New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Siqueiros: Paintings, January 9-February 3, 1940, n.n.
New York, Perls Galleries, Twelve Mexican Painters, April 7-May 3, 1941, no. 19
Cleveland, Cleveland Museum of Art; Portland, Portland Museum of Art; Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Museum of Art; San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Art; Washington D.C., Phillips Memorial Gallery, Modern Mexican Paintings, 1941-1942, no. 8
On January 2, 1940, the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York opened an exhibition featuring seventeen new works by David Alfaro Siqueiros. The recently rediscovered Tarahumara Baby appeared in that important show, which also included some of the artist's most compelling paintings, like The Sob and Ethnography, both of which were soon acquired by The Museum of Modern Art in New York.
All of the images were executed in pyroxilin, a commercial enamel marketed by DuPont under the trade name Duco and used primarily on aircraft and automobile bodies. Pyroxilin is a durable (though inflexible) and vibrant material that can be applied both by airbrush and regular brush. Siqueiros mastered this medium like no other artist; for him, it represented a modern and industrial substitute for old-fashioned oil paints.
Though the pyroxilin surface and masonite support of Tarahumara Baby are both products of the machine age, Siqueiros's subject here is timeless. The infant is wrapped in a traditional rebozo or shawl slung over its mother's back, as in the iconic work Peasant Mother 1931(Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City). Although it is unclear why Siqueiros chose to identify this child with the Tarahumara Indians of northern Mexico, pictures of children—often carried by their mothers—are actually quite common in his works of the 1930s.
Many of Siqueiros' paintings of the late 1930s referred directly to the turbulent political events of the time. However, this painting lacks any explicit signs of violence, such as that seen in Siqueiros' famous Echo of a Scream (1937; MoMA). And yet, the wide-eyed baby seems more apprehensive than charming. The richly worked surface and the somewhat dark atmosphere hint at a visual and emotional complexity far beyond the simple subject.
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