Our Visit to Picasso and Rivera: Conversations Across Time at LACMA

Ana Guajardo

I am a huge Diego Rivera fan, I have seen his work in his childhood home turned museum in Guanajuato, Mexico, as well as in Mexico City, San Francisco and most recently at the Detroit Museum of Art. So I was so excited that so many more of his works were coming to my hometown in the exhibition Picasso and Rivera: Conversations Across Time, on view now through May 7, 2017 at the L.A. County Art Museum of Art (LACMA). Of course I am also a Picasso lover, but I honestly never considered his connection to Diego Rivera until I saw this truly eye opening show. It really changed my perspective on both Rivera and Picasso and helped me understand their work in a much broader light.

 The first room you enter called “The Academy” is full of early work executed by both masters in their respective art schools, they had similar training and were both practically child prodigies, it was great to show my 9 year old daughter, a budding artist and illustrator, the works of Rivera as a teenager, she was blown away. Since she has recently taken up drawing following YouTube tutorials it was interesting to show her how these artists learned from source materials, centuries-old antiquities. There were also letters between the two artists displayed in this gallery, and Fatimah pointed out that the two artists were pen pals! They definitely forged a relationship that transcended culture and an ocean between them.

 In addition to being an amazing muralist Diego Rivera was a truly versatile modern artist who played in European styles of painting, like landscape, portraiture and Cubism. In the room “Cubism and Paris” Picasso and Rivera works are placed in dialogue to each other and at times it’s difficult to tell who painted what without reading the labels. Rivera, always a proud Mexican nationalist, found ways to interject symbols and colors of his beloved Mexico into these works.

Zapatista Landscape is a painting I have always loved and I was blown away to see it in person. It is a work Rivera painted about the original Zapatista movement- the one led by Emiliano Zapata during the Mexican revolution on the late twentieth century. While

Picasso’s Cubist  incorporate details of Parisian culture, Rivera’s is rooted in Mexican imagery- a zarape textile, the rifle carried by revolutionaries, the mountainous landscape of the insurgents, details that evoke Mexico while clearly using the Cubist aesthetic of Europe.

The large, open-spaced gallery “Return to Order & Indigenismo” was perhaps my favorite. Here brilliant connections were made between Rivera and Picasso as both being artists who drew inspiration and imagery from the ancient civilizations of their respective homelands (Rivera to ancient Mesoamerica, and Picasso to Iberian and Greco-Roman) and repurposed them with modernist nuance. I was impressed to see works by Picasso I never knew existed, and as a Mexicana, I literally nearly cried at some of the beautiful Rivera paintings drawing from indigenous culture that reminded me of places I have visited in my motherland. The round and brown beautiful faces in Flower Day, Xochimilco (El dia de clas flores, Xochimilco), 1926 is just one of many of the beautiful (and albeit ideal) portrayals of indigenous life in this gallery. To see so many of these works in person is so inspiring and moving.

An entire room was dedicated to work Diego Rivera created around El Popol Vuh, an ancient text by the Mayan. Apparently Rivera could recite entire verses of the Spanish version from memory (obsessed much?)! Seriously though this room gave me so much insight to Rivera’s level of study and passion that Rivera had for indigenous thought and history, and its something that penetrates all of his later work, from paintings to murals.

Something that pleasantly surprised me about this exhibition was seeing actual antiquities that were inspirations to both artists mixed in with the modern works in the galleries. Roman sculptures, Greek ceramics, Aztec stone figures and more were so powerful to see and understand the source materials that inspired these artists. Beautiful connections were made between ancient and the modern like with this Rivera painting Petate Bearer (Cargador de Petate), 1943, and this ancient ceramic figure from that was a part of Rivera’s personal collection.

I loved how moved my daughter and partner were so engaged in the exhibition, and I would recommend it for anyone of any age and cultural background. I feel the spirit of both artists is so richly animated here, as well as a history that connects them across cultures and continents.

I find it so important to bring my daughter to museums, and we are so fortunate to have such world-class institutions like LACMA and exhibitions like these in our hometown. Someday I think she’ll look back and feel amazed that she had the opportunity to see all of these works by two of the most prominent artists of the twentieth century, I know I feel this way! I plan on returning once more before it closes and this time take one of the guided tours offered (check out the schedule here). Be sure not to miss this show, it’s only up for another month and so worth the trip!


This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of LACMA. The opinions and text are all mine.