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Tamayo: The New York Years

3rd floor North, American Art Museum (8th and F Streets, N.W.)
November 3, 2017 – March 18, 2018


Image for Tamayo: The New York Years

Rufino Tamayo, Total Eclipse, c. 1946, oil and sand on canvas, Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., Art © Tamayo Heirs/Mexico/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY, Photo: Imaging Department © President and Fellows of Harvard College

Rufino Tamayo’s lushly colored paintings portraying modern Mexican subjects earned him widespread acclaim as an artist who balanced universal themes with a local sensibility. Tamayo (1899-1991) was drawn to New York City in the early twentieth century at a time when unparalleled transatlantic cross-cultural exchange was taking place. While living in New York, intermittently from the late 1920s to 1949, Tamayo engaged with the new ideas expressed in the modern art that he saw in museums and galleries. Tamayo: The New York Years is the first exhibition to explore the influences between this major Mexican modernist and the American art world.

The exhibition brings together fifty of Tamayo’s finest artworks and offers a unique opportunity to trace his artistic development—from his urban-themed paintings depicting the modern sights of the city to the dream-like canvases that show an artist eager to propel Mexican art in new directions. Tamayo, like many artists during this period, was deeply impressed by the art of Pablo Picasso, whose influence permeates the work of the avant-garde artists in Europe and the American modernists who followed. Tamayo’s approach to the figure became more fractured, schematic, and abstract as he internalized the lessons of Picasso’s art. Tamayo shared common interests with younger American artists including Jackson Pollock and Adolph Gottlieb, who were drawn to indigenous art, mythical themes, and increasingly non-representational imagery. These artists all grappled with the anxieties of World War II as well. Tamayo’s fierce and symbolic animal paintings and artworks evoking celestial themes from the 1940s are a special focus of the exhibition. As Tamayo’s stature rose in the mid-1940s, so did his following among artists and critics who supported a modern art movement centered in New York and the Americas rather than Europe. Tamayo: The New York Years shows Tamayo at the center of this shift in the history of twentieth-century art.

The exhibition is organized by E. Carmen Ramos, curator of Latino art. A catalogue, written by Ramos, will accompany the show. Tamayo: The New York Years will travel to one additional venue. The exhibition is the latest in a series of projects at SAAM that illuminate the global nature of art.

Read E. Carmen Ramos' journal on our blog Eye Level as she travels to Mexico to research Tamayo's art and life.

Tamayo: The New York Years is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum with generous support from Mrs. J. Todd Figi, The Robert S. Firestone Foundation, The Wolf Kahn and Emily Mason Foundation, the William R. Kenan Jr. Endowment Fund, and The Sara Roby Foundation.