern Mexican art. It filled the entire Museum and even extended into the courtyard, where MoMA staged an open-air Mexican market with stalls selling ceramics, leather goods, and other crafts, flanked by a series of giant pre-colonial statues. Perhaps the central attraction of this lush presentation was the presence of muralist José Clemente Orozco, who worked over a period of 10 days on the 9 x 18" fresco Dive Bomber and Tank as crowds watched. The exhibition has a lasting legacy at MoMA: among its holdings of Mexican modernism are works by 54 of the artists represented.

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