Though the show is presented coolly enough as a reassessment of the influence Mexican artists had on North American art, I could not greet “Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art” with detachment. The three Mexican muralists central to the show—Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco—were touchstones for my lefty artist father. A number of my father’s old buddies and teachers from the American Artists School—where a free art education was briefly to be had, between 1936 and 1941, courtesy of the John Reed Club—are in the show.
It is my experience that most people in the arts feel a kind of comfort in lacking worldly success. They fight for it, and suffer over it, but it is so much safer not to have it—safer from envy, judgment, exposure; from the dangers attendant on superseding parents or companions—that, either through the work itself or by way of fumbling encounters with the world, they ensure it won’t happen. But this doesn’t seem true of my father. I think he naïvely, to the end, possibly through arrogance, expected the work to be its own ambassador. It had once been enough.