Small in size, yet overwhelming in contrast, texture, and emotion, Manuel Alvarez Bravo’s Mexico’s Poet of Light at the Frye Art Museum is a timely portrayal of artistic creativity and technique from a revered Mexican-Native artist. Now that we have a president who openly portrays our southern neighbors negatively, this single room with 23 small black and white silver prints is a kind of sanctuary, showcasing Mexico’s rich culture and natural beauty. Spaced evenly across four walls, you must walk within at least 10 inches of each framed silver print in order to fully fill your visual field (and then stretch your neck back a little).
Manuel Alvarez Bravo, born in 1902, passed away in 2002 (he was 100 years old). His photographs, taken between the 1930s and the early 1980s, represent a time in Mexico’s history when modernization and industry collided with traditional values and culture. But there is a real danger in this exhibit. You might move through the room too quickly because this set is easy to dismiss as simply beautiful or pleasing. To avoid making this mistake, what you must do with each print is absorb all of the beauty on the first look, then pause for a moment, then look deeper into the image. Much more will meet the eye on a second or third look.
For example, “Frida with Globe,” which was taken in 1940, does not stand out for the obvious reason: it is of Frida Kahlo. It could have been anyone and still have drawn my attention because of its clarity in texture and exceptional composition—the variation in fabric along Frida’s dress, and the dark lines along the interior structure. Indeed, the ultimate beauty of all the photographs in the room is found in the details, which is why you must take your time and stretch that neck out.
However, five other photographs struck me as standing above the rest: "Window on the Agaves," "The Visit," “Angel of the Quake.," "Reed and Television," and "Sleeping Dogs Bark." Now, I cannot attribute the timing of this exhibition to our current political climate, but I can suggest that you consider the current situation when observing these photographs. If you do this, you will find solace in knowing that a Mexican artist is being represented in one of the fine art spaces in our sanctuary city.
Mexico’s Poet of Light open Tues-Sun, and runs through Dec 31.