6 must-see works in SDMA’s ‘Modern Masters’ exhibit


Ask Roxana Velásquez about the San Diego Museum of Art’s “Modern Masters From Latin America: The Pérez Simón Collection” exhibition, and she has one word to describe it: remarkable.

Indeed, the private collection, on display publicly for the first time, is quite a coup for the Balboa Park museum.

“We are honored to bring this private collection of Latin American works from Mexico for the very first time, and to share it with the San Diego community and its visitors,” said Velásquez, executive director of the museum and curator for the exhibition.

The exhibition — which opened two weeks ago and will be on view through March 11 — “is a visual representation of the appropriation and reinvention of modernism in Latin America, and brings together a remarkable selection of artists,” Velásquez said.

The exhibition is part of the “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA” initiative, a regional effort with more than 70 Southern California cultural institutions participating. SDMA’s show features nearly 100 pieces by modern masters from many Latin American countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. It’s a who’s who of modern artists — from Frida Kahlo and Rufino Tamayo to Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, just to name a few.

We asked Velásquez to share her thoughts on six works of art featured in the exhibition.

Fernando de Szyszlo: “House Eight” (1978)

Fernando de Szyszlo is considered the most important Peruvian visual artist of the modern times. He just passed away. This painting is a powerful portrayal of an Inca warrior using Szyszlo’s abstract technique and applying vibrant colors that distinguish his work. For him, it’s about the expression of strong colors in combination with the history of the Peruvian region.

José Clemente Orozco: “World’s Highest Structure” (1930)

Orozco is one of my absolute favorite artists. This work was done while he was living in NYC, as was Diego Rivera at the time. It was done in 1930 after the stock market crash and is a representation of sadness. It’s a reflection of the material losses and the coldness of the conditions. While Rivera could be considered having a positive perspective on humankind, Orozco was skeptical, which can be seen in the contrasting use of colors in this work.

Frida Kahlo: “Girl from Tehuacan, Lucha María” (1942)

Frida Kahlo is best known for her self-portraits and Surrealist imagery. The subject of this painting is not the artist herself, but a girl from Tehuacan, in the Mexican state of Puebla. The painting’s meaning is wrapped in symbolism, with the young figure seated between the pyramids of the Sun and Moon with a military aircraft in her hands. This work was completed in 1942, thus the dialogue between the innocence of the girl and the state of the world at that time.

Ricardo Martinez de Hoyos: “Recumbent Figure” (1984)

Probably the most impressive and surprising paintings of the show are those by Ricardo Martinez de Hoyos. They illustrate the monumental scale of mystery and strength, and are influenced by the Pre-columbian spirit like the chacmool. The combination of color adds vibrancy to the works.

Joaquín Torres-García: “Constructive Composition on Blueprints and Figures” (1931)

The Uruguayan Joaquín Torres-García is strongly represented by two major pieces that are emblematic of his “mastery.” He created a unique language of constructivism by condensing subjects into figures of primary colors or a monochromatic palette, forming his own schematic communication.

Modern Masters from Latin America: The Pérez Simón Collection

When: Through March 11

Where: San Diego Museum of Art, 1450 El Prado, Balboa Park

Tickets: $8-$15

Phone: 619.232.7931