Arizona ArtBeat

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The Phoenix Art Museum

Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of "Arizona Artbeat" takes us to the Phoenix Art Museum where tomorrow an impressive collection of Mexican art makes its United States' debut. "Modern Mexican Painting" is an exhibition that includes 80 pieces from the extensive private collection of Andres Blaisten. The art was created between 1910 and 1950 -- four decades that are considered a Renaissance period for Mexican artists. Included in the collection are familiar names like Diego Rivera and other artists that many Americans have never heard of. Here to tell us more about the exhibition is James Ballinger, director of the Phoenix art museum. Thanks for joining us. This is an impressive collection. Who is Andrés Blaisten?

James Ballinger: Well, Ted, it's great to be here. Andrés is a major collector of Mexican argument. Intriguing man, has a scientific background. Involved with business, sold a company about 20 years ago and basically invested all of his time in building a collection to redefine the understanding of modern Mexican art and I think he's succeeding and placed his collection on deposit to the university -- at a university in Mexico.

Ted Simons: You've cultivated a relationship with Mr. Blaisten, correct?

James Ballinger: In a way, and somewhat serendipitously. I met him eight years ago in Mexico city and done a lot of projects in Mexico and my wife and I have been down there a number of times and kept running into him and I went to his home and saw a tip of an iceberg and then fortunate to see the first installation of the collection at the university and I asked him if he would consider sending it to the states. We'd love to host of the exhibition. Didn't think he would do that. And two years later, I've changed my mind. Are you game and here we are.

Ted Simons: From 1910 to 1950, a important time for art in Mexico, for a lot of things in Mexico.

James Ballinger: Yeah, I mean, the significance of 1910 is the revolution. Which occurred over a period of years and a great upheaval but Mexico became a world stage. It was a very utopian -- many people, you could overthrow a dictator and that here -- and it was the 20th century and we can change things. 1950 is a little bit less necessary, it's kind of World War II before things change.

Ted Simons: There are a number of rubrics, categories of art. Including the open air schools, 1920, talk to us about those schools.

James Ballinger: It's a fascinating concept. When the revolution came, there was basically no public education in Mexico, in the rural areas they created these -- schools were in tents and thus, open air and got going. And the then minister of education felt that the visual arts could go a long way toward literacy and communication. So artists started teaching youngster, we have a collection of 60 paintings by 14 year olds currently on view also and many of whom ended up in the show later in their life.
Ted Simons: I think we can take a look at some of the video of the exhibit, as people are walking through. The political climate and national self-awareness, big stuff.

James Ballinger: Big thing. And you mentioned Diego Rivera. He was in France and we had all this stuff in the art world--and when the upheaval happened he and other Mexicans came home and shift what had they were doing, looking at the roots of Mexico, the indigenous people, people in the rural areascoming into the urban areas and what they're life would be like.

Ted Simons: You mentioned the European influence, obviously there, but Mexican art influenced as well.

James Ballinger: Yeah, Mexico is a huge influence on American art. Huge. Many artists working in New Mexico, a big art colony, going back and forth. Fulbright scholarships going back and forth. Southern California, the whole area. On the other hand, Mexicans were going to New York making prints. Diego Rivera was doing a series of mural in New York. And the whole WPA mural movement here in America, absolutely is a offshoot from Mexico.

Ted Simons: I want it take a look at a couple of examples from the exhibits if we can,, one of these shows the avant-garde influence coming out of the Cubism and those things, what are we looking at here?

James Ballinger: Angel was a friend of Diego Rivera and Picasso was the great cubist painter. And you're looking at "the poetess." You have a woman poet, in a flat abstract way, with her pens and paper in front of her and cubist artists were trying to analyze form down to its most minimalist look.

Ted Simons: Rivera, he's the big guy.

James Ballinger: It's the bridge to san Martine, in Toledo, Spain. This is 1917 before he came back from Paris through Spain to Mexico and here you see the same fractured look of trying to create the energy and almost the physics of engineering in a painting.

Ted Simons: When you see a David Rivera you think of Frida Kahlo and you've got her there at the museum, but this exhibit does not--

James Ballinger: He set up a very interesting thing. His goal was to create a look at Mexican art that had never been explained and told me if he focused on buying Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera's major works, he'd have eight paintings. The value is astronomical. But instead he spent 25 years looking artists, he bought 20, 30, 40 works, their print, so they all work together. There's 8,000 pieces. When he was here, he made a point that his collection has rewritten the history of Mexican art.

Ted Simons: As a bridge between cultures, how important is an exhibit like this, how important is Mexican modern art?

James Ballinger: As we've discussed Mexican modern art is hugely important and a show like this is very, very important to our community. Arizona was part of Mexico and as we look at our centennial, we'll learn more about that. And I've always believed that museums stand so that cultural bridges help you to understand other people, other cultures in a area you should feel safe to understanding and hopefully these bridges can build better tolerance in our communities.

Ted Simons: And the collection looks fantastic. You must be a happy guy.

James Ballinger: We're open on July 4th, especially for this show. Very good. Good to have you here.

Ted Simons: Thanks for joining us.

James Ballinger: Ted, thank you very much.

James Ballinger: Phoenix Art Museum Director

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