The last several years have revealed the start of a remarkable ferment among historians of postrevolutionary, and especially of post-1945, Mexico. We have both moved away from the overly reductive role of the 1968 student protests and simultaneously stretched out our periodization so that we now speak of the “long 1960s.” Moreover, we now speak of a distinctively experienced Mexican cosmopolitanism, one reflected through novel expressions in cinema, poetry, music, and other aesthetic and literary practices. Alongside a nuanced dissection of the mechanisms of repression is a renewed emphasis on middle-class mobility, cultural iconoclasm, and modernist awakening. Mary Kay Vaughan's beautifully written, masterful new book, Portrait of a Young Painter, is situated precisely at the interstices of this historiographical revisionism.

Pepe Zúñiga is an Oaxacan-born artist of little renown outside of Mexican circles in whom Vaughan has found the ideal interlocutor,...

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