The Frost Art Museum at Florida International University has plenty of breathing room for simultaneous shows, and the recent effort, Paul Strand in Mexico, is on view with three other exhibitions.
Strand was a seminal master of modernist photography, joining such big guns as Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Weston. The FIU Strand show, co-produced by the Aperture Foundation and Televisa Foundation, is mostly drawn from Strand’s tour of Mexico in the 1930s. Most of the show’s 97 bleak-if-beautiful images are all about the Mexican cultural revolution, the nobility-of-the-common-man kind of thing and are concerned with stark landscapes, heavy-onto-death religious iconography and somber campesinos who could just as well hail from the 19th century. Strand believed in what he called “collective portraits” that would define and chronicle a country, portraits of a people who were trying to overcome “colonial bondage” while “retaining their innate power, militant patience and earthly dignity.”
On some levels, Strand was the Zelig of a certain set, but the Mexico of 1933 coalesced his energy. The image Woman, Pátzcuaro, Michoacan, is exquisite, the subject bearing the high Mexican cheekbones-to-spare look that might have eluded Frida Kahlo. In Woman and boy, Tenancingo de Degollado, the subjects are perfectly natural. But the most riveting portrait is an image of Christo with thorns, Huexotla, the statue radiating the same fixed expression of patient suffering shared by the campesinos.
“Paul Strand in Mexico” at the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum, Florida International University, 10975 SW 17th St., Miami; 305-348-2890; thefrost.fiu.edu. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; noon to 4 p.m. Sunday through Aug. 1.