Exotic, mysterious and happy: Mexico invented by graphic design


The dictator Porfirio Díaz had already opened the door of Mexico to Art Nouveau and other currents of French design. Between the machetes and the bullets of the 1910 Revolution also came the breakdown of the vanguards. And the post-revolutionary governments ended up propping up the modern movement in the country, as a mixture of developmentalist locomotive and dream Lecorbusian of aesthetics and well-being. The famous muralism is often cited as the great example of the modern Mexican wave, always between propaganda and the avant-garde. But there was also a little brother, illustration and graphic design, genres traditionally considered minor and vindicated in recent times both for their artistic value and for their didactic potential.

The two were born almost at the same time from the impulse of the Ministry of Education, led by the philosopher José Vasconcelos, to consolidate a new definition of what was Mexican that sought to erase social, class and even race differences. While the epic murals served as banners to ministries, universities and public institutions, private companies soon jumped on the bandwagon of new propaganda. The explosion of the advertising and print media industry during the first half of the 20th century was the gasoline for the construction of this rural, exotic and happy Mexico, a kind of lost paradise that the tourism business continues to exploit today.

All that journey, from the death throes of the Porfiriato to the 1960s, is covered by the book Land of enchantment (RM editorial), which brings together a sample of 350 pieces ranging from the covers of magazines, newspapers, brochures, calendars, advertisements, posters or postcards among other objects of applied art with a limited print run, between 1,000 and 10,000 copies. Armed between private collections and museum archives, the selection spans from 1910 to 1960. “That idealized Mexican incography was broken in 1968, which was a watershed for the Olympic Games and especially the repression of Tlatelolco”, points out the editor of the book, Mercurio López, in relation to the massacre of students at the hands of the police and the military in the central square of the capital. The first big puncture of the PRI bubble.

A visual journey through the popular universe of ancient Mexican publications from the Mexican Revolution to the 1960s.
A visual journey through the popular universe of ancient Mexican publications from the Mexican Revolution to the 1960s.Courtesy

“Mexico land of unlimited vacations.” “A ray of sunshine on the other side of the border.” “Mysterious, colorful, exotic Mexico.” So are the slogans that accompany pictures of smiling Chinese from Puebla (a typical costume) deserted beaches, charros and Tehuanas (more typical costumes), volcanoes and some indigenous ruler portrayed with solemnity and a plume of feathers. “Graphic design was influenced and influenced a large amount of plastic production of the time. In fact, if one wants to understand the visual imagery of that time, it is dangerous to be left alone with museums and galleries, with murals or architecture. This derivative art had much more presence and dissemination capacity for ordinary Mexicans, ”says James Oles, art historian and collaborator of the book.

The connections between the plastic currents of the time appear through all the materials in the book: Mayan and Mexican designs, for example, are seamlessly integrated with the motifs. art deco, Russian constructivism and other European and American vanguards merge with Mexican folklore.

In the 1920s, Mexico even had its own avant-garde, stridentism, close to futurism, reflected in the magazine Horizonte. The postcards of the Mexican Tourism Association of the 1940s recall the colorful and cubist evolution of Gauguin. While the covers of Magazine of Magazines, the Sunday of the newspaper Excelsior They have echoes of Gustav Klimt and the Viennese school of the beginning of the century by the hand of Gustavo García Cabral, one of the main Mexican illustrators who had first known the Art Nouveau for his training in Europe during the ten years.

The volume brings together ephemeral and utilitarian publications that flooded the streets, newsstands, bookstores and homes with the common goal of spreading an idealized image of what is typically considered Mexico.
The volume brings together ephemeral and utilitarian publications that flooded the streets, newsstands, bookstores and homes with the common goal of spreading an idealized image of what is typically considered Mexico.Courtesy

Miguel Covarrubias, another of the great names, also lavished himself with jobs in the US. He became the cover of the magazine Fortune, the publication aimed at the richest men of the time. For Oles, it is an example of the penetration that Mexican graphic design had: “it was aimed at powerful people as well as workers”. Something on which Steven Heller, artistic director of The New York Times for more than three decades, which in the foreword of the book points out: “The prolific and abundant modern artistic heritage in Mexico is at the same level as Europe in the early twentieth century and the United States in the middle of the century in applied art in graphic matter ”.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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