How the Mexican Generación de la Ruptura Broke Away From The Conventional

June 30, 2020

The first decade of the 20th century in Mexico is marked by the revolution aimed to demolish the Porfiriato, the autocracy of the longtime Mexican general and politician, Porfirio Díaz. Although that was quickly achieved by the opposing elite led by the wealthy landowner Francisco I. Madero who democratically won the elections, things got complicated and the counter-revolutionary regime of General Victoriano Huerta consisting of the conservatives, former revolutionary fighters and the dispossessed took over. However, the unrest continued and the multi-sided civil war broke out lasting until 1920 when the revolution consolidated with one-party led by the Álvaro Obregón faction, which transformed into the Partido Revolucionario Institucional.

Following the advice of Gerardo Murillo, also known as Dr. Atl, who is considered to be the first modern Mexican muralist, and the person affiliated with the opposition factions during the civil war, the post-revolutionary government decided to hire artists who would produce murals celebrating the ideas of the Mexican Revolution and promote the identity of Mexico as a mestizo nation. One of the first to be hired was Diego Rivera, followed by José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros. From the 1920s to about 1970s a great number of murals were nationalistic and were used as propaganda to maintain social and political messages in the public sphere.

At the dawn of World War II, the post-revolutionary period in Mexico ended along with the renaissance era of the muralist movement as the society went towards ultraconservatives. After the war, an entirely new generation of artists emerged wanting to deconstruct the inherited patterns of Mexican muralists and introduce an entirely new visual vocabulary. They were known as Generación de la Ruptura or the Breakaway Generation.

Francisco Toledo - Chivo. Image creative commons.

The Generación de la Ruptura: Changing The Paradigm

Historically, the development of Mexican art is inseparable from the dominating tendencies in Europe due to the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire. Numerous artists that belonged to both the Mexican muralists and the Generación de la Ruptura studied and worked in Europe before their careers flourished in their native country. The latter group of artists was fascinated with Art Informel, a European adaption of Abstract Expressionism, and Cubism, all the while abandoning nationalism in favor of internationalism.

Initially, the group was named the Joven Escuela de Pintura Mexicana (Young School of Mexican Painting), but the name Generación de la Ruptura (The Breakaway Generation) given by art critic Teresa del Conde remained. The artists belonging to this generation were both native-born Mexicans and immigrants (many of them were WW II refugees), and were determined to subvert the established canon of Mexican muralism that became a way to dogmatic. There wasn’t a unique stylistic affiliation, rather they were more focused on articulating personal experiences and emotional states rather than social issues.

Left: Mathías Goeritz, Luis Barragán and Jesús "Chucho" Reyes Ferreira - Torres de Satélite / Right: Gustavo Arias Murueta - Renacimiento. Images creative commons.

Towards Internationalism

The Mexican government carefully supervised numerous art venues that were often censored by the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional party. Despite being ignored by the mainstream art scene and the established artistic circles, the postwar youngsters continued to experiment and challenge the conservative canon; they urged for the latest tendencies and aesthetics of the international avant-garde, aiming to establish the creative freedom. Gradually Generación de la Ruptura took over, and by the end of the 1950s, they released a couple of important exhibitions in the major Mexican venues such as the Museo de Arte Moderno and the Palacio de Bellas Artes.

The leading proponent of the "Ruptura" (Breakaway) was José Luis Cuevas who was an open critic of the Mexican muralist tradition. His raging opposition to the canon and his aggressive art style was considered controversial and caused outstanding reactions from written insults to a machine-gun attack to his home. Cuevas was followed by other artists such as the recently deceased Manuel Felguérez BarraFrancisco Toledo, Francisco CorzasEdmundo Aquino, Arturo Rivera, Leonora Carrington, Alberto Gironella, Ricardo Martínez, and many more.

Gilberto Aceves Navarro - Unicornio Atrapado Por Perro y Una Máscara, 1996. Image creative commons.

The Legacy of The Generación de la Ruptura

The movement of the Generación de la Ruptura was so influential that it even reflected on literature, with authors such as Carlos Fuentes, Octavio Paz, Jorge Ibargüengoitia, and Juan García Ponce. Although the muralism tradition became somewhat irrelevant, it still existed and had a nationalistic purpose, but was interwoven with the stylistic elements from the Ruptura.

Several other artists such as Arnaldo Coen, Patricia Soriano, Gabriel Macotela, Roger Von Gunten, Francisco Castro Leñero, José Castro Leñero, and Gilberto Aceves Navarro, followed the Ruptura steps. This was an important avant-garde phenomenon with marvelous artists who continued to explore different forms and formats while participating in different exhibitions throughout the country.

Thanks to this generation, the Mexican art scene quickly reshaped and by 1956 there were about twenty art venues where the new artists showed their works. Within a section the Mexico in Culture of the Novedades, a list of state and private galleries was published along with the current exhibitions.

In general, the Generación de la Ruptura definitely set an entirely new art paradigm rooted in tolerance and willingness to experiment. They managed to change what they saw as a conservative and rigid aesthetic imposed by the state, and implement a more flexible approach to art-making that enabled further development of Mexican art.

Featured image: Sculpture Toro by Juan Soriano outside the Casa de Cultura of Colima Mexico. Image creative commons.

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