The legendary photographer Tina Modotti (1896-1942) plays a starring role in the touring exhibition Under the Mexican Sky: A Revolution in Modern Photography, which runs from February 3 to April 2 at the Suzanne H. Arnold Art Gallery at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania. The show is drawn from the personal collection of Michael Mattis and Judy Hochberg and is toured by art2art Circulating Exhibitions. With America’s relationship with Mexico in so much turmoil over the past several years due to the tragic refugee situation at the southern border, this show is a timely reminder of an even more turbulent era in Mexican history in which artists, both domestic and international, played a critical role — and helped build bridges, not walls.
Born in Italy, Modotti had an unexpected career arc. Originally a silent film star, she later found herself at the beating heart of one of the great artistic flowerings of the 20th century: Mexico City in the 1920s-30s. Just as Paris served as a magnet for foreign-born photographers like Man Ray and Kértesz, Mexico City, too, attracted its share of international artist-photographers. Among the expatriates was Modotti’s mentor and lover, the Los Angelino Edward Weston, who reinvented himself as an artist during his three years in Mexico (1923-26). The painterly, Pictorialist blur that had characterized his studio portraiture in the ‘teens melted away under the brilliant Mexican sun, to be replaced by crystalline landscapes as well as evocative still lifes that prefigured his later shells and peppers.
Meanwhile Modotti, his paramour and protégée, created photographs that would place her in the pantheon of great Modernist photographers of the era. Unlike Weston, who remained resolutely apolitical, Modotti was imbued with the Revolutionary spirit that was in the air in 1920s Mexico and which found its purest distillation in the work of the Muralists Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros. Expelled from Mexico in 1930, she died a tragic early death at age 45. Under the Mexican Sky features vintage Mexican photographs by Modotti and Edward Weston in both silver and platinum/palladium from the 1920s, as well as prints from the 1930s by the Frenchman Henri Cartier-Bresson, the Hungarian Martin Munkácsi – and, of course, by Mexico’s own master of the camera, Manuel Álvarez Bravo.
Under the Mexican Sky: A Revolution in Modern Photography
February 3 to April 2
Suzanne H. Arnold Art Gallery
Lebanon Valley College
101 College Ave
Annville, PA 17003