“Paint the Revolution” exhibit opens at the Philadelphia Museum of Art after three years of preparation

Although the exhibit only runs for about three months, organizing the massive show took much longer than this.

The “Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism” exhibit in the Dorrance Special Exhibition Galleries at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is running from now until Jan. 8 and features dozens of works of art. The works were created from 1910 to 1950 and many revolve around the Mexican revolution and comment on various political and social aspects of Mexico during that time.

Although the show will run for less than three months, according to Philadelphia Museum of Art curator Mark Castro, putting it together took significantly longer than that.

“The amount of time varies for each exhibition, but putting together Paint the Revolution took around three years,” Castro said. “The first year and a half was largely devoted to defining the overall concept for the exhibition and selecting the works, while the remaining time was spent on the securing the loan of objects from other institutions and planning the installation in Philadelphia.”

In addition to the long preparation time, many people are involved in the preparations as well.

“Our exhibition was organized by four curators,” Castro said, “two at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and two others in Mexico City who represent our partner venue, the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes.” These four professionals, Mark, Matthew Affron, Dafne Cruz Porchini, Renato González Mello, worked closely together to decide on the different aspects of the exhibit.

“As the four of us discussed the overall narrative of the show, we used works to illustrate various styles, important ideas, key artists, etc.” said Castro. “As we refined our concept, further works were added. All of this happened as part of our conversations over the last three years, with each of us suggesting works that we thought would enhance the exhibition.”

A significant part of the preparation process is securing permission to obtain works of art that are not owned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art or its partners. Many of the works featured in “Paint the Revolution” belong to private owners and other museums.

“We reach out to these collectors and museums, often in the form of a formal letter, to describe the big ideas of the exhibition and the stories we hope it will tell visitors to our institutions,” Castro said. “There is often also a lot of logistical information about the exhibition, who’s organizing it, where, when, etc. Then we ask if they would be willing to lend their work to our exhibition. For the most part, after that you keep your fingers crossed and hope they say yes.”

There are many steps that go into the temporary acquisition of these famous works of arts, and there is no guarantee that the museum will be able to secure all of the works they hope to include in its show.

However, the hard work doesn’t end after getting permission to borrow these works from others. Transporting these old, fragile, and often very heavy works internationally and overseas can be extremely challenging.

“I can be difficult to transport art, especially works that are very large or fragile,” said Castro. “To do this safely, and to ensure that works are properly installed in the museum, we employ many specialized personnel.”

These skilled employees are involved in the transportation process from start to finish.

“Art conservators examine works to better understand their condition and needs,” Castro adds. “They then collaborate with our registrars, who are charged with coordinating the transport of the works using shipping companies that specialize in transporting art. Our conservators and registrars may also advise the making of specialized crates for the work, as well as helping to identify the appropriate hardware and equipment needed to install the works in the exhibition.”

According to Shen Shellenberger, a department assistant at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the exhibit is doing very well in terms of attendance turnout.

“‘Paint the Revolution’ has already reached the halfway point of its attendance goal, after being open for less than three weeks,” Shellenberger said. “The original attendance goal was 70,000 visitors, and more than 35,000 people have seen the show already.”

According to the museum’s press release, this is the most comprehensive exhibition of Mexican Modernism work to be shown in the United States in over 70 years. Philadelphia is a diverse city with a Hispanic population of about 220 thousand people according to the United States Census Bureau.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is showing a special exhibit Oct. 25 through Jan. 8 titled “Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism”. It focuses on art during the time of and inspired by the Mexican Revolution. Dr. Stephen Nepa comments on the historical context of two of the works featured in this exhibit, Rivera’s “Liberation of a Peon” and Kahlo’s “Self Portrait on the Border Between Mexico and the United States”.

This map shows the journeys of several works of art included in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s “Paint the Revolution” Mexican Modernism.

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