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Mural Centerpiece Of Smith Exhibit


May 22, 2005
Copyright © 2005 THE REPUBLICAN. All rights reserved.

More than 60 years after its original commission by Smith College, a monumental mural by Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo has been reinstalled at the college's art museum, marking the beginning of the four-part "Art of Latin America" series.

The fresco, "Nature and the Artist: The Work of Art and the Observer," is 43 feet long and 91Ú2 feet high. It will remain permanently in the atrium of the art museum.

"We think of the mural as being a public art project. It's in a very public gathering place as opposed to being in the museum proper, and it can be seen without charge," said Linda Muehlig, associate director for curatorial affairs and coordinator of the Latin America project.

The "Art of Latin America" series, running through December , is the latest of the museum's efforts to display art from outside its traditional area of strength - Europe and the United States - to reflect the increasingly multicultural curriculum at Smith, according to Aprile Gallant, associate curator of prints, drawings and photographs.

Along with the installation of the Tamayo mural, the series begins with "Latin American Graphics: The Evolution of Identity from the Mythical to the Personal," running through June 19. The show features work by 39 artists who represent 15 different countries and work in nine printing techniques. It was organized by the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, Calif.

"It is meant to give a viewer an idea of how varied is the production of artists from Latin American countries," Muehlig said. "There are abstract works and figurative works."

The series will continue Aug. 27-Oct. 23 with an installation of photographs by Cuban-born American artist Ana Mendieta, "Beyond the Performance: Ana Mendieta in the 1970s," followed Nov. 4-Dec. 31 by an exhibition of painted portraits, "Now It Has Stopped Raining" by Rosa Ibarra, a Puerto Rico-born Northampton artist who apprenticed in Paris with her father, painter Alfonso Arana. Ibarra, a graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, does work that is largely figurative and is especially known for her warm and sensitive portrayals of women.

Tamayo began work on the mural in 1943. He made it with ground pigments applied directly to wet plaster on the walls of Hillyer Library. In vibrant earth tones and bold forms influenced by Cubism, it shows an artist doing an abstract painting of a reclining woman (mother nature) surrounded by the images of the four elements, earth, air, fire and water. "It's about the act of artistic creation," Muehlig said. "It involves inspiration and imagination."

Tamayo included himself in the painting with a lyre and a compass, tools that enable artists to interpret their surroundings. Next to him, a man observing a work of art is turned away from Nature, signifying the importance of experiencing and evaluating art as a creation separate from its source. Muehlig explained: "Everybody has his or her own reaction to a work of art and there's no one way you're supposed to look at art."

When the fine arts center was razed in the 1960s, the fresco was removed in layers and remounted on 22 panels that fit together like a giant puzzle.

The mural has been shown at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and at other museums around the world, including Mexico and Spain, and most recently at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown. Since the renovation and expansion of Smith's Fine Arts Center, the art museum once again has a space large enough to accommodate the piece.

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