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To July 7
Miguel Covarrubias isn’t counted among famed Mexican Renaissance artists such as Diego Rivera and Roberto Montenegro—peers with whom he socialized and shared ideas. Because he wasn’t an artistic innovator in the vein of Rivera or Frida Kahlo, whose sensibilities he nevertheless shared, Covarrubias’ familiar-looking modernist doodles come across as secondary to their styles. Rising to prominence during the Jazz Age, Covarubbias placed caricatures and illustrations in all the right publications: The New Yorker, Vanity Fair (where The Horrors of Fifth Avenue Society—At Both Ends, pictured, was first published), Vogue, Langston Hughes’ The Weary Blues, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men, to name a few. A grade-school dropout—but also the son of a highly placed civil engineer in Mexico—Covarrubias identified with both aristocratic culture and the working class. His profile did not go unnoticed by editors who hoped to sell the glamour of the former to the latter, and he quickly ascended the social and professional ranks in New York under the tutelage of critic Carl Van Vechten. A modest exhibit of Covarrubias’ sketches at the Cultural Institute of Mexico, along with educational goodies and reproductions of his gouaches, inks, and watercolors, does some work toward establishing the artist in context—that is, as something other than a commercial knockoff. Emphasizing Covarrubias’ caricatures of prominent movers and shakers (from Emily Post to Joseph Stalin), the retrospective promotes his illustration as the kind that mattered back in modernism’s heyday. The exhibition is on view from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, to Friday, July 7, at the Cultural Institute of Mexico, 2829 16th St. NW. Free. (202) 728-1675. (Kriston Capps)