Printed Items: Turning the Pages at the Art Institute of Chicago

Single-sheet prints, printed books, and books with photographic plates, can be nearly as unique as original manuscripts and sketchbooks, and so some of them are now available through Turning the Pages. These printed objects from the sixteenth to the twentieth century represent some of the rarest artworks in the United States.
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These dynamic, rough-hewn linocuts from a 1948 limited-edition portfolio were originally produced by Méndez to serve as full-screen backdrops for the credits of the 1947 feature film Río Escondido (Hidden River). The first of several collaborations with director Emilio Fernández, the film provided Méndez with a platform to create a “moving mural” capable of reaching new audiences. In the film, a young, idealistic schoolteacher, played by María Félix, is sent by the government to the remote, impoverished village of Río Escondido, where a cruel local boss controls the town’s resources. The teacher’s resistance to the boss’s authority serves as an inspiration to the townsfolk, who eventually overthrow their oppressors. Both the film and the prints highlight the fragile reality in which rural Mexicans lived and underscore the importance of popular resistance as a means of social change.
On the Day of the Dead the Taller de Gráfica Popular produced calavera sheets, continuing the tradition popularized by José Guadalupe Posada. In this energetic, collaborative four-page broadside, several Taller artists took up the calavera’s dark humor to lionize military heroes, satirize murderers and the press, and reveal local scandals and international incidents. The broadside’s overarching theme of strangulation was inspired by the recently captured serial killer Gregorio Cárdenas Hernández, the first such criminal to receive extensive coverage in the Mexican press. On the pamphlet’s front page, insectlike reporter-calaveras swarm Cárdenas as he kneels in his jail cell. The interior pages expose the deadly effects of tainted milk and expensive medication and display skeletonlike caricatures of Hitler and French collaborationist leaders Petain and Laval. In contrast, on the back page, Méndez depicted the heroic, mounted calavera of General Seymon Timoshenko, who led the Soviet Red Army against the Nazi siege of Stalingrad, as a new Zapata, the Mexican revolutionary leader.
The handbills in this album exemplify the Taller de Gráfica Popular’s attempts to achieve one of its primary goals: to speak directly to and for the Mexican people, in this case chiefly urban and rural workers. Published monthly by subscription, the handbills address themes of immediate interest and adapt the popular broadside format, developed in the 19th century, of combining informative text with compelling imagery. Some underscore the importance of so-called “graphic propaganda” in promoting workers’ unity and in defending teachers against attacks by antirevolutionary forces. Others had specifically educational functions, such as demonstrating how to post handbills or instructing farmers how to negotiate crop prices.
"From the Strongholds of Sleep: Materialized Poems" is one of the rarest and most important photobooks produced in the 20th century. Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, Mary Reynolds Collection.


Lucas Cranach's patron, the Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony in sixteenth-century Germany, asked the artist to illustrate a catalogue of his famed collection of saintly remains so that visiting pilgrims and dignitaries could take a souvenir of the experience home with them.

While we encourage personal discovery and interpretation of works of art in our care, the commentaries associated with the works in My Collections have not been reviewed or approved for accuracy or content and are expressly not endorsed by the Art Institute of Chicago.

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