The Pinkowitz Gift Adds 300 Revolutionary Mexican Prints to the Met’s Collection

Many of the works in JoAnn Pinkowitz's collection are associated with the Mexican prints collective Taller de Gráfica Popular.

Black and white etching of people on cart
Francisco Dosamantes, The cart of death, (1944). Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art

While volunteering at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts in 2009, JoAnn Pinkowitz was struck by the institution’s “Vida y Drama: Modern Mexican Prints,” an exhibition celebrating socially engaged printmakers like Diego Rivera, Leopoldo Méndez and Francisco Dosamantes.

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These names would go on to dominate Pinkowitz’s art collection, which focused on revolutionary prints from both Mexican artists and Americans inspired by the nation’s culture. “It was JoAnn’s vision to build a world-class collection, and she went about it quite methodically,” her husband Richard told Observer.  “Her mantra, to each dealer, curator and auction house, was: ‘Is it museum quality?’ She accepted no less.”

To carry out the wishes of JoAnn Pinkowitz, who died in 2022, the more than 300-piece collection will now find a new home at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met). “Combined with our outstanding existing collection, the Pinkowitz gift makes the Met one of the most important repositories of Mexican prints in the United States, one that is quickly becoming a resource much used by artists, students and scholars alike,” said Max Hollein, the museum’s director, in a statement.

Etching of woman with green face wearing hat
Elizabeth Catlett, Sharecropper, (1952). Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art

Addressing social issues with woodcuts and linocuts

The gift will fill gaps in the Mexican holdings of the Met’s drawing and prints department, which has more than 2,000 works spanning the 18th and 20th Centuries. Pinkowitz’s collection largely draws from members of the Taller de Gráfica Popular or Workshop of Popular Graphic Art, a Mexican prints collective founded in 1937 that focused on art for social causes.

Included in the donation is the 1948 Rio Escondido series by Mendéz, one of the collective’s founders. His linocuts were used as a backdrop for the opening and closing sequences of Emilio Fernández’s film of the same name. The Workshop wasn’t limited to Mexican artists but included Americans like Elizabeth Catlett, who moved to Mexico in the 1940s. Her 1952 Sharecropper, a testament to the lives of Black women in the South, is also part of Pinkowitz’s gift.

Etching of acrobat dancer standing on their hands
Alfredo Zalce, Acrobat, (1965). Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art

Pinkowitz, who previously donated works to the Museum of Fine Arts and Harvard Art Museums, validated the quality of each piece with museum curators. “After the first five or ten years, JoAnn personally knew most of the curators in the print field and befriended them all,” said Richard. “Most of her calls to curators ended with, ‘Let’s have lunch soon.’ And she did.”

JoAnn Pinkowitz also became interested in Chinese Revolutionary prints after discovering the political and visionary similarities they had with Mexican artists, he said. Pinkowitz focused on works by artists involved in China’s Modern Woodcut Movement, which used inexpensive art materials to disseminate political messages during the 1930s and 1940s. A group of 31 woodcuts by the likes of printmakers Gu Yuan, Wo Zha, Yan Han and Chen Yanqiao will also be gifted to the Met.

“The Modern Woodcut Movement is an important but understudied chapter in the history of 20th-century Chinese art,” said Joseph Scheier-Dolberg, curator of Chinese paintings in the Met’s Asian art department, in a statement. “Thanks to the Pinkowitzs, these excellent and well-preserved examples help make the Met a necessary destination for any student of this significant movement.”

Selections from the Pinkowitz collection will go on display in early 2025 in the Met’s Robert Wood Johnson, Jr. Gallery.

The Pinkowitz Gift Adds 300 Revolutionary Mexican Prints to the Met’s Collection