You are right, the shape of those trees is very interesting! In his landscape paintings, Diego Rivera focused on plant life and terrain that were unique to Mexico, and he created a contrast here between the harsh rocks and dry trees and the soft, blue sky behind them. The word "copalli" refers to a species of tropical tree whose resins (like sap) are used for incense, varnish, and ink. Their fragrant incense, in particular, was used for ceremonial purposes in pre-Columbian Middle America -- so Rivera was making a reference to Mexican history and heritage.
Was Diego Rivera influenced by Dalí? Or the other way around? This reminds me of "Persistence of Memory."
We don't have any notes that suggest that either of the artists were influenced by each other in this work but I see what you mean about the bare and twisted tree branches. They're almost human-like in their forms. Dali and Rivera were definitely contemporaries, although I don't think they ever spent time together.
This looks rather sensuous!
Hello! Yeah, I can see that aspect in Diego Rivera's work, too. These trees are native to Mexico and their sap is used to make incense used in ceremonies.
What makes you think it looks sensuous?
Looks like a penis on the left and a vagina on the right.
Copal trees do branch like that naturally, but I think your response is also a very valid way to view the work.
Why is a Mexican artist's work shown in the American art section?
That is a great question. In our galleries you might notice America is used not to refer not only to the United States, but to all the Americas. You'll see several works by Canadian, Mexican and South American artists on view.
The hope is to expand the definition beyond just the borders of the United States of America but to expand it to all of North, Central, and South America, including the "First Peoples" who inhabited the continents.
Why is this art?
Especially from the 1870s onward (Rivera's Copali was painted in 1937), whether or not something is considered "art" has a lot to do with how the creator intended the work. Debates over the definition and character of art heightened in the wake of the Whistler-Ruskin trial, in which painter James Whistler sued critic John Ruskin for libel after Ruskin claimed his abstract work was a scam. Whistler chose to create “art for art’s sake,” preferring the visual sensation of a work over it’s narrative content. Diego Rivera was a very famous painter who led the Mexican Muralist movement, wherein he promoted pride in native Mexican traditions and culture - so in painting the native Copali tree he actually presents to us an icon of pre-Columbian Mexico. This piece boasts both a more minimal, modernist composition as well as a strong ideological message.