Orozco's American Epic: Myth, History, and the Melancholy of Race

Orozco's American Epic: Myth, History, and the Melancholy of Race

by Mary K. Coffey


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Between 1932 and 1934, José Clemente Orozco painted the twenty-four-panel mural cycle entitled The Epic of American Civilization in Dartmouth College's Baker-Berry Library. An artifact of Orozco's migration from Mexico to the United States, the Epic represents a turning point in his career, standing as the only fresco in which he explores both US-American and Mexican narratives of national history, progress, and identity. While his title invokes the heroic epic form, the mural indicts history as complicit in colonial violence. It questions the claims of Manifest Destiny in the United States and the Mexican desire to mend the wounds of conquest in pursuit of a postcolonial national project. In Orozco's American Epic Mary K. Coffey places Orozco in the context of his contemporaries, such as Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros, and demonstrates the Epic's power as a melancholic critique of official indigenism, industrial progress, and Marxist messianism. In the process, Coffey finds within Orozco's work a call for justice that resonates with contemporary debates about race, immigration, borders, and nationality.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781478001782
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 02/28/2020
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 8.10(w) x 10.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Mary K. Coffey is Associate Professor of Art History at Dartmouth College. She is the author of How a Revolutionary Art Became Official Culture: Murals, Museums, and the Mexican State, also published by Duke University Press, and coeditor of Modern Art in Africa, Asia, and Latin America: An Introduction to Global Modernisms.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations  ix
Preface  xv
Acknowledgments  xvii
Introduction  1
1. Orozco's Melancholy Dialectics  43
2. Colonial Melancholy and the Myth of Quetzalcoatl  79
3. American Modernity and the Play of Mourning  123
4. "Modern Industrial Man" and the Melancholy of Race in America  207
Conclusion  261
Notes  287
Bibliography  325

What People are Saying About This

Making Art Panamerican: Cultural Policy and the Cold War - Claire F. Fox

Orozco's American Epic is original in its intent, theoretically sophisticated, and clearly elaborated. Mary K. Coffey does not settle for easy interpretations of Orozco's mural but rather dwells purposively on the difficult questions it raises. An outstanding book.”

Mexican Muralism: A Critical History - Leonard Folgarait

“This is a spectacular piece of scholarship. Any study of Mexican mural painting in the context of Mexico is challenging enough, but adding the extra level of context as a work on US soil would defeat a less ambitious and less courageous scholar than Mary K. Coffey. Any scholar who can speak with great authority on the theories of Benjamin, Freud, and Butler on the same page and then apply those insights to the work of a Mexican painter is a scholar of almost shocking sophistication and intellectual conviction. This book needed to be written, and Coffey has delivered in glorious fashion.”

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