Thursday, December 13, 2007

Orozco at Dartmouth

My stepfather Stan Yarian in front of the huge fresco murals by Orozco at the Baker Library at Dartmouth.
The section seen here is the Coming of Quetzalcoatl, who was the great bringer of civilization in Aztec mythology. Described in their myths as a white bearded man, he is the large central figure with the pyramid temples of Teotihuacan, and flanking him are images of the ancient Aztec gods.

When I went to see my mother in Vermont, I decided to go to Museums on the way, I did the Clark on trip there, and the Hood Museum at Dartmouth on the way back. The great discovery of the tour of Dartmouth were the incredible mural paintings by Jose Clemente Orozco: The Epic of American Civilization. Painted in 1932 and 1934 they are a huge ambitious series of fresco wall paintings on the history of the Americas from the Indian point of view. Daring for its time, this subversive native view was made possible by a tutorial fund set up by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, but the commission was initiated by the College itself.

The murals incorporate the architecture of the large reading room, and depict the origins of the great Meso-American civilizations, from the immigrations into the Valley of Mexico, the legend of the coming and going of their civilizing god Quetzalcoatl, to the coming of white men and the destruction of the world of the native civilizations. It is a dark take on the usual triumphant American story, highly critical of the world we have wrought. The colors and painting are vivid and beautiful, Orozco is very much of his time, his style reminds one of other painters of that period, Rivera, Marsden Hartley even Georgia O'Keefe. This is one of the great art treasures in America today, there are very few large scale murals in this country.

Dartmouth has a great website with allot of information on the murals for those wanting more information, and the murals are accessible to the public during the hours the Library is open.

click to see more about the Dartmouth Orozco Murals

The panel above depicts human sacrifice as practiced in Meso-America; the victim here is splayed over the altar and the chest cut and the heart ripped out. The perspective here is varied, the victim is seen from above, the attendant figures from the side. While the victim appears to be hung upside down, he is in the painting laid over the altar which forced the chest up for easier access by the priests. The ritual of human sacrifice fascinated me as a child, I delighted in describing its gruesome details to anyone who would listen, so of course I gravitated towards this panel.

The panel above is harder to interpret, but certainly appears to be an indictment of modern civilization and education. In the brochure on the murals published by Dartmouth this panel is titled, Gods of the Modern world. It goes on to say that this panel depicts modern institutional education with the skeletal academics presiding over the birth of useless knowledge here depicted as a skeleton fetus. Pretty grim, and scary imagery that could also be interpreted as an indictment of our so called progress, which the rest of mural makes clear his view that it was done through the destruction of nature and the native cultures and peoples of this hemisphere. I personally subscribe to this view so found these murals thrilling in their intensity and darkness.

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