Jacques Gelman (St. Petersburg, Russian Empire, 1909 - Cuernavaca, Mexico, 1986) begins his career in the film industry in Paris and in 1938 he moves to Mexico. There he marries Nathasa Zahalka (1912-1998) of Czech origin in 1941 and he establishes his own production company: POSA (Publicidad Organizada S.A) which produces his first film starring Mario Moreno: Cantinflas. Two years later, a portrait of Natasha painted by Diego Rivera launches what is considered one of the most important collections of Mexican art of the twentieth century: the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection.
This exhibition focuses on works created by twenty-six Mexican artists, as the corresponding part of European art was donated to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In this way, among the collection are the most prominent names on the Mexican art scene, including the four great muralists Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, Rufino Tamayo and David Alfaro Siqueiros. At the same time, the exhibition allows for a journey through all styles developed between 1915 (with pieces such as Diego Rivera’s Última hora) and 1997, when the works on rice paper by Paula Santiago are created and the installation by Silvia Gruner: 500 kilos de posibilidades o impotencia.
The selection of these seventy-five works which include paintings, photographs and sculptures, reveals a glimpse of the collectors’ personality and their leanings, in this case, towards the manifestations of modern Mexican art which connects with international trends while maintaining the characteristics of popular culture.
The several styles and artistic contexts of these pieces are worth noting. Popular mythology and the Mexicanism apparent in Frida Kahlo's La novia que se espanta de ver la vida abierta (1943), in Cisco Jimenez’s Olmeca Greñudo (1994), Gerardo Suter’s Serie Códices. Octecomatl (1991) and the reliefs made out of wood by Germán Venegas. Connections to the European avant-garde are visible in Rufino Tamayo with Cantinflas (1948), while the language of social realism and hyper-realism appear in works by Juan Soriano and Elena Climent. Abstraction is evident in Carlos Mérida’s piece Variación de un viejo tema, (1960), Gunther Gerzso's Retrato del Señor Jacques Gelman (1957) and Francisco Toledo’s El petate de los Chapulines (1989). Added to that are contemporary works under different poetic and conceptual assumptions such as work by Silvia Grüner and Paula Santiago.
The exhibition also reveals Natasha Gelman’s role in the formation of the collection who is portrayed four times (by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in 1943, by Rufino Tamayo, in 1948, and Rafael Cidoncha in 1996). In addition, the considerable number of works of by Rivera, as well as Kahlo shows the friendship shared by artist and collector. On the other hand, it allows us to follow Rivera’s career, from his intended Cubism, developed during his stay in Paris and present in Última hora (1915), until he creates his own language characteristic and appropriate to mural painting, based on a social realism full of references to Mexican culture, as can be appreciated in Vendedora de alcatraces (1943).
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