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 First Major US Exhibition of Preeminent Cuban Artist Mariano Rodríguez:

Mariano: Variations on a Theme | Variaciones sobre un tema

September 7–December 5, 2021
Features Works of Art Never before on Public Display

CHESTNUT HILL, MA (August 2021) — The McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College will present the first major United States exhibition on Cuban modernist painter Mariano Rodríguez (1912–90). This retrospective features more than 140 oil paintings, watercolors, and drawings, including works from the artist’s estate—which has provided unprecedented access to rarely, if ever, seen works and archives—as well as from leading museums and private collections.

Mariano: Variations on a Theme | Variaciones sobre un tema will be on display from September 7 through December 5, 2021, in the McMullen Museum’s Daley Family and Monan Galleries.

Mariano’s allegiance to the Cuban Revolution limited the display of his artworks in America principally to those created before 1959, when he was a member of the Cuban avant-garde. This exhibition widely expands the artist’s known corpus. It demonstrates how his dedication to lo cubano—the essence of Cuban expression—and to his evolving stylistic interests from other parts of the world repositioned him as a painter of universal consequence.

“The McMullen Museum is grateful to the Fundación Mariano Rodríguez for collaborating with us on the first retrospective in the United States devoted to the work of the preeminent Cuban artist Mariano Rodríguez,” said Inaugural Robert L. and Judith T. Winston Director of the McMullen Museum of Art Nancy Netzer, a BC professor of art history in the Department of Art, Art History, and Film. “Mariano: Variations on a Theme | Variaciones sobre un tema continues the McMullen’s Latin American Art Initiative that examines artists from this area of the world from an interdisciplinary and global perspective, a venture that since 2004 has organized exhibitions on Roberto Matta, Wifredo Lam, Rafael Soriano, and Esteban Lisa.”

Variations on a Theme | Variaciones sobre un tema marks Mariano’s great reencounter with the North American art world and academic environment,” according to Dolores and Alejandro Rodríguez, the children of Mariano Rodríguez and co-presidents of the Fundación Mariano Rodríguez, which collaborated on the exhibition. “Mariano’s heirs extend their eternal gratitude to all the McMullen team.”

Mariano: Variations on a Theme | Variaciones sobre un tema

Mariano’s career spanned six decades of the twentieth century—almost the duration of Cuban modernism. He embarked on his peripatetic life in 1936 when he left Cuba for Mexico to study with painter Manuel Rodríguez Lozano. Mariano belonged to the second generation of Cuban modernists, who first sought to align themselves with Mexico and then to adopt themes of national Cuban identity.

Mariano’s Cuban iconography focused on el gallo (the rooster), but he also embraced leitmotifs that included peasants, fruit, vegetation, and marine subjects. In exploring these national themes, Mariano forged distinctive styles that incorporated, in turn, geometric abstraction, abstract expressionism, figuration, and grotesque imagery. Through the grotesque he demonstrated virtuosity in hybridity, signaling a new postmodern orientation.

Contextualizing the scope of Cuban modernism in relation to aesthetic movements in the Americas and Europe is fundamental to understanding Cuban artists’ quest for creating national artistic identity on the island, according to organizers. Exhibition sections include: Mexico: The First Stage, 1930s; The School of Paris in New York City, 1940s; New York’s Non-Objective Art, 1950s; The Black Paintings and the Grotesque, 1960s; and Cuba: The Sensual and the Idealistic, 1960s­–80s.

Lenders to the exhibition are the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Fundación Mariano Rodríguez, Madrid; Cernuda Arte, Miami; Latin Art Core Gallery, Miami; Pan American Art Gallery, Miami;, and many national and international private collectors, including: Ramón and Nercys Cernuda, Silvia and Emilio M. Ortiz, and Isaac and Betty Rudman.
[Media note: A selection of press images is available. Please email Kate Shugert at the McMullen Museum with questions.]

Exhibition Curator

Elizabeth Thompson Goizueta, an expert on Latin American art and Hispanic studies faculty member at Boston College, serves as the exhibition curator.
“As a scholar of Latin American and Iberian art, literature, and culture, I am thrilled to curate this retrospective on Cuban Mariano Rodríguez at the McMullen Museum of Art,” she said. “The extensive talents of twentieth-century Cuban modernists warrant continued examination, and this exhibition marks the third in a series at the McMullen following Wifredo Lam and Rafael Soriano. As historically marginalized artists begin to garner attention in the Western modernist canon, the expansion of these rigid boundaries is due to inclusive dialogue. Through a bilingual catalogue and didactics, the McMullen Museum hopes to bring Mariano’s work to the broadest community possible.”

Thompson  Goizueta edited and contributed to the accompanying catalogue (more below) that includes essays by Alejandro de la Fuente, professor of Latin American history at Harvard University, and Roberto Cobas Amate, curator of the Cuban avant-garde collection at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana. Together, the essays consider sixty years of Mariano’s career, illuminating both his roots in traditional forms of Cuban symbolism and his unique styles that characterize his work beyond lo cubano.

Exhibition Organizers and Accompanying Catalogue

Organized by the McMullen Museum in collaboration with the Fundación Mariano Rodríguez, the exhibition will travel to Pérez Art Museum Miami in 2022–23. Major support has been provided by Boston College, the McMullen Museum’s Latin American Art Initiative, and the Patrons of the McMullen Museum.

“For several years, the McMullen Museum of Art has been at the forefront of the confluence between the American public and important contemporary Latin American masters,” according to Dolores and Alejandro Rodríguez. “Through a series of important exhibitions, the McMullen has brought to light the indisputable existence of a continental crossroads for twentieth-century visual arts, which provided essential coordinates for the history of art worldwide. It is an honor for everyone involved in the research and memory of Mariano Rodríguez’s work to be able to present almost sixty years of his artistic career in such an estimable academic context.”

The accompanying catalogue delves into Mariano’s extraordinary career. With color images of each work in the exhibition and archival photographs from the Fundación Mariano Rodríguez, the volume examines how Mariano explored variations on themes that reappeared and evolved throughout his lifetime.

Contributor Alejandro de la Fuente studies Mariano’s formative primera etapa (first stage), a foundational period for the artist’s trajectory inspired by Mexican muralist masters in the late 1930s. Contributor Roberto Cobas Amate reflects on Mariano’s mid-century paintings and his transformation of abstract expressionism. Elizabeth Thompson Goizueta considers Mariano’s Black Paintings of 1965 in which he combines baroque and grotesque elements, contextualizing them within the artist’s final series. Together, the essays illuminate both Mariano’s roots in traditional forms of Cuban symbolism and his forging of unique styles that came to characterize his work.

Accompanying Free, Public Events, Online Resources

Virtual and in-person programming is planned for the general public and museum Members. For more information, and to sign up for those events that require advance registration, please visit the McMullen Museum Events Calendar. More events will be added leading up to this exhibition; visit the website and subscribe to the McMullen mailing list for programming updates.
Among the events are:

A forthcoming series of virtual events includes: Publication Highlights by scholars on Cuban and Cuban American topics; Into the Collection presentations on works in the McMullen’s permanent collection, including one on Cuban artist Roberto Estopiñán, and Museum Current lectures on contemporary issues in museum practice. Online Resources:Visit McMullen From Home for recordings of all lectures as well as an archive of virtual walkthroughs, digital exhibition catalogues, podcasts, and more. View and search the McMullen’s permanent collection database.

McMullen Museum of Art

The McMullen Museum aims to cultivate learning, celebrate artistic excellence, explore the visual traditions of diverse cultures, and inspire tran­­sdisciplinary faculty and student research based on the visual arts. The McMullen offers exhibition-related programs and resources for diverse audiences of all ages on campus, in the Greater Boston area, and beyond.
The Museum mounts exhibitions of international scholarly importance from all periods and cultures of the history of art. In keeping with the University’s central teaching mission, exhibitions are accompanied by academic catalogues and related public programs. The McMullen Museum of Art was named in 1996 for the late BC benefactor, trustee, and art collector John J. McMullen and his wife Jacqueline McMullen. In 2005, the McMullen Family Foundation provided a lead gift to renovate and build an addition to the Museum’s new venue at 2101 Commonwealth Avenue. Designed in 1927 in the Roman Renaissance Revival style by architects Maginnis and Walsh, it originally served as the home of Boston’s cardinal archbishops. The renovation was completed in spring 2016 and opened to the public on September 12, 2016.

McMullen Museum Hours and Tours

Admission is free; wheelchair accessible. Located at 2101 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02135, on BC’s 65-acre Brighton Campus. Sunday docent tours from 2–3 p.m. begin September 26. Hours during this exhibition: Monday–Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday–Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. The Museum will be closed: October 11 and November 25–26. Contact:, 617.552.8587. All events are free. For directions, parking, and program information, visit

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