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.
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 Day; Struggle in the Orient; Struggle 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
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)
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.
Helena Maria Chmielewska-Szlajfer
Stefania de Kennessey
Maria Pia Lara
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.