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COURTESY SAN ANTONIO MUSEUM OF ART Self-Portrait, 1945 by David Alfaro Siqueiros Itza, he painted in guerillas. They didn’t destroy that one, but they did cover it up for decades. Now it’s being restored. Turning to younger Mexican artists, what do you find among the current generation? This is something we talk about a lot in the arts. I think in the past Mexican artists wrote a lot, discussed issues. They had a very solid, intellectual background and were very combative. Today they don’t speak up and what they’re most interested in is in seeing their prices go up. Are yod saying that the artist has to deal with political themes? No, not at all. When I talk about polemics, I’m not just referring to political ideology, but to aesthetic arguments. We all know Rivera and Siqueiros were Marxist-Leninists, that Orozco was an anarchist, leftist. But Tamayo, for example, has never been an artist whose compositions have relied on political themes. No, what I’m talking about are aesthetic battles. In the ’60s, there was the battle around abstract art, around [Mexican artist Jose Luis] Cuevas , who used to produce very combative writing. Now Cuevas writes these little picturesque things for the public. There’s also the example of Francisco Toledo, who is so quiet he refuses interviews. But Toledo is a separate case. He’s reserved, but look at what he does. He donates collections. He has the Toledo Editorial which publishes books on art, poetry. He lives this ideal of using art to serve a community. He’s very committed to sharing his cultural wealth. Toledo is simply an extraordinary human being. In contrast, Cuevas makes a lot of noise about a museum but he doesn’t take out his pocketbook. Are you afraid that this preoccupation with monetary success on the part of younger artists will have a long-term negative effect? No, because increased appreciation isn’t just a matter of price. It never hurt an artist to sell for a good price ; if they’re really artists like Tamayo, whose art has never depended on monetary success. On the other hand, an artist can become stuck in a familiar style, which is what has happened with Botero. He’s been following the same little formula over and over again. Tamayo, in contrast, is always changing. You can put two works together, side by side, from different decades and it looks as if they’re from two different planets. Going back to younger artists, what do you see that interests you? There are two currents: the neoMexicanists and the transvanguardistas, whose work revolves around a sense of tragedy, melancholy, desperation. An example is Mauricio Sandoval. Another excellent artist is Alberto Castro Lenero, whose work is somewhat of a departure from abstract art. There are four Castro Lenero brothers who are artists: Alberto, Jose, Miguel, Francisco. Miguel is also excellent. Another fine artist who also works in ceramics is Sergio Hernandez, who lives in Oaxaca. Toledo is an artist who has created a whole thematic repertory. At times he repeats himself, but he’s very creative; he works in ceramics, draws; does prints, paints. He’s always renewing himself and at 50, is spiritually very young. There are many fine women artists. One I especially like is Georgina Quintana, who deals with women as a theme, sort of an apocalyptic kind of way. Someone who deals with the city, with massive urban themes is Susana Campos. Patricia Tones is a graphic artist whose prints have won international acclaim. Helen Escobedo, who lives half the year in Hamburg, and half in Mexico City, recently received a Guggenheim fellowship. She does a new kind of art, something on the idea of “happenings,” an environmental art. What’s characteristic of the present era is that there is such a great number of artists, not only in Mexico City, but in Oaxaca, Guadalajara, Mazatlan, Mexicali, Veracruz, etc. It’s a whole national phenomenon. In contrast to the ’70s, however, you can’t talk about schools or movements. There are no groups, but individuals. There are also many fine galleries in Monterrey and the best art market in Mexico is now in Monterrey. The influence of the Monterrey rich? Well, I think the rich people in Monterrey take a certain pride in discovering artists, in competing among themselves to see who has the best collection of new artists. They are the ones who have made Zenil so successful, not to mention Julio Galan. He’s not from Monterrey, but that’s where his success comes from. Now they’re building a museum of contemporary art. It’s private enterprise, not public funding. In that sense, Monterrey has imitated the United States. In Mexico City, public promotion and funding is still predominant. There’s the Centro de Arte Contemporaneo, Televisa’s museum, but they don’t take risks. Until recently, the public sector here used to take risks, but now they’re more timid. Will people who see the Met exhibit get a sense of all this current activity in Mexico? There’s been a lot of criticism about the fact that the Met exhibit, Thirty Centuries of Splendor, ends with Tamayo. Well, there are also other exhibits in private galleries, in other museums. What I want to know because it’s not yet been resolved is what happens when you mix prehispanic art with contemporary art. The prehispanic art of Mexico is so powerful, so intense. First of all it has this sense of mystery around it. For all the anthropological studies, etc. we still haven’t been able to decipher it. There’s going to be a great Olmeca head at the entrance to the Metropolitan Museum, then Mayan, Teotihuacan, Mexica, Aztec, etc. art. It’s all so powerful. Let’s see how well Tamayo holds up, along with Siqueiros, Orozco and Rivera. 22 MAY 31, 1991