Gráfica Mexicana

Dynamic Online Catalog of Mexican Graphics


As an art historian who specializes in the political graphics of post-Revolutionary Mexico, for many years I have dreamed of a resource that would bring together all the available imagery of works by the main producers of political graphics in Mexico from approximately 1890 to 1960. These are principally José Guadalupe Posada and Manuel Manilla, the Movimiento Estridentista, Grupo de Pintores ¡30-30!, Liga de Escritores y Artistas Revolucionarios (LEAR) and the Taller de Gráfica Popular (TGP).

Gráfica Mexicana seeks to fulfill this dream.

There are many challenging aspects to art historical investigations of these collectives, including the paucity of existing research and the disarray of certain key archives. However, the most daunting challenge has been the broad lack of access to the groups' works. Only a small fraction of the art has been published. There are many reasons for this lack of availability. For many years, to cite one example, ephemeral political works (ie. posters, flyers, etc.) weren't considered art and were acquired only by institutions interested in them as historical documents. These historical documents weren't given the same level of care or preservation that they would have received had they been considered "art."

In large part, this lacuna is due to the fragile nature of the works themselves. Political graphics were often deployed in the service of a specific objective, such as the election of a candidate or to increase turnout at a demonstration. In these instances, the goal was not to produce a piece that would survive into the future but, rather, to create and distribute as many posters, flyers, leaflets, etc. as possible. Most of the groups in question ran with the tightest of budgets so increasing volume while keeping costs to a minimum meant sacrificing the quality of the works. The result was that most of the works of interest were printed on the cheapest papers available and with low quality inks. The paper used for printing the ephemeral works have high acid content and very short fibers. With age, they begin to resemble newsprint that has been left in the sun, brittle and crumbling. In short, the works of these groups were never designed to last; they are truly ephemeral.

The fragility of the art in question and the fact that they have and are presently turning to dust creates for me an art-historical imperative: we must create and preserve viable surrogates for these works. When I worked as an expert in the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress, cataloging that institution's collection of works by the TGP, I was impressed by the Library's mandate: to provide access wherever possible, often through the creation of surrogates. Surrogate production will be a vital tool in preserving ephemeral political graphics for generations to come.

Finally, for many years I worked towards the production of a catalogue raisonné of the TGP. I believed not only that the group's work merited such a publication but that this was the only way to genuinely provide the art historical community with the necessary access for valuable evaluation to take place. I made numerous inroads with the institutions that hold major bodies of TGP works. With letters of support and cooperation from the Library of Congress, Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum, and Art Institute of Chicago, among many others, I was able to secure two initial grants and begin work.

What I did not fully appreciate at the time was that there are a number of factors which stack the deck against a publication of this type. Economically speaking, typical printed catalog raisonnnés are often a losing proposition for publishers. The quality is very high with numerous images, resulting in an expensive product. But, because of the narrow interest, there isn't that big an audience. Aside from institutions, libraries and universities, there's only a slim market for these type of high-end, glossy coffee table books. Another strike against a printed catalog raisonné is that once it comes of the press, it's final. Any new works that come to light, any new scholarship, remains outside the scope of the "complete catalog."

My intention for Gráfica Mexicana is to create a dynamic catalog of Mexican graphics that, because it is a free academic resource, will be accessible to as broad an audience as possible. By "dynamic," I mean two things. First, the site will continue to evolve and grow as new images and information become available. I hope to constantly be adding recently found images, essays, book reviews and excerpts, etc. Second, the site will be dynamic in the sense that the visitor will be able to determine what information is presented. For example, since the image catalog will be database-driven, a user will be able to slice-and-dice the data in myriad ways. The catalog could be searched for linocuts produced between 1940 and 1945 in poster format, or for all lithographs by a specific artist within certain dimensions.

Not only am I sure that this resource will make a considerable contribution to the field, I hope too that it will serve as an example for other art historians who focus on related subjects.

In closing, I look forward to your comments and suggestions. This resource will belong to all historians of Mexican art. Let's build it together.

Please don't hesitate to contact me:

Noah Arthur Bardach, PhD
Los Angeles, CA
08 - IV - 08