Artist to Know: David Alfaro Siqueiros

Liz Catalano
Published on

Morton Subastas to Present Portrait of Benito Juárez by Mexican Muralist

In the midst of the Great Depression, David Alfaro Siqueiros traveled to New York for a radical anti-fascism workshop called the American Artists’ Congress. Siqueiros taught the attendees about experimental painting techniques, as well as his ideas about activism in art. The renowned Mexican muralist put on many demonstrations, including poking holes in paint cans and swinging them around on ropes. Attendees even had the opportunity to pummel a papier-mâché figure of Hitler and create anti-fascist protest art.

Siqueiros’ politics cannot be separated from his work, which is most closely associated with Mexican Muralism. Available in Morton Subastas’ upcoming Latin American Art Auction is one of his political portraits of a former Mexican president. Before bidding on this piece from his later career, learn more about Siqueiros’ art and beliefs.

David Alfaro Siqueiros, Self-Portrait, 1948. Image from the National Gallery of Art.
David Alfaro Siqueiros, Self-Portrait, 1948. Image from the National Gallery of Art.

Siqueiros started his career during a period of bloody political instability. While studying art and architecture at the Franco-English College in Mexico City, the Mexican Revolution erupted. He organized student strikes before joining the rebel army at the age of 18. Shortly after, Siqueiros joined the Communist Party and began constructing his views.

Traveling Europe later on a government grant, Siqueiros associated with the Cubists and Futurists. He eventually encountered Diego Rivera, who shared his vision for a Mexican art form that was unburdened by European colonialism. “Our primary aesthetic aim is to propagate works of art which will help destroy all traces of bourgeois individualism,” he said about their philosophy.

Siqueiros created dozens of public murals during his career, designed to be accessible for the people. One of his most notable works is located outside the World Trade Center in Mexico City. The Polyforum Cultural Siqueiros building is covered with paintings on its angular exterior, while the inside walls boast one of the largest murals in the world.

David Alfaro Siqueiros, La Marcha de la Humanidad en la Tierra y Hacia el Cosmos (The March of Humanity on Earth and Toward the Cosmos), 1971. Image from Mundo del Museo.
David Alfaro Siqueiros, La Marcha de la Humanidad en la Tierra y Hacia el Cosmos (The March of Humanity on Earth and Toward the Cosmos), 1971. Image from Mundo del Museo.

Siqueiros was known for his experimentation, often using unusual materials to bridge the gap between Indigenous art and the technological 20th century. Niño Tarahumara (Tarahumara Baby) was executed in 1939 with a commercial paint typically used on aircraft and automobiles. This piece, which sold for USD 529,000 in 2007, shows a dark-eyed infant wrapped in a traditional rebozo shawl. Many of Siqueiros’ paintings carry the dark undertones of war and violence, seen more clearly in his famous Echo of a Scream.

The art market has long recognized Siqueiros’ artistic legacy. Incendio al Atardecer (Fire at Dusk), which shows the masses climbing a fiery mountain, was sold at Sotheby’s for $470,500 in 2011. That figure was topped three years later by a self-portrait titled Siqueiros por Siqueiros, reaching $509,000 after a presale estimate of $300,000 – $400,000. His sketches and studies come to auction more frequently than his paintings and murals, typically fetching between $10,000 and $20,000 each.

In the twilight of his career, Siqueiros completed a portrait of Benito Juárez. Widely considered a national hero, the former president of Mexico was constitutionally elected in the late 19th century. This painting, which will be available in Morton Subastas’ upcoming Latin American Art Auction, shows Juárez dressed in a color-blocked tuxedo against a maroon background. It has an estimate of MXN 4,200,000 – 6,000,000 (USD 170,840 – 244,200), with bids starting at MXN 4,000,000 (USD $162,800).

Siqueiros wrote an inscription on the back: “Mexico and the world know that Juárez was the most important leader and thinker… he defended the political autonomy and economy of our homeland against the predominance of Europe and the United States. His doctrine of love has been valid in two centuries.”

David Alfaro Siqueiros, Benito Juárez, 1971. Image from Morton Subastas.
David Alfaro Siqueiros, Benito Juárez, 1971. Image from Morton Subastas.

Constantly mixing his mediums with his Marxist views, the artist would encounter both legal and diplomatic consequences for his more radical acts. The 1940s saw his exile from Mexico after a failed assassination attempt against Leon Trotsky, and he was imprisoned in the 1960s for criticizing the government. Despite these controversial actions, Siqueiros enjoyed sustained popularity and was involved in revolutionary activities until his death in 1974.

Live bidding for the Benito Juárez portrait, along with works from Diego Rivera, Sergio Hernández, and Dr. Atl, will begin at 8:00 PM EDT on June 18, 2020. Interested collectors can view each lot and register for online bidding on Bidsquare.