Short Talks on Big Ideas: Mary Coffey on Orosco's American Epic

Sep 8, 2021

14 minute read

Arts and Culture Faculty Lifelong Learning

Join Professor of Art History Mary Coffey, as she takes us on a journey through the Baker Library lower level reading room to learn more about one of Dartmouth’s most treasured works, The Epic of American Civilization.
 

A National Treasure on Dartmouth's Campus

Professor Coffey’s work focuses on modern Mexican history and visual culture, specializing in Mexican muralism and the politics of exhibition—which is the reason that she writes and teaches about Dartmouth’s national treasure, José Clemente Orozco’s Epic of American Civilization.

She also writes on American art, Latin American cultural studies, and museum studies. Her work includes many published essays on a wide range of visual culture aspects, including Mexican folk art, motorcycles, and eugenics exhibits.

Coffey’s award-winning debut book, How a Revolutionary Art Became Official Culture: Murals, Museums, and the Mexican State, was published by Duke University Press in 2012. In this work, she looks at the fascinating and often interdependent relationship between Mexican muralism and Mexican museum practices. The book received the Charles Rufus Morey Prize from the College Art Association for a distinguished book published in Art History in 2012.

Her second book, Orozco’s American Epic: Myth, History, and the Melancholy of Race (Duke, 2020), offers the first book-length analysis of José Clemente Orozco’s 24-panel fresco, The Epic of American Civilization, which Orozco painted between 1931 and 1934 in Baker Library on Dartmouth’s campus. Coffey contextualizes Orozco within the context of his contemporaries, demonstrating the Epic’s critique of race and nationalism while also looking at the way that resonates with today’s debates about race, immigration, borders, and national identity.