Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Fall 2004 Newsletter

A Certain Clairvoyance


Miguel Covarrubias by Nickolas Muray, not dated.
Silver gelatin photograph. © Nickolas Muray
Photo Archives, courtesy of Mimi Muray.


Huey Long (1893-1935) vs. Benito Mussolini
, "Impossible Interview," published
in Vanity Fair, March 1932.

The University of Texas at Austin's Harry Ransom Center celebrates the centennial of Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias's birth with a commemorative exhibition, Miguel Covarrubias: A Certain Clairvoyance from Oct. 19 through April 24, 2005, in the Ransom Center Galleries.

Drawn from the Ransom Center's Nickolas Muray Collection of Mexican Art and other Ransom Center collections, the exhibition features more than 100 works and focuses on Covarrubias's celebrity caricatures, paintings, books, and book illustrations. A selection of work by some of the pioneering artists of celebrity caricature and Covarrubias's contemporaries at Vanity Fair and the New Yorker will accompany Covarrubias's works.

The exhibition also features paintings and drawings by Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, Roberto Montenegro, and others in Covarrubias's important artistic circle of friends. Muray's lifelong friendship with Covarrubias's circle of fellow artists allowed him to collect these numerous works of modern Mexican art.

"The scope of Miguel Covarrubias's career is remarkable and in many ways reflects the cultural shifts and restless spirit of the last century," said Peter Mears, curator of Miguel Covarrubias: A Certain Clairvoyance and the Ransom Center's Art Collection. "Through his artwork, books, and book illustrations, this exhibition calls attention to the flowering of cultural relations between the United States and Mexico during the 1920s and Harlem's spirited Renaissance of the same time period. It sheds historic light on the amazing discoveries and unearthing of ancient Olmec and Mayan art and touches on the camaraderie shared between Covarrubias and an important circle of modern Mexican artists."

After his arrival in New York City in 1923, Covarrubias's artistic potential was quickly recognized by the novelist and influential critic Carl Van Vechten as well as Vanity Fair's editor Frank Crowninshield, a man of impeccable taste and a champion of modernist trends in New York society.

It was Van Vechten who said in 1925, "From the beginning I was amazed at [Covarrubias's] ability to size up a person on a blank sheet of paper at once; there was a certain clairvoyance in this."

"Miguel Covarrubias's artistic talent, energy, and intellect wrought an extraordinary range of lifetime achievements," said Mears. "He truly was Mexico's 20th-century Renaissance man."  

-Jennifer Tisdale

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