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The Calendar of Mexico

by Charles Dews nad David Everett

We had a phone number for the Soumaya Museum so we
called with three questions: Are you open this afternoon?
(Yes) Where are you located? (In the Loreto Plaza in San
Angel) Is the calendar art exhibit still up? (Y es) When we got to the Loreto Plaza, we soon learned that we should have asked a fourth question: Are you the Soumaya Museum where the calendar art is exhibited, or is it exhibited in another Soumaya Museum somewhere else in the city? Yes, it was elsewhere, way south in the giant Telmex building in Cuicuilco.
The day after our wild goose chase to San Angel for the exhibition on calendar art, we finally found the other Soumaya Museum in an enormous traffic cloverleaf called Cuicuilco Plaza. Having se en a number of Mexican calendars with their pictures of the noble Indian brave with his rippling muscles and the gossamer-clad Indian princess with her voluptuous curves, we were expecting to see a small kitschy show. What we found, however, was huge:
scores and scores of beautiful and bright paintings, often accompanied by several reproductions used for calendars, ads, posters and so on. For anyone who collects popular art
on calendars, posters, serving trays, phone cards and other
mediurns, this free show is a must see.
The name of the show, La Leyenda de los Cromos (el
arte de los calendarios mexicanos del siglo veinte),
translates to something like The Legend of the
Chromolithographs (the art of Twentieth-Century
Mexican calendars). A chromolithograph is a color print
created by a process that involves photographing
the original art work, dividing it up into its
component colors, and carefully printing the
colors, one at a time, on paper. The prints, in their thousands, are then emblazoned with advertising from your local stationary store or milk company, a calendar is affixed, and
the whole thing is handed to you personally
by your friendly druggist or beer salesman around December 15 as a Christmas memento that lasts all year with the added advantage of keeping the particular advertiser's name
before your eyes for the same length of time.
The exhibit itself seems to cover every
possible calendar genre: religious
(crucifixes, Our Lady of Guadalupe,
angels, saints); political (heroic tabloids,
Juarez and Lincoln together; Hidalgo
and Washington together); domestic
(Norman Rockwellian stuff with details such as a 1930 roadster, a fat-spindled record player for playing 45 rpm disks, huge console televisions with small black and white screens); humorous (prankish kids, runaway vehicles, etcetera); and beefcake (a youthful Popocatépetl who'd obviously worked out on a Nautilus exercise machine, vaqueros with lean sinewy physiques, businessmen portly with success).
But the major subject was women, often in cheesecake poses: Mexicanized versions of women from each fashion decade: the Gibson girl as a flaming señorita; the flat-chested spitfire flapper of the 1920s with
bee-stung lips; the softer, fuller woman of the 1930s with marcelled hair; shoulder pads and drawn-in eyebrows from the
1940s; the antiseptic pin-ups ofthe 1950s; specialty pictures such as female matadors (matadorables?) in the traditional skin-tight pants but topless save for the tiniest open jacket; unconscious Indian princesses dad in the
lightest gossamer; and a special section of topless
(braless, not headless) pin

If you 've spent anytime in Mexico e you will see many familiar images
in this exhibit. But what often X surprised us was the luminosity and i brilliance of the original paintings. e The duplication of paintings by
printing is still a tricky and imperfect O
art, making this show truly a treat for the eyes.
Jesús de la Helguera, Eduardo 11
Catano, and José Bribiesca paint glowing images of the Mexican mythic pasto Jorge González Camarena's famous "Milagro del Tepeyac" (1947), shows the Virgin of Guadalupe surrounded by brilliant...