6 MARCH 1953, Page 11


THE Mexican exhibition, after its secret vicissitudes, has arrived. It has been mounted at the Tate, as befits the biggest collection of its kind ever to cross the Atlantic, with a dramatic panache that is usually reserved for Great Exhibitions and trade fairs. What a pleasure it is to see these marvellous objects displayed with such imagination! The Tate has been turned inside out; the Arts Council has stumped up (not perhaps on an operatic scale, but to a greater extent than the visual arts have previously commanded); and Selior Gamboa, with his Mexican staff, has supervised the entire presentation with a ruthless enthusiasm.

A fairly detailed note of the exhibition appeared in the Spectator last summer, while it was on show in Paris. To all intents and purposes it is identical in London, though a few items have dropped off en route and the British Museum has added some of its own treasures to the collection. The material, it will be remembered, falls into four well-defined sections. The first embraces all those ancient cultures to which we refer generically as Pre-Columbian. It is followed by the grandiose Colonial art of the "New Spain," which was the baroque product of three centuries of Spanish domination. The third shows the struggling naiveté of the turbulent hundred years between 1810 and 1910, paving the way for the contemporary painters, so famed for their titanic mural decorations. Lastly, bridging the gap between the archaic periods and today, is a fascinating display of popular and folk art—brilliant, exotic- and fantastic.

Never before has it been possible for Pre-Columbian work—that almost completely closed and self-contained manifestation of the human spirit—to be studied in such profusion in Europe. Not that the historically-minded will be able to make much headway, for the arts of ancient America remain obscure and mysterious in their origins and purposes. The Mayas, it is said, were astronomers and mathematicians, but they failed to evolve a phonetic alphabet. Thus it was, perhaps, that these ancient Mexican cultures were never dominated by the verbalisation of thought which has so profoundly' affected Western art. Thus it was that Pre-Columbian sculpture, ceramics, jewellery and frescoes are so frequently examples of pure aesthetics, untrammelled by intellectual content or human emotion. From Diirer to Roger Fry and Henry Moore, these objects—some of them—have been considered unsurpassed for their pure sculptural quality, their truth to material and their inner vitality, by any other age or society. Much is of such sensitivity that it is immediately acceptable. Much else, however, may appear sadistic, harsh and pre- occupied with death. Again and again, from the days of the Aztecs to the engravings of Posada and the bright sugar skulls of today's peasantry, the theme recurs : violence, death and the human skull.

Among the rest of the exhibits it is scarcely possible to miss the wooden cross with the head of Christ, the painted statues and the vast gold altar-piece from Tepotzotlan, all eighteenth-century. Nor are the contemporary painters, chief among them Orozco, Rivera, Siquerios and Tamayo, easily overlooked. There should also be noted, however, the very real charm of some of the untutored nineteentIt-century artists, and the strength of the graphic tradition. The exhibition remains open until Sunday, April 26th. For an experimental period the weekday hours are to be extended from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at a reduced charge of admittance. The Tate Gallery restaurant will also remain open until 9 p.m.

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It would be a pity if the major exhibitions of Coronation year were to push the " Young Contemporaries " off the map. They are back, and very welcome, at the R.B.A. Galleries in Suffolk Street. John Flavin, Bruce Lacey, John Sewell, Richard Platt, J. R. Bratby are names already known to us. Lucy Ward, Paul d'Auillar, A. H. Taylor, Bernard Cohen, Peter Gooding and Ralph Brown are less