Leopoldo Méndez, What May Come (Mexico, 1945), 1945. The Art Institute of Chicago.
The most influential and enduring progressive printmaking collective of its time, the Taller de Gráfica Popular (the Popular Graphic Art Workshop or TGP) created some of the most memorable images in mid-century printmaking. This Mexico City–based workshop took up the legacy of the famous Mexican broadside illustrator José Guadalupe Posada, creating prints, posters, and illustrated publications that were popular, affordable, legible, politically topical, and, above all, formally compelling. This exhibition includes over 100 works from the Art Institute’s rich holdings—one of the most significant TGP collections in the United States—demonstrating why this collective boasted such international influence and inspired the establishment of print collectives around the world.
Founded in 1937 by Leopoldo Méndez, Luis Arenal, and American-born Pablo O’Higgins, the TGP emerged and evolved in the crucible of antifascist and leftist politics in Mexico in the period surrounding World War II. This milieu shaped not only the workshop’s dedication to a collective printmaking model but also its production aimed at both “the people” and discerning collectors, a strategy necessitated by the era’s quickly changing political tides. The collective created works for groups spanning the leftist and progressive political spectrum, including the government of Lázaro Cárdenas and his successors, the Mexican Communist Party, major trade unions, and antifascist organizations.
During the TGP’s heyday, from its founding until the 1950s, the workshop produced thousands of prints, primarily linocuts and lithographs, for everything from ephemeral handbills and newspapers to political and advertising posters to luxe portfolios and printed books. Favoring an expressive, realist visual language, its work addressed a wide range of socially engaged themes, including Mexican history and culture, political satires both local and international (including calavera broadsides), rural and urban scenes of daily life, and agitprop prints. The members of the workshop, a core of about 40 during its height, produced both individual and collective works and welcomed numbers of foreign members and guest artists—from Elizabeth Catlett to Josef Albers—to use the workshop in order to collaborate on prints and create individual pieces.
Showcasing the TGP’s prolific and varied output, What May Come is organized into thematic sections such as Chicago connections to the TGP, antifascism, national history, daily life, caricature, and popular visual traditions. A Spanish-English catalogue accompanies the exhibition, which also features bilingual labeling.
Alfredo Zalce. In the Hammock, from Estampas de Yucatán, 1946. Gift of Earle Ludgin.
Leopoldo Mendez. Firing Squad, 1950. Gift of Dorothy Braude Edinburg to the Harry B. and Bessie K. Braude Memorial Collection.