IN THE BEGINNING
In April 1963, an exhibition of Mexican art was shown at the Jewish Community Center in Phoenix. Zoe Levy, founder and future president of Friends of Mexican Art, and Dr. Francisco Gaona, professor of Spanish at the American Institute for Foreign Trade at Thunderbird College, assembled 40 paintings and sculptures. Most were borrowed from Valley collectors, but a few were loaned by Phoenix Art Museum and Arizona State University Art Museum.
Over 1000 people attended the ten-day exhibition. They embraced this "new art" and wanted to know more about it and the country from which it came.
This show inspired thirty enthusiastic individuals who joined together to form Friends of Mexican Art (FOMA). The goals were to encourage and stimulate interest in Mexican art, language, culture and heritage, and to strengthen cultural ties and promote friendship and good will with Mexico.
This was accomplished through an extensive program of lectures, exhibitions, acquisitions, travels, seminars, language classes and social programs. Today, FOMA continues this mission.
Fund raising has been ongoing with major contributions coming from Mexican mercados and annual house tours.
THE FIRST MUSEUM EXHIBITION
In December, 1964, one year after FOMA became an incorporated, non-profit organization, the first major exhibition of contemporary Mexican art in the United States was opened at Phoenix Art Museum! FOMA's president, Zoe Levy, and Phoenix Art Museum's curator of collections, James Harithas, went to Mexico to select 45 works by 18 artists who represented, according to Mr. Harithas " ... the most vital and meaningful trends in painting and sculpture in Mexico today." All works, except for three paintings, had been created within the previous two years.
The show was a fabulous success. To a public whose knowledge of Mexican art had been limited almost exclusively to Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros and perhaps Tamayo, this was an awakening.
More than 25,000 people from Arizona and other states attended, and its coverage in the national press resulted in travel to other venues, including Mexico.
Two paintings in that exhibition, "The Blue Apple" by Carlos Merida and "Mother and Child" by Ricardo Martinez, were in the first show and were purchased by FOMA for Phoenix Art Museum.
In November of 1965, Phoenix Art Museum created a Mexican Gallery which was part of the Museum for many years. At that time, it was the only museum west of the Mississippi to maintain such a gallery.
THE MISSION CONTINUES
One of FOMA's most important contributions to Arizona has been the assembling and funding of numerous exhibitions; they have included pre-Columbian, Viceregal and folk art, Objects of the Sacred Well of Chichén Itzá (Heard Museum), Out of the Volcano, Portraits of Contemporary Mexican Artists (Arizona State University Art Museum), and both Contemporary Mexican Artists and The Life of the Dead in Mexican Folk Art, (Phoenix Art Museum).
Major one-person shows have included the works of Ricardo Martinez, Francisco Icaza, Arnold Belkin, Francisco Zuniga and Rufino Tamayo, who considered FOMA's exhibition of his work one of the finest ever shown.
FOMA also organized a print and drawing collection. With grants from Arizona Commission on Arts and Humanities, this show traveled for thirteen years throughout Arizona. Subsequently, this collection was sold, at FOMA's suggestion, to fund the restoration of the Diego Rivera murals that had been damaged in the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City.
FOMA continues to purchase art for Phoenix Art Museum and other Arizona institutions. It continues to maintain the vision and programs of those thirty ambitious founders of this unique organization. Dr. Gaona said, "Mexico is like a large mosaic of artistic expression". As FOMA remembers forty-six years of exploring this art and culture, we thank all those who have contributed to our long and exciting history.
See Also: The Aims and Purpose of FOMA