Italian photographer Tina Modotti's place of artistic inspiration was Mexico. As an immigrant living in an unknown city, Modotti was struck by the lively cultural scene in that country during the first half of the 20th century. She was so enthralled that the photographer continued to work in Mexico City until her death there in 1942.
Now the Loewe Foundation has mounted "Tina Modotti," a retrospective of the photographer's work at the brand's first U.S. store, in the heart of Miami's Design District. Curated by creative director Jonathan Anderson, the exhibit of 50 images is a testament to the frail beauty and social consciousness of the medium.
"The moment I discovered Tina Modotti's work, I was struck by its modern purity and fundamental respect for truth in craftsmanship," Anderson describes in the foreword to the accompanying catalog. "Supporting [her] work by bringing her first solo show to Miami is a natural extension of our creative landscape."
Born in Udine, Italy, in 1896, Modotti followed her family to the States when she was 17 years old. After settling in San Francisco with her working-class parents, Modotti learned how take pictures from famed American photographer Edward Weston.
In the 1920s, she traveled to Mexico City, where she fell in love with the town's people and cultural life. At the time, the city was a haven for international artists.
It was there that Modotti met Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, two of that country's most progressive thinkers and artists. Modotti photographed Rivera's brilliant murals, sometimes capturing the muralist himself.
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Though Modotti was a staunch socialist, her political views weren't always front and center in her images. As an artist, her work was thoroughly modernist, marked by a fascination with form and line rather than subject matter and narrative.
Modotti joined the Communist Party in 1927, which led her to incorporate overt ideological references and subjects like artisans, workers, and children in her images. In Mother With Baby in Tehuantepe (1929), for example, the figures of a working-class mother and her infant are the focus. On their own, the two figures are not subjects per se; they are archetypical stand-ins and symbols of the Mexican proletariat.
Despite the political undertones in Modotti's photographs, the artful framing of shapes is what comes through. Unlike Soviet art at the time, her pictures feature stylistic flourishes. She hid an anthropological critique behind a modernist aesthetic, tricking unsuspecting audiences into swallowing a bitter pill of social consciousness wrapped in a neat frame.
Through April 15 at the Loewe, 110 NE 39th St., Miami. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Visit loewe.com.