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The New School Art Collection

Re-Imagining Orozco

This website is a virtual record of the exhibition, Re-Imagining Orozco. As a celebration of José Clemente Orozco’s historic 1931 New School mural cycle A Call to Revolution and Table of Universal Brotherhood, the curators staged a collective, community-wide response to the murals as a platform for contemporary exploration of sociopolitical art practices. Featuring large-scale drawings commissioned for the exhibition by Enrique Chagoya, Re-Imagining Orozco also included a variety of mixed media works by students and faculty across The New School.

Re-Imagining Orozco, June 24 - September 12, 2010 
Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery 
Sheila Johnson Design Center, Parsons The New School for Design 
Curated by Silvia Rocciolo and Eric Stark 
Photography by Martin Seck

José Clemente Orozco was commissioned in 1930 by the New School for Social Research’s founding president, Alvin Johnson, to create a mural that would still be talked about in 100 years. Fractured by one war and on the brink of another, the world had begun its slow division into two distinct socio-political philosophies, capitalism and communism. Concurrently, fascism was on the rise in Germany, Italy and Spain. Orozco, accomplished, ambitious and at a turning point in his career, was left free to work unfettered and uncensored in his aesthetic and sociopolitical investigations. The mural cycle he left behind, A Call to Revolution and Table of Universal Brotherhood is one of the most significant public works of art in the City of New York.

Orozco was a provocateur—the New School murals were meant to be politically ambiguous and controversial. For Orozco, well known for his public murals in his native Mexico, the primary purpose of public art was to actively engage the viewer in an ongoing dialogue. It is in this spirit of engagement that Re-Imagining Orozco took form. This exhibition invites viewers to become participants in reframing and reassessing the relevance and meaning of Orozco’s murals through a contemporary lens.

Re-Imagining Orozco is the culmination of a university-wide series of interventions and investigations, combined with the extraordinary generosity and vital participation of contemporary artist, Enrique Chagoya. Chagoya’s affinities with Orozco’s legacy run deep and he has responded to The New School murals with inspired imagination and humor. In a group of large-scale drawings specifically created for this exhibition and completed on site in the Kellen Gallery, Chagoya has masterfully re-imagined and extended Orozco’s vision into the twenty-first century.

The New School for Social Research; Parsons The New School for Design’s Animation, Illustration, and Product Design programs; The New School for Jazz; The New School for Drama; and The Eugene Lang College’s Public Art Squad all rigorously examined Orozco's intent and their reactions are both spirited and provocative. The multi-disciplinary nature of this exhibition captures the university's founding principle of education as a laboratory for free expression, creative experimentation, and political engagement central to its core identity.

This exhibition is a collaborative re-imagination of Orozco’s gift.

Homage to Orozco #2, 2010

SUMI INK ON PAPER AND WALL 
WALL DRAWINGS EXECUTED BY ENRIQUE CHAGOYA IN COLLABORATION WITH DUNCAN TONATIUH (PARSONS, BFA 2008) AND 
TATIANA ISTOMINÀ (PARSONS, MFA, 2011)

Like Orozco, Chagoya is a great caricaturist. And like Orozco, Chagoya was inspired by the works of Mexican master printmaker and political satirist, José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913) as well as the political works of the Spanish master, Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828). Add comic strips, Aztec iconography, art historical and pop culture references to the mix, stir it with irreverence, humor and biting sociopolitical satire, and you will begin to get a sense of Enrique Chagoya’s unique take on history or what has been referred to as his “reverse anthropologies”.

When asked to participate in a re-imagining of the Orozco New School frescoes, Chagoya wrote: I didn’t want to make a black and white version of Orozco’s murals. Orozco himself was critical of “lefty” artists and activists. In his paintings and cartoons, he even poked fun at Zapata, the revolutionary, as well as pre-Columbian looking indigenous characters. He was neither aligned to the Communist party nor, unlike Rivera and Siquieros, to any political directives. Orozco was a realist and the most anti-dogmatic artist that I know among the political artists of his time. That makes him my favorite muralist and role model. Rivera once said that Orozco was not a muralist but a cartoonist. This infuriated Orozco. I would have taken it as a compliment.

In this large-scale drawing, Chagoya appropriates the imagery from Orozco’s well-known lithograph The Masses, 1935, in the depiction of the sea of huddled legs, mouths and flags. In the central figure of a writhing, snake-headed, part-human monster stepping in as a symbol of hyper-capitalism, he riffs on Orozco’s El Diablo drawing from the 1945 La Verdad series and virtually “pumps” the creature up—El Diablo on steroids.

Among the masses, Chagoya includes the figures of Lenin and Gandhi from Orozco’s Struggle in the Occident and Struggle in the Orient and comments:

Lenin and Gandhi are two of my heroes (in spite of everything that went wrong in the former Soviet Union and India). I feel that their ideas were betrayed, often by institutionalized revolutions, turning their science of change into ideologies for maintaining power. Their eyes recall a Disney cartoon, but that is how I feel they were distorted. Here they are with the masses, confronting the bloodiest, greediest, and most irrational elements of capitalism. I wanted to destroy the cult of personality and ideology. For me, change will come out of necessity, not out of ideology…or else we collapse into an end of our own making.

About Jose Clemente Orozco

JOSE CLEMENTE OROZCO

TABLE OF UNIVERSAL BROTHERHOOD, 1930-31
PROJECTION OF NEW SCHOOL FRESCO

 

Centered on the south wall of the original mural cycle, Table of Universal Brotherhood comments on the utopian ideals of the League of Nations that was established after World War I and was a precursor to the United Nations. It also invokes the Delphic Circle, a New York based literary salon from the 1930’s that championed utopian visions of peace and universal brotherhood through the marriage of Eastern and Western (particularly Greek) philosophies.

Introduced to the Circle by Alma Reed, his New York art dealer, Orozco became a frequent visitor to the salon during his New York years. Some of the figures whom Orozco seated at the table were also members of the Circle: Lloyd Goodrich, a Whitney curator and art historian, Leonard von Noppen, a Dutch poet, Reuven Rubin, a Jewish artist from Palestine, and Paul Richard, a French philosopher. (Sarojini Naidu, not seated at the table, but one of the few women depicted in the mural cycle prominently situated next to Gandhi, was also a member of the salon. A celebrated poet and freedom fighter, Naidu accompanied Gandhi in his famous Salt March and was the first woman to become the President of the Indian National Congress in 1925.) Orozco also chose to depict anonymous figures representing various races: two Asians, a Sikh, a Tartar, a Mexican-Indian and an African-American. In his autobiography, Orozco writes:

The Negro presiding and the portrait of Lenin were the occasion for the New School’s losing a number of its richest patrons, a serious loss to an institution dependent upon gifts. To make up for this, on the other hand, it gained the support of numerous other patrons. I had been give absolute freedom in my work: it was a school for investigation, not for submission.¹

¹ Orozco, José Clemente, 1962, An Autobiography, trans. R. C. Stephenson, p. 144. New York: Dover Publications.

Audio Recording

On April 2, 2010, seated in the Orozco Room, Jeffrey Goldfarb, the Michael E. Gellert Professor of Sociology at The New School for Social Research, moderated a two-hour discussion focused on the meaning of Orozco’s Table of Universal Brotherhood in the twenty-first century. The event brought together panelists, listed below, from The New School for Social Research (NSSR), Eugene Lang College, Parsons Art, Media and Technology (AMT) Department, as well as the University Autónoma de Barcelona in Spain.

The lively discussion addressed three main topics related to the mural cycle: Since Orozco’s time, how have the issues concerning identity and power changed, and how would this affect who sits at the table? What are the pressing differences and conflicts that need to be negotiated today, and ultimately how does a reimagined table address these new conflicts? In an increasing fragmented and polarized culture, has the idea of a salon, such as the Delphic Circle, where conflicting philosophies can be fervently discussed, become obsolete?

Panelists

Banu Bargu, Assistant Professor, Political Science, NSSR 
Helena Maria Chmielewska-Szlajfer, PhD student, Sociology, NSSR 
Stefania de Kennessey, Chair, The Arts, Associate Professor of Music, Eugene Lang College 
Oz Frankel, Assistant Professor, Historical Studies, NSSR 
Rezvaneh Ganji, PhD student, Sociology, NSSR 
Victoria Hattam, Associate Professor, Political Science, NSSR 
Maria Pia Lara, Visiting Professor, Philosophy, University Autónoma de Barcelona, Spain 
Lenore Malen, Artist and writer, Associate Professor, Fine Arts, AMT 
James Miller, Professor, Psychology, NSSR

Questions posed to the panelists:

1. Identity and Power? 
Orozco’s depiction of the Table of Universal Brotherhood, which he notes in a later correspondence as being “presided over by a Negro president,” is as much a reflection of America’s current demographics as it was of global geographic divisions in 1931. Orozco does not openly acknowledge in this mural that what divides us, perhaps more than race, is gender, religion, economics, disability and class. In re-imagining the Table of Universal Brotherhood, what populations would be represented today? Are their needs mutually exclusive? Would all participants be equal in stature? (Orozco clearly envisioned a hierarchy by recognizing a president). Would some populations be advocated for rather than represented? Can heterogeneous populations be bound by their differences rather than their similarities?

2. Diagnosis of the times: then and now? 
Alma Reed, Orozco’s art dealer, in an archived letter to a New School administrator, explains Orozco’s “own insistence at the time to interpret history in his own fashion”, “Orozco claimed the right to set down on the four walls of the New School dining room, the factors, elements, and personalities that, in his opinion, were shaping the years ahead. These various elements,” she continues, “are given an impartial, objective presentation on the two side walls, “The Struggle in the East”, and “The Struggle in the West”. He reserved the end walls for his long-range hopes for the outcome of the struggle. This hope is stated on the North end wall as the Brotherhood of Man – men of all races, creeds, and cultures, depicted sitting around the table of Universality in perfect equality—men ready to negotiate possible difference and eliminate conflicts. Orozco’s personal hope for humanity is particularized on the South end wall. There, he depicts the family of the happy worker in an environment of comfort and abundance.” What do you think of Orozco’s interpretation (according to Reed)? In your opinion, what factors, elements and personalities shape the years ahead in the 21st century? What are the pressing differences and conflicts that need to be negotiated at the table today?

3. The future of imagination? 
Orozco's Table of Universal Brotherhood was influenced by his membership in the Delphic Circle, which was, in part, a utopian artist's salon espousing pacifist doctrines from Eastern and Western philosophies. In an increasingly fragmented and polarized culture in which people are communicating less and less with their ideological and/or sociopolitical opposites, in a world where there is fascination with memory and skepticism about utopia, imagination and progress, has the idea of a table of universal brotherhood become obsolete?

Orozco bore witness to the Mexican Revolution and chose, in the New School murals, to depict “revolutions revolving around the periphery of the European center”. Which revolutions would you choose to depict on these walls today?

Homage to Orozco, #1, 2010

HOMAGE TO OROZCO, #1, 2010
SUMI INK ON PAPER AND WALL
WALL DRAWINGS EXECUTED BY ENRIQUE CHAGOYA IN COLLABORATION WITH DUNCAN TONATIUH (PARSONS, BFA, 2008) AND TATIANA ISTOMINÀ (PARSONS, MFA, 2011)

Etchings by students in Bill Phipps’ illustrative print section, Parsons Introductory Printmaking Course, Spring 2010

Left to right: Iain Burke, So Yoon Kim, Jenna Palazzo, Ninia Cayaban, Noemi Biel, Austin Guerra, Qian Wang, Lyejm A. Kallas-Lewis, Unknown, Katie Dunham, Monica Ramos, Mollie Komins, Nadilyn Beato, Dylan Maywood, Megan Yiu, Hannah Lee, Mary Cumming 
Grace Moon, Evan Goodman


  When I was almost done with the drawings, I felt they were too close in mood to the arts of the 1930’s; I felt like an out-of-date social realist artist. Then I thought of “googly” eyes, and I had a big laugh. Suddenly, I felt the content could get more complex by creating a critical distance, through humor, from the seriousness of the utopian ideals. I am a great admirer of labor leader, Dolores Huerta (and Stephen Hawkings, and even Andy Warhol), but their expressions after I added the eyes went from seriousness to surrealistic, as if everything, the table and the drawing itself, were out of control. I feel that the world in which we live today is just as complex.

I agree with Bertold Brecht that realism should be fun and that humor will help us see new realities with new eyes. I also follow Andre Breton’s definition of Surrealist humor as the triumph of pleasure over pain under the worst conditions of pleasure.

— E. Chagoya

On the walls, sumi ink drawings are borrowed from Orozco’s prolific output of sketches and cartoons, which lampooned everyone from politicians to prostitutes. Here, Chagoya and his two collaborators “tweak” the images and add their own dose of humor.

Scattered among the wall drawings are etchings that Chagoya selected from a group of prints produced by students in a Parsons sophomore printmaking course. The course, conducted this past spring, focused exclusively on an exploration of The New School Orozco murals.

About Sumi Ink of Paper

ENRIQUE CHAGOYA

HOMAGE TO OROZCO, #3, 2010
SUMI INK ON PAPER

In this drawing, I added the “smart dolls” of the Dalai Lama and Karl Marx and placed them in the hands of future generations of the poor. The dolls are perhaps symbols of critical thinking that may be taboo in some mainstream institutions, or they could be interpreted as a mild threat to the ruling elite.

I also left room for other interpretations. The dolls could be seen as a call to revisit the idea of change from two very different schools of thought – the spiritual philosophy of the Dalai Lama and the material philosophy of Karl Marx.

I hope the drawing also reflects the huge distance between classes in today’s world, and poses more questions rather than answers. The “Dawn” soap bottle on the upper left corner is placed as a reminder of the way people were cleaning wild animals in the Gulf of Mexico during the current oil leak, but it can be interpreted as a metaphor for whitewashing class differences.

I am also raising a question here for which I don’t have an answer, and may require collective thinking: What is the alternative? What can we do to effect change without falling into horrible bureaucracies or idealistic, unworkable utopias? Perhaps we will find the answer in the necessity to survive, rather than in the false comfort of ideologies.

—E. Chagoya

About Timelines

TIMELINES

LANG PUBLIC ART SQUAD, UTOPIAN TIMELINE, 2010
INKJET PRINT

Instructor: Conor McGrady 
Students: Suzanne Akceylan, Jocelyn Degroot-Lutzner, Ana Gogsadze, Maya Herland-Scott, Amaya Keller, Eliza Lamb, Carolanne Marcantonio, Grace Milligan, Larkin Mohn, Patrick Nicholas, Sorcha Richardson, Alexa Riggs, Herschel Rose, Felicia Urso, Jordan Wolff

These timelines were the product of a seminar taught by Conor Mc Grady at Eugene Lang College in the spring of 2010. They present two subjective sociopolitical chronologies, which begin with 1931, the year Orozco’s New School murals were completed. The first timeline is based on factual events while the second is a hopeful and imaginative invention - a utopian rewrite of history by the Lang students.

 

Re-Imagining Orozco: Table of Universal Brotherhood 2010

RE-IMAGINING OROZCO: TABLE OF UNIVERSAL BROTHERHOOD 2010

MOTION GRAPHICS AND ANIMATION

Collaborators:

 
  • Serin Inan: Lead Compositor (All Transitions, Animated Opening)
  • Seul Lee: Rotating Tables
  • Ernesto Gutierrez Lezama: Hell Scene (Art and Design)
  • Umut Ozover: Overlapping Tables
  • Se Hee Choe: Electronic Tables
  • Halli Gomberg: Myths Scene
  • Robert Jan DeVries: Visual Effects Supervisor and Co-Faculty
  • Anezka Sebek: Director/Producer and Co-Faculty

Original music composed and performed by David Lopato, Faculty, The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music.


An “Orozco Animation Seminar” was created by Anezka Sebek to explore Orozco’s Table of Universal Brotherhood from a contemporary perspective. Students were asked to imagine who might be seated at the table today, or if such a table was relevant in the twenty-first century. The result of their intensive collaboration is the animated short, Re-Imagining Orozco: Table of Universal Brotherhood 2010. While the design process for the overall piece was a collaborative effort, each scene reflects the distinctive voice of the individual animation artist. A narrative of the film follows, as described by the collaborators:

This animation is an endless cycle that begins and ends with Orozco’s original version of The Table of Universal Brotherhood. To us, Orozco’s figures seemed not to be communicating with each other. We decided that nothing has really changed in the twenty-first century. There are only new versions of war, suffering, religious strife, and lack of clear communication.

We begin with the tearing apart of Orozco’s theatrical set. It is turned upside down as the original figures fall out of their seats. The book on the table flies toward us revealing the scenes of a moving table where a series of prominent artists of the world are seated, replaced by a group of celebrities. We then sink into a hot, hellish landscape where there is pain, violence, war, suffering, religious persecution and, finally, a nuclear bomb. The flames are doused with a gentle rain that falls from an “Orozco sky”. A table of powerful authors and other world leaders flips like a Transformer toy; the tabletop replicating itself and revealing new configurations of well-known figures, from prominent women to peacemakers, until all the tabletops explode into millions of tables connected through an electronic grid.

In the final segment, we focus in and find modern world leaders caught in a re-enactment of Aesop’s Fables, our tribute to Orozco's love of myth. Satirizing a political world run amok, we witness Obama struggling as Sisyphus, Alan Greenspan and Ahmadinejad re-enacting the Fable of the Sour Grapes. The last scene of an endless oil spill blurs into the blank pages of the original book and finds us back where we began, at Orozco’s Table of Universal Brotherhood.

Additional Resources

American, Born 1953, Mexico City, Mexico

LIVES IN SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA

Drawing from his experiences living on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border in the late 70's, and also in Europe in the late 90's, Enrique Chagoya juxtaposes secular, popular, and religious symbols in order to address the ongoing cultural clash between the United States, Latin America and the world as well. He uses familiar pop icons to create deceptively friendly points of entry for the discussion of complex issues. Through these seemingly harmless characters, Chagoya examines the recurring subject of colonialism and oppression that continues to riddle contemporary American foreign policy through what he calls reverse Anthropology.

Chagoya was born and raised in Mexico City. His father, a bank employee by day and artist by night, encouraged his interest in art by teaching Chagoya to sketch at a very early age. As a young adult, Chagoya enrolled in the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, where he studied political economy and contributed political cartoons to union newsletters. He relocated to Veracruz and directed a team focused on rural-development projects, a time he describes as "an incredible growing experience…[that] made me form strong views on what was happening outside in the world."1 This growing political awareness would later surface in Chagoya's art. At age 24, he immigrated to the United States and settled in McAllen, Texas. After eight months working as a union organizer for farm workers, Chagoya moved to Berkeley, California and began working as a free-lance illustrator and graphic designer. Disheartened by what he considered to be the narrow political scope of economics programs in local colleges, Chagoya turned his interests to art. He enrolled in the San Francisco Art Institute, where he earned a BFA in printmaking in 1984. He then pursued his MA and MFA at the University of California, Berkeley, graduating in 1987. He directed the Galeria de la Raza in San Francisco from 1987 to 1990. Then taught at UC Berkeley Art Department, and Cal State Hayward until 1995 when he joined the Stanford University's department of Art and Art History where he is currently Full Professor. In 2007 the Des Moines Art Center organized an exhibition survey of his work from the last twenty five years that traveled to the Palms Springs Museum, and the UC Berkeley Art Museum. In 2010 his work was included in the 17th Biennial in Sydney, Australia

His work can be found in many public collections including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Metropolitan Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco among others. He has been recipient of numerous awards such as two NEA artists fellowships, one more from the National Academy of Arts and Letters in New York, residencies at Giverny and Cite Internationale des Arts in France, and a Tiffany fellowship to mention a few.

He is represented by Gallery Paule Anglim in San Francisco, George Adams Gallery in New York, and Lisa Sette Gallery in Scottsdale, AZ. His prints are published by Shark's Ink in Lyons, Co, Electric Works in San Francisco, CA, Magnolia Editions in Oakland, CA, ULAE Bay Shore, NY, Segura Publishing in Pueblo, AZ, Trillium press in Brisbane, CA, Made in California in Oakland, CA, and Smith Andersen Editions in Palo Alto, CA

1 Enrique Chagoya quoted in Steven Nash, "Borders of the Spirit," Triptych (October/November/December 1994) 24.

José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949) was a leading member of the Mexican muralist public art movement, along with Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros. He completed his five socially-themed New School frescoes (a technique of applying pigment onto freshly-prepared plaster) in mid-January 1931, incorporating them into Austrian architect Joseph Urban's radical and new international style building. Originally, the rooms they currently occupy were the public dining room and an adjoining student lounge. Today, they are the only permanent, public examples of this Mexican fresco form in New York City.

Alma Reed, Orozco's art dealer, proposed to donate the project for only the cost of expenses. The New School for Social Research's founding president Alvin Johnson wrote, "What could have been my feeling when Orozco, the greatest mural painter of our time, proposed to contribute a mural. All I could say was, 'God bless you. Paint me the picture. Paint as you must. I assure you freedom.'"

Working with Lois Wilcox, his sole assistant, Orozco had just 47 days to paint the murals due to delays in the building's construction. Five major works resulted: Science, Labor, and Art introduces the cycle (hallway); Homecoming of the Worker of the New DayStruggle in the OrientStruggle in the Occident; and Table of Universal Brotherhood (Orozco Room).

Embracing a larger theme of the "Delphic Circle," or universal brotherhood, human imagery includes enslaved masses under British imperialism confronted by the figure of Gandhi, the socialist revolution in Mexico personified by the figure of the slain Governor of Yucatán, Felipe Carrillo Puerto and the Marxist revolution in Russia led by Lenin. Central on the rear wall, Table of Universal Brotherhoodshows figures of two Asians, an African, a Sikh, a Tartar, a Mexican-Indian, an African-American, an American art critic, a French philosopher, a Zionist and a Dutch poet.

Dominated by an earthy red palette with shades of gray, black and brown, the works have a 14th century Giotto-like stylistic severity. Orozco experimented with "dynamic symmetry", a technique that utilized geometric forms as a strategy for activating the compositional structure.

The murals, inaugurated on January 19, 1931, initially met with negative reviews. The public debate that followed (in part due to the inclusion of Lenin and Stalin, as well as the depiction of an African-American seated at the head of the Table of Universal Brotherhood) drew some 20,000 visitors in the first few months. In the 1950's, at the height of the McCarthy era, the New School administration elected to cover the portion of the panel depicting Lenin and Stalin with a yellow curtain. After vigorous student and faculty protests, the administration restored the murals to their original state.

Orozco's vision, in its uncompromising intensity and fervent political spirit, has remained intact over the years, notwithstanding the changing nature of artistic, political, social and institutional sensibilities.

By Diane Miliotes 

The idea of dedicating a New School exhibition to Re-Imagining Orozco at this tumultuous moment in time—one with apparently so many parallels to the early Depression era during which Orozco painted his murals at the school—seems entirely apropos. Seen from almost eighty years of distance, Orozco and his murals on the theme of universal brotherhood and future political avenues appear prophetic and disarmingly contemporary in their skeptical approach toward universalizing ideologies and the notion of linear human progress. [fig.1] While Orozco nurtured a utopian drive, he could never quite convince himself to be one, and he would perhaps not have been too surprised to find that many of the obstacles and struggles of his time still have correspondences today. Most of the artists contributing to this thought-provoking exhibition, organized by The New School Art Collection and the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons, appear to agree with Orozco’s assessment as it might apply to our present state of world affairs. Nevertheless, their work challenges us to re-engage with Orozco’s historical achievements and propositions at the same time that it serves as an invigorating reminder of what has indeed changed in the intervening years in artistic, technological, political, and social terms.i

When Orozco completed his murals at The New School in 1931, he not only sought to advance his career as a public artist in New York, his adopted home since 1927, but to place in conversation the choices, as he saw them, facing a world that had recently been plunged into crisis, from the economic and social meltdown of the Great Depression to the stirrings of fascism. His frescoes visualize these choices in both specific and oddly circumspect fashion. On the one hand, he offered viewers competing portraits of major political or revolutionary leaders, such as Lenin and Gandhi, while, on the other, his decidedly non-linear arrangement of panels forestalls any preferential reading of a particular political movement or a satisfactory resolution to the questions posed by his cycle. [fig. 2] Indeed the most celebrated panel, The Table of Universal Brotherhood, is only nominally utopian, registering Orozco’s ambivalent view of the possibilities for human collaboration. [fig. 3] Instead Orozco chose to shape a debative and purposely inconclusive visual statement that sought to incite a particular audience—of students, faculty, activists, thinkers, donors, and others associated with The New School, as well as a larger New York public—to grapple with questions surrounding their political present and future.

It is in this spirit of thoughtful, engaged debate and collaboration that The New School Art Collection curators Silvia Rocciolo and Eric Stark have organized Re-Imagining Orozco. [fig. 4] Comprised by visual, textual, and audio contributions by invited artists, faculty, and students, the exhibition reopens, through a contemporary prism, a conversation begun by Orozco in his murals around the issues of revolution, utopian thought, and the political, as well as providing a platform for reconsidering the relevance of Orozco’s legacy. As part of the show’s conceptualization and practice, the curators have crafted an unprecedented intra-institutional dialogue within The New School that mirrors in many ways what Orozco likely wished to encourage in his intended audience. The exhibition itself enacts and materializes these multiple layers of dialogue and collaboration: among the curators, the principal contemporary artist Enrique Chagoya, and students and faculty from diverse administrative units around the school, including The New School for Social Research, Parsons Animation, Illustration, and Product Design programs, Lang College’s Public Art Squad, New School’s Jazz and Drama programs, among others. Moreover, Orozco, as inspirational counterpoint and interlocutor, haunts the gallery space in the form of large, strategically placed projections of his mural cycle. [fig. 5] Removed from their original context, the historical specificities of his frescoes are both dissolved and allowed free play within the installation, resonating with their appropriations and reinterpretations by the contemporary contributors.

Of these, Chagoya’s three Homages to Orozco, large-scale sumi ink drawings on paper, represent the most sustained and complex response to Orozco’s work and legacy. [fig. 6] In their scale and stark red and black palette they recall his works from the 1990s and late 2000s satirizing the Reagan and George W. Bush years, but they have the most in common with his series of “forgeries,” which channel the critical edge and historical resonances of other admired artists (like Goya and Guston). In such works Chagoya revises his signature “reverse anthropological” aesthetic approach that pits the images of a dominant culture against itself through the clash of the familiar and estranged, the riff and scramble of collage and appropriation. Like the “forgeries,” rather than working against the grain of a dominant cultural legacy, his Homages are largely an appropriation in concert with Orozco. This represents a subtle yet bold artistic move on Chagoya’s part since his encounter with Orozco here is not limited to The New School murals. It is also a confrontation with the cultural weight of Mexican muralism itself, a politically and artistically charged, as well as suffocatingly canonical, tradition from which Mexican artists of Chagoya’s generation have sought to distinguish themselves. Despite Orozco’s prominent place within Mexican muralism, the mordant aspects of his work have often made it stubbornly resistant to facile political instrumentalization, and Chagoya milks these critical and resistant qualities in his promiscuous borrowing from the artist’s repertoire, appropriating not only from his murals but from small scale drawings and prints, in which Orozco particularly excelled in caricature, expressionistic flair, and satirical bite. In some of Chagoya’s images one can finger the sources and their resonances, especially those from the important 1945 series La Verdad (Truth),iiwhile others are his own sly Orozco-style inventions whose references are nevertheless recognizable to the knowledgeable viewer. Chagoya exploits the caricatural and expressive freedoms allowed by this mash-up to meet Orozco on his own grand scale. At 92 x 140 inches these monumental drawings are the largest works he has made to date,iii and Chagoya not only extends some of them beyond their edges by painting directly onto the walls of the gallery but emphasizes the provisional, impermanent, spontaneous, and chaotic qualities of his ink medium to suggest what a revised notion of engaged contemporary “wall” painting might look like in conversation with the Mexican mural tradition.

Each of Chagoya’s drawings anchors an area of the installation, creating zones of dialogue with the projections of the murals, as well as other surrounding works. Homage to Orozco #2, Chagoya’s powerful contribution to the exhibition’s initial section, confronts alternating images of The New School panels Struggle in the Orient and Struggle in the Occident, which feature Orozco’s iconic representations of leaders of the communist, socialist, and pacifist movements. Elaborating on themes raised in these panels, particularly political ideologies and leader-mass dynamics in revolutionary movements, Chagoya’s Homage positions ineffectual, googly eyed figures of Lenin and Gandhi, respectively as supplicating calavera and as grinning head perched upon a single shapely leg, among the rude, guffawing masses (an iconographic appropriation of Orozco’s scathing print of the same name). [fig. 7] Balanced above them on a bloody soapbox towers a multi-layered medusa-like monstrosity, half-beast, half-human, a visualization of uncontrollable, unknowable destructive power. Based upon the drawing The Devil from the Verdad series, Chagoya transforms the serpent heads of the original into wildly writhing appendages, further underlining the figure’s threatening power as well as its references to pre-Hispanic art and myth. Around this idol clamor the unending masses, whose image Chagoya extends not only to the horizon but beyond the confines of the paper along the walls of the gallery in such a way as to include and implicate us as viewers. This sense of the inescapable, infinite, and cyclical, attributes also associated with the circular serpent forms that hover above and within the image, establishes a tone within the exhibition quite distinct from Orozco’s ambivalent yet open-ended murals. It is a tone nearing impossibility and verging on clear-eyed dread of both the present and the future.

Homage to Orozco #1, which includes Chagoya’s take on Orozco’s Table of Universal Brotherhood, dominates the adjacent gallery space, a large area of the exhibition that extends an invitation to consider in various ways the utopian proposition of Orozco’s panel. [fig. 8] Besides Chagoya’s work, it is occupied by a large projection of the Table panel itself as part of an animation created by the Parsons Orozco Animation Seminar; at the center of the gallery a gently glowing reconstruction of Orozco’s table, with the computer upon it set to the exhibition web page and blog, inviting a 21st-century version of participation; and the Utopian Timeline created by Lang College Public Art Squad, which offers an imaginative, and strangely hopeful, alternative history to that of the last seventy-nine years through a wry attentiveness to historic missed opportunities as well as to the challenges of an imagined world organized around equality.

While Orozco’s panel, with its static gathering and open expanse of table occupied only by an uninscribed book, holds the viewer in skeptical suspense, Chagoya’s caustically comical Homage thrusts before us the grim reality of human fate and the seeming insurmountability of contemporary problems. [fig. 9] A dripping, oozing skull, a monumental calavera, symbol of ever-present and equalizing death, dominates the left half of the sheet and towers over the tiny figures gathered at the barely outlined table. The table itself and the contorted figure upon it, appropriated from Orozco’s Verdad series, dwarf Chagoya’s new representatives of universal “brotherhood:” Mao, Queen Elizabeth, and Washington on the right, and Andy Warhol, Stephen Hawking, and Dolores Huerta on the left, the latter group an unlikely contemporary trinity of art, science, and labor in emulation of the allegorical panel that opens Orozco’s mural cycle. [fig. 10] Like Lenin and Gandhi, the authority of each of these figures is undermined by the addition of googly eyes, making them appear apprehensive or absurdly insensible to the grotesque break dance of harsh reality that tries to attract their attention. This humorous, off-kilter touch makes such an unsparing vision bearable, an idea that Chagoya extends in further homage to the artist by surrounding the large drawing with a welter of Orozco-inspired student prints and small caricatures, the latter painted directly onto the wall in collaboration with student assistants.

Nearby, Orozquian humor and satire as strategies of critique and productive dislocation are also mobilized, in a more technologically forward fashion, in Re-Imagining Orozco: Table of Universal Brotherhood 2010, an animation created by students in the Parsons Orozco Animation Seminar. While sharing with Orozco a belief in the cyclical nature of human suffering and striving and with Chagoya the intractability of global problems, the animators probe, and seek to rectify, the artist’s historic soft spots, as well as directing our attention to the follies of the present political moment, from the Gulf oil spill to the health care debate to tensions with Iran. In their updating of an all-inclusive table of world discussion, the animators begin their re-imaginings with a “table of sisterhood,” which soon multiplies into a mosaic of tables peopled by leaders, celebrities, writers, artists, and peacemakers from diverse walks of life and nationalities. These surfaces eventually evolve into a virtual “electronic grid” that references our radically changed notions of communication, collaboration, and community.

It is the improbability of building genuine community across class and other lines that animates Chagoya’s third and final Homage, placed adjacent to the projection of Orozco’s idealized panel Homecoming of the Worker of the New Day, as well as the faux museum shop featuring incisive creations by Product Design students. Chagoya’s drawing evokes one of Orozco’s caricatures of elites from the Verdad series, Poor and Rich, in which upper class figures share an unlikely embrace with the beastly and unclean. In Chagoya’s version, however, these creatures still harbor the remnants of class consciousness, borne in the innocuous form of playthings, Marx and Dalai Lama dolls, and over the entire group hovers a bottle of Dawn dishwashing liquid, whose literal and metaphorical cleansing properties here extend far beyond the kitchen or crude oil spills. [fig. 11]

This vision of a present in which old formulas no longer function, and in which humankind seems incapable of meeting the enormous task set before us by our own destructiveness, runs throughout the exhibition. Like Orozco, in the face of such circumstances these artists have refused to prescribe a future path. What they and the exhibition curators have done however, through exploring new aesthetic and technological avenues, is to underline the necessity for engagement, collaboration, and clear-eyed assessments. These goals were at the heart of Orozco’s enterprise. In restoring the artist and his work to the center of a contemporary public debate on the political function of art, this exhibition allows us to see Orozco reflected through a different lens at the same time that we turn to catch a glimpse of the creative potentials for the future.

i For a fuller analysis of this aspect of the murals, see Diane Miliotes, “The Murals at The New School for Social Research (1930-31),” José Clemente Orozco in the United States, 1927-1934 (New York and London: Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, in association with W. W. Norton), 118-141, esp. 139-141.

ii The series consists of approximately eighty works, most of which Orozco produced in July 1945 and showed in the third annual exhibition of the Colegio Nacional; Ernesto Lumbreras, “La Verdad, México, 1945,” in José Clemente Orozco: Pintura y Verdad(Guadalajara: Instituto Cultural Cabañas, 2010), 364. See also José Clemente Orozco, Serie “La Verdad” (Mexico City: Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil/Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes), 2004.

iii These are the dimensions of Homage to Orozco #1 and #2. Homage #3 is slightly smaller at 90 x 120 inches. Personal communication with the artist, Aug. 4, 2010.

Diane Miliotes is an independent art historian, curator, and educator based in Chicago. A specialist in art of the interwar years, and in particular modern art of Latin America, she currently lectures at the Art Institute of Chicago, where she organized the exhibition “José Guadalupe Posada and the Mexican Broadside” (2006). She has previously taught and curated at Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, and Dartmouth College. While at Dartmouth, she co-curated the international traveling exhibition “José Clemente Orozco in the United States, 1927-1934” (2002-2003), and she is currently co-curator of “José Clemente Orozco: Pintura y Verdad” (2010-2011), a retrospective of the artist’s work that is now touring Mexico

CODICES

CURATED BY ENRIQUE CHAGOYA

Codex created from a selection of lithographs produced by students in Martin Mazorra’s lithography section, Parsons Introductory Printmaking Course, Spring 2010.

Left to right: Mary Cumming, Domingo Sepulveda, Calli O’Connor, Julee Yoo, Crystal Bruno, So Yoon Kim, Nazli Deniz Ayas, Ciara Gay, Dylan Magwood

These digitally assembled codices were chosen from works produced in Shana Agid’s printmaking section, Parsons Introductory Printmaking Course, Spring 2010.

Left codex: Georgia Frank, Many Cumming, Steph Ziemann, Mollie Komins, Annie Sieg, Qian Wang, Kelsie Spann, Jenny Kim

Right codex: Rachel Tonthat, Masuko Jo, Monica Ramos, Saki Hashimoto, Crystal Bruno, Chelsey Pettyjohn, Delaney Gibbons, Jin Ha Lim, Iain Burke

Hand-made books selected from works produced in Parsons Introductory Printmaking Course, Spring 2010.

Left to right: Nina Cabayan, Plant a Tree, Rachel Levit Ruiz, The Educated Gringo, Domingo Sepulveda, Untitled (Seagull)

TOTEM

CURATED BY ENRIQUE CHAGOYA
SILKSCREEN ON COTTON TOTE BAGS

Chosen from a group of works produced in Marie Dormuth’s silkscreening section, Parsons Introductory Printmaking Course, Spring 2010.

From top: Monica Ramos, Domingo Sepulveda, Yasmin Liang, N. Derya Sensoy

Have museum exhibitions become merchandizing tools for a consumer driven culture?

What if the museum store was not a purveyor of merchandise but a generator of ideas?

We invited students to challenge the role of the museum store, making it an originator rather than a beneficiary of ideas.

The prototypes were produced by students in Parsons’ Product Design program as their final project in Christian Swafford’s and Kevin Jean’s sophomore Introduction to CAD class, Spring 2010.

The curators wish to thank the following individuals for their enthusiastic support and contributions in making this exhibition possible.

Shana Agid 
Steven Guarnaccia 
James Miller 
Angela Bankhead 
Victoria Hattam 
Martin Mueller 
Banu Bargu 
Tatiana Istominà 
Pippin Parker 
Chris Bruce 
Kevin Jean 
Daniel Pearle 
Enrique Chagoya 
Robert Kirkbride 
William Phipps 
Helena Maria Chmielewska-Szlajfer 
Robert Kostrzewa 
Lauren Redniss 
Stefania de Kennessey 
Maria Pia Lara 
Anezka Sebek 
RJ DeVries 
David Lopato 
Michael Schober 
Marie Dormuth 
Robert Lupone 
Christian Swafford 
Oz Frankel 
Lenore Malen 
Duncan Tonatiuh 
Rezvaneh Ganji 
Martin Mazorra 
Sven Travis 
Jeffrey Goldfarb 
Conor McGrady 
John Wanzel 
Judith Goudsmit

Special thanks to all of the participating students from Parsons The New School for Design, Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts, The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, The New School for Drama and The New School for Social Research. Their contributions were essential to the exhibition's success.

We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the Office of the Provost, Parsons School of Art, Media and Technology and the Sheila Johnson Design Center, particularly the generosity and encouragement of Radhika Subramaniam.

CURATED BY SILVIA ROCCIOLO AND ERIC STARK

Graphic Design by TODA
Photographs by Martin Seck