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Titus Kaphar and Mexican Muralists: The Plight of the Poor


During the fall of 2020, Covid numbers in New York City have remained relatively low (so far). That has allowed for the reopening of museums and galleries, and provided them with the opportunity to bring new shows and continue shows that were scheduled back in the spring. Two really strong exhibits are currently going on, one at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the other at the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea.

Kaphar-3The Aftermath

The Gagosian Gallery is a global network of exhibition sites. Their space on West 21st Street in New York City, is currently showing From a Tropical Space, a new collection of works by Titus Kaphar. Mr. Kaphar (b. 1976) is an African-American artist who transforms classical art tropes in ways that bring the experience of of Afro-Descendants to the forefront. I first encountered Titus Kaphar’s work when I visited the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC for his 2018 show - Unseen: Our Past in a New Light. He has also presented a TEDTalk - “Can Art Amend History?”, which was highlighted at The Brooklyn Museum of Art.


His current show is a series of portraits of Black women and their children. However, most of the children have been physically removed from the paintings. The canvas has been cut, leaving holes where the children had been. His paintings use the physical spaces in the works to represent the actual “fear and trauma” caused by the loss of family members in American society today. His painting “Analogous Colors” was featured on the cover of Time Magazine after the murder of George Floyd.

Kaphar-1Not My Burden

Kaphar-4Braiding Possibilities

Kaphar-6Final Chapter

Kaphar-2Analogous colors

The Whitney Museum is currently hosting a show that opened back in February 2020. VIDA AMERICANA: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art 1925-1945 is a deep dive into both the work of the muralist movement in Mexico and its effect on artists in the United States.

muralists-2Flower Festival: Feast of Santa Anita by Diego Rivera

muralists-1Lily Vendor by Alfredo Ramos Martinez

Jose Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros are the three most noted members of the Mexican Muralist Movement, which sprang out of the post-revolutionary era in Mexico. They were known for the quality of their works and for their progressive politics. All three spent significant amounts of time in the United States during this 1920’s and 30’s. Their paintings and murals had a great influence on the style and content of many painters as art moved from impressionism to different forms of expressionist paintings.

muralists-3Prometheous (reproduction) by José Clemente Orozco

muralists-5Bandolier, Corn, Sickle by Tina Modotti

The show at the Whitney includes over 200 pieces. Many are by the three primary artists, including recreating Orozco’s mural “Prometheus” which is in the dining hall of Pomona College in California; Siquieros’ “Tropical America” which was deemed too political to remain over LA’s Olivera Street and was painted over; and a recreation of Rivera’s mural at Rockefeller Center, which included portraits of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, and which John D Rockefeller had destroyed before it was seen by the public. Also included are works by many artists from the United States. Ben Shahn, Tina Modotti and Eitarō Ishigaki are just a few of the painters included, who drew inspiration in both style and subject matter from The Muralists, using their works to promote the struggle for social justice.

muralists-4Uprising by Diego Rivera

muralists-6Zapatistas by Alfredo Ramos Martinez

muralists-7Tropical America (photo) by David Alfaro Siqueiros

muralists-10Bonus March by Eitarō Ishigaki

muralists-11Study for Jersey Homesteads Mural by Ben Shahn

muralists-12Man at the Crossroads (recreation) by Diego Rivera

muralists-13Soldiers of the People's Front by Eitarō Ishigakimuralists-14Mine Strike by Thomas Hart Benton

One piece struck me in particular. That was Proletarian Mother by David Alfaro Siqueiros. I have no knowledge of any connections, but I was immediately struck by its similarity to the famous photo by Dorothea Lange and to the statue Pietà by Kathë Kollwitz

muralists-9Proletariat Mother by David Alfaro Siqueiros

dorothea-lange_migrant-mother-california_1936-1211x1500Migrant Family by Dorothea Lange

pietaPietà by Kathë Kollwitz

I hope that the COVID numbers stay low, because these are shows that are well worth seeing, and you should get out if you have chance.

Nuts and Bolts
Both the Gagosian Gallery and The Whitney Museum require visitors to acquire timed tickets in advance through their websites

Gagosian Gallery - 522 West 21st Street, NYC - Free Admission Exhibit open through 12/19/20

Whitney Museum of American Art - 99 Ganesvoort Street NYC
Adult $25/ Senior, Student, visitor with disability $18/ under 18 Free Exhibit open through 1/31/21


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