José Clemente Orozco (Mexican 1883-1949)
José Clemente Orozco (Mexican 1883-1949)

The City

José Clemente Orozco (Mexican 1883-1949)
The City
signed 'J.C. Orozco' (lower left)
oil on canvas
28¼ x 20 in. (71.7 x 50.8 cm.)
Painted in 1929.
Delphic Studios, New York.
Mr. and Mrs. Serge Saxe collection, El Paso, Texas.
Acquired from the above.
New York, Delphic Studios, Exhibition of Recent Paintings by José Clemente Orozco, February 3rd- 25th, 1930, no. 1.
La Porte, Indiana, Exhibition of Lithographs, Mural Studies, Photographs of Frescoes, Paintings, Drawings by José Clemente Orozco, organized by Alma Reed, April 6th- 29th, 1934, no. 12.
Palm Springs, Palm Springs Desert Museum, 20th Century Modern Masters, 23 March- 6 May 1979.
Palm Springs, Palm Springs Desert Museum, Desert Art Collections, 21 March- 2 June 1985.
Sale room notice
Please note the correct dimensions in centimeters is:
(71.7 x 50.8 cm.)

Lot Essay

"Here I am finally in Gringoland," José Clemente Orozco wrote to his wife shortly before Christmas 1927, "trying to make a name for myself and promote my work. This incredible city, part amusement park and part growing monstrosity, has changed a great deal since I was last here."(1) Orozco had first traveled to the United States in 1917, spending two years in San Francisco and New York, and he returned in 1927 to Manhattan, which would serve as his primary residence during a prolific, seven-year American sojourn. Orozco secured his place as one of Los Tres Grandes during this time, equaling Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros in his promotion of Mexican muralism. The murals he created for Pomona College, the New School for Social Research, Dartmouth College, and the Detroit Institute of Arts number among his most important works from this period, but their prominence has unfortunately overshadowed his contemporary easel paintings, which in some cases rival the critical weight and visual drama of his best murals.

Orozco produced forty-four paintings while in New York, and Subway Post (lot 55) and the present lot belong to a sub-group of nineteen works that deftly capture and critique the nature of modern experience as evoked through the artist's response to the city. In his autobiography, Orozco describes peripatetic wanderings throughout what he called an "imperial city," treks that led him from Riverside Drive to Little Italy and Greenwich Village, from the beaches of Coney Island to the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum on the Upper East Side. He thoroughly acclimated to New York, traveling by subway and finding new stimuli in the interstices of urban space, soon beginning to image the strange spectacle of its modern engineering and anonymous faces in his works. Like the contemporary practice of the American Scene painters, Orozco's New York paintings probe the architecture of the urban metropolis, but his works betray a more cynical, humanist discontent with its capitalist order and mechanical civilization.

Indeed, as art historian Alejandro Anreus has remarked, "Orozco celebrated the architecture of Manhattan as an example of the new art, even though over time he would become increasingly ambiguous about the newness and beauty of New York City's skyscrapers."(2) His equivocation is keenly rendered in The City, which juxtaposes the empty shell of a towering structure with a harrowing image of the urban masses, implicitly displaced or preyed upon by the capitalist scourge. The painting reflects the shock of the Stock Market Crash of 1929 in the jarring visual equivalence of the desolate structure and the shadowy faces downcast in fear or panic. Against the heavy, muted tones and geometric lines of the building, the more animated line and intense colors of the embedded portrait suggest the acuteness of the human repercussions from the crash and the stoicism of the newly poor and exploited.

1) J. Clemente Orozco, quoted in A. Anreus, Orozco in Gringoland: The Years in New York, Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 2001, 21.
2) Anreus, Orozco in Gringoland, 34.

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