Mexican Art & Life (1938-1939)
Mexican Art & Life’s topical content is fairly consistent throughout its brief history. Most issues feature a mix of travel-guide-like promotionals about tourist destinations, articles on artistic practices or traditions, profiles of Mexican artists, and commentaries on social or economic issues, as well as occasional prose or fiction pieces.
The very first issue (Jan. 1938) opens with an effusive paean to Mexico City, highlighting its Aztec history and its many North American firsts:
[Mexico City] expressed her love to the spiritual in the most egregious cathedral of America; her love to Science in the first University, the first printing press and the first library; her love for beauty in the first Acadey of Beaux Arts to be established in all the continent. (n.p.)Issue No. 3 (July 1938) follows up with J. Rodolfo Lozada’s description of a trip to Yucatan, appealing to potential tourists with lines such as, “The soul of Merida imprisons and bewitches the wayfarer” and “Awaiting [the traveler] are the ruins of a civilization which, until a few years ago, only interested the archaeologist but now attract poet and philosopher alike.” Other featured sites include the Aztec ruins at Malinalco and the Iturbide Palace (April 1938), as well as Monte Alban and San Miguel de Allende (Oct. 1938).
Art history topics include Oaxacan pottery (April 1938), Mexican lithographs (July 1938), Political Caricature in Mexico (July 1938), 19th century photographic portraits (Oct. 1938), and Aztec animal figurines (April 1939), among others. Artists profiled over the course of the magazine include: landscape artist and portraitist Argüelles Bringas and oil painter Francisco Gutierrez (April 1938); painter Jesus Guerrero Galvan, wax-and-fabric modeler Luis Hidalgo, and landscapist Dr. Atl (July 1938); landscapist Jose Maria Velasco and painter Federico Cantú (Oct. 1938); and photographer Majuel Alvarez Bravo and painter Agustin Lazo (April 1939).Seeming sometimes at odds with the celebratory tone and arts & culture of the rest of the magazine are occasional articles that explicitly address politics and economics. “The Moving Forces in Mexican Life” (Jan. 1938) draws on a lecture delivered by Dr. Ramon Beteta, then under-secretary of the Foreign Office” and focuses on the role of the Mexican Revolution as a social force, its development and future.
“The Indian Problem” (Oct. 1938) and “Mexico’s Demographic Policy” (April 1939) both make for particularly uncomfortable reading, although they likely reflected mainstream opinion at the time.The latter article is especially disturbing when the modern reader looks at it through the lens of global events of 1939. Author Gilberto Loyo devotes several paragraphs to discussing immigrants and their relative desirability based on ethnicity or national origin. In particular, he discourages Jewish refugees, stating that “The demographic, economic and social characteristics of the Jews do not make them desirable for Mexico.” On the other hand, he espouses Spanish immigration (by Spaniards fleeing the Spanish Civil War) with the explanation that, “a crossing between the Spanish immigrant and the predominantly indigenous half-breed may take place.”The final issue of Mexican Art & Life (July 1939) is wholly devoted to a celebration of the 400th anniversary of printing in Mexico, counting from “the establishment of the first printing shop by an Italian called Giovanni Paoli, commonly known as Juan Pablos,” in Mexico City in 1539. The bulk of this issue consists of a series of articles on Mexican books devoted to the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. These are preceded by an article on the pictographic codices of Pre-Hispanic Mexico and followed by the article “Outline of Mexican Contemporary Typography,” which offers an overview of the Mexican printing in the initial decades of the 20th century. Interspersed throughout are articles on the free press, a 16th century wood engraving that landed the printer in an Inquisition trial, bookbinding, and ownership marks. Three of Special Collections’ issues of Mexican Art & Life – No. 1, Jan. 1938, No. 2, April 1938, and No. 6, April 1939 — once belonged to the American ex-patriot artists Stefan Hirsch and Elsa Rogo. Stefan Hirsch (1899-1964) was a painter, muralist, and printmaker who produced paintings in the Precisionist aesthetic that focused on cities and factories. Hirsch, like his contemporary George Ault (1891-1948) “reduced the world to the simplest, mere blocks and cylinders.” His wife, Elsa Rogo (1901-1996), was a painter and art teacher. During the time that they lived in Mexico, she founded a painting school for children and published Walls and Volcanos: The Creative Impulse of the Mexican People (1937).
The Stefan Hirsch and Elsa Rogo Papers are held by the Smithsonian Archives of American Art. The papers include the artists’ home movies of daily life in Taxco, Guerrero and Tehauntepec , Oaxaca between 1935-1941. Read more (and see one of the films) on the Archives of American Art Blog.
 Ilene Susan Fort, “Precisionism,” Grove Art Online, Oxford Art Online, (Oxford University Press, accessed Aug. 29, 2013.
 Archives of American Art, “A Rare Delight: Mexican Home Movies from the 1930s,” Archives of Americna Art Blog, Aug. 16, 2012, accessedAug. 29, 2013.