“Too much is expected of Art, that it mean all kinds of things and is the solution to questions no one can answer,” Stuart Davis once wrote. Yet even Davis, as committed a leftist and political activist as he was a dedicated painter, would have had to admit that in Mexico, beginning in 1920, art had been successfully used to address such difficult questions as “How do we instill national pride and unity in a culturally and economically diverse population recovering from a decade of bitter civil war?” The answer, under the new constitutional government, was a program of ambitious public murals, commissioned from left-leaning artists who wholeheartedly supported the new regime. These often monumental cycles were intended to remind Mexicans of their pre-colonial past through allusions to indigenous traditions pre-dating the arrival of the Spanish. At the same time, the murals’ celebration...


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