Birds of a Cube
Carlos Mérida, Fiesta de pájaros (Festival of the Birds), 1959, polished board, 19 7/10 x 15 7/10 in.
Included in the special exhibit: Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism: The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection;
Currently on display at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
I recently had the opportunity to visit the Mexican Modernism exhibit currently being shown at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. With so many amazing artworks to view, it was difficult to focus attention on one piece at a time. As usual, I found myself gravitating towards the more abstract works, such as Carlos Mérida’s Festival of the Birds. Born in Guatemala, Mérida studied art in Europe before settling in Mexico and becoming involved in the Mexican mural school, hence his inclusion in this exhibit. Mérida’s work, however, tended away from large-scale narrative, focusing instead on other styles - figurative, surreal and geometric. Mérida is noted for his combination of European Modernism with images of the Americas, particularly Mayan.
Festival of the Birds immediately attracts my eye as a work of Analytic Cubism, but my second look reveals important distinctions. Instead of portraying shades of depth, Festival is completely flattened against the surface plane and is painted in a bold red hue rather than muted tones. In full Cubist tradition however, geometric forms comprise the entire surface. Triangular and rectangular shapes intersect at sharp angles to form bulky human figures with claw-like hands that are raised towards birds in celebration. The intersection of the geometric forms filled with offsetting colors of red, off-white and black create figure-ground confusion, but the tension is playful rather than dramatic. Adding to the lighthearted feel of the piece are the tiny heads of the figures which are dwarfed by their talon-hands as well as the birds which they celebrate. The various diagonal lines and the upraised feet evoke a sense of dynamic movement, while the birds themselves appear calm, as if they are content to bask in their celebration.