Mexico in San Francisco: Works on Paper from Diego Rivera to Alejandro Santiago

"Mi Tia" by Rafael Coronel (left) and (Heaven, Earth, and Hell) by Alejandro Santiago (right)

"Mi Tia" by Rafael Coronel (left) and (Heaven, Earth, and Hell) by Alejandro Santiago (right)

Walking into this show, Mexico in San Francisco: Works on Paper from Diego Rivera to Alejandro Santiago at the Mexican Museum in San Francisco was an uplifting experience. Although the museum is small and a little out of the way, the exhibition was excellent, and a fantastic opportunity to view wonderful works by Mexican Masters.

It was definitely worth the visit.

This small Museum in San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center is comprised of three small showrooms, creating an intimate atmosphere, vastly different from the grand but often cold environments of larger, modern museum spaces.

The first room featured paintings by Miguel Covarrubias, Rosa Rolanda, Alejandro Santiago, Diego Rivera, and Rafael Coronel, Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington, Francisco Toledo and José Luis Cuevas.

The central wall in this room featured two large works side by side, one by Alejandro Santiago and one by Rafael Coronel. The colors complement each other brilliantly, the soft purple of the cochineal on amate paper by Santiago, placed next to the ethereal, pastel-blue work by Rafael Coronel, created an almost spiritual atmosphere.

The other two walls were flanked with smaller works by other Mexican legends, including a fantastic iconic painting of a Mexican rural cantina set in a landscape of roaming hillsides by Mexican legend, Diego Rivera.

Also in this room I was impressed to see works by three surrealist women artists, who until recently have been overlooked.

There was an exquisite small painting by Remedios Varo and a wonderful, color pencil drawing by Leonora Carrington. Both of whom escaped from Europe during the Second World War and made Mexico their permanent home.

The third female artist was Rosa Rolanda, wife of internationally renowned Mexican artist, Miguel Covarrubias. Her work was a wonderful 1940’s, surrealist painting of a shell on the beach. A marvelous example of a 40’s surrealist painting.

In this room were also two classic works by Mexican legend, Francisco Toledo. The works feature the typical mystical, animal imagery so often the theme of Toledo’s paintings.

Blue Grasshopper  by Francisco Toledo

Blue Grasshopper by Francisco Toledo

The painting titled “The Blue Grasshopper” is particularly beautiful and a perfect example of the best of his works.

The work by José Luis Cuevas in this room is an unusually large work for the artist, and portrays the Cuevas himself sitting in a police station in New York with his dealer, Jose Gomez Sicre. It is no surprise that Cuevas was known for his confrontational and aggressive personality.

There were more works by Cuevas throughout the show depicting wonderfully emotional and intimate images of women, so typical of the best of the works by the artist.

I was pulled out of this first room, and into the main room of the exhibition by a vibrant, red and blue portrait depicting a Mexican revolutionary soldier by Alfredo Ramos Martínez.

This room featured works by Rufino Tamayo, Gunther Gerzso, Carlos Mérida, and José Clemente Orozco. After been drawn into the room by the portrait, I turned around to see another wonderful watercolor by Diego Rivera, titled Cosecha de Eden, depicting a dream like forest scene of morphing colors comprised of pastel blues, yellows, and greens with a mysterious man dressed in white and beige standing in front of two traveling women. 

On the wall opposite the Rivera were two works on paper paintings by Rufino Tamayo, one comprised of rich, earth tone colors, title Two Nudes Bathing and the other titled Boatman, a wonderful modernist painting.

Other walls in the main showroom displayed two paintings by Carlos Mérida (one abstract and one early figurative work), a large, colorful, abstract mixograph by Gunther Gerzso, a brilliantly surreal watercolor by Francisco Toledo, and another fantastic portrait by Alfredo Ramos Martínez.

The third and final room in the back of the museum was comprised of mono-chromatic pieces by Alejandro Santiago, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, Leopoldo Méndez and José Luis Cuevas.

The first wall you would see as you walked into this room was decorated with three bold, black and white lithographs by Diego Rivera: Boy with Taco, Sleeping Children, and one of Rivera’s most iconic images, Zapata with a White Horse.


Being the works are all mono-chromatic, this room is in some ways the most compelling.

The powerful, large work, Apocalypse Oaxaca by Alejandro Sntiago is a painting depicting the recent massacre of teachers on strike by soldiers in Oaxaca, Mexico. A scene Santiago witnessed from the roof of his studio. 

Next to the Santiago was a black and white linoleum cut by Leopoldo Méndez. A powerful image of a revolutionary rider on horseback.

To the left of the Santiago were three brilliant works by Mexican master José Clemente Orozco. These three works, executed with bold, decisive brush stokes are a testament to the influence Orozco had on the development of the abstract expressionist movement in the USA, particularly on Jackson Pollock.

All in all a fantastic display in San Francisco.

More Information

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Maximilian Mc Donald