Songs of Design

Languages of Republican Exile in Mexico

23 June - 13 October 2023 /
Nouvel Building, Library and Documentation Centre, Space D

Free ticket

In 1939, the year that marked four hundred years since the arrival of the printing press in the Americas, Franco’s dictatorship came into force and with it political and social repression that drove numerous supporters of the Republican faction into exile. Among the countries to most frequently welcome people was Mexico, owing to the asylum policy implemented by the government of Lázaro Cárdenas. The inclusion of these exiles in Mexico’s social fabric, particularly artists and intellectuals, fostered a cultural and artistic exchange in different spheres and disciplines. Thus, Songs of Design. Languages of Republican Exile in Mexico sets forth a reading of this exodus, shining a light on the Mexican graphic art produced at the time and which enabled avant-garde art-making that had been censored and nullified in Franco’s Spain to continue. Through the holdings of the Museo Reina Sofía’s Library and Documentation Centre, the show is articulated around two case studies: the works of graphic designer Miguel Prieto (Almodóvar del Campo, Ciudad Real, 1907 — Mexico City, 1956) and Vicente Rojo (Barcelona, 1932 – Mexico City, 2021), two artists representing two generations within Republic exile in Mexico.

As a first case study, Miguel Prieto — a member of and activist in the Spanish Communist Party – was one of the exiles who travelled aboard the Veendam ocean liner in 1939. Along with others like Josep Renau and Manuela Ballester, Prieto contributed to Mexican graphic art from editorial design, his output, characterised by the incorporation of new typography, the balance between text and image and the poetic nature of illustrations, playing a part in the evolution of the craft. His most salient works include the fortnightly magazine Romance (1940–1941) and the poetry collections Canto general (General Song, 1950), by Pablo Neruda, and Canciones de la paz (Songs of Peace, 1955), by Juan Rejano, books in which the lay-out places equal stress on the visual and the textual, giving rise to new possibilities in Mexican editorial design.

The second case study is centred on Vicente Rojo, who arrived in Mexico aged seventeen and represents the second generation of exiles in the country. His graphic art denoted a significant evolution with respect to the aesthetic and political proposals of Prieto, with whom he started to work as an assistant at the National Institute of Fine Arts (INBA) in 1950. Years later, with the designs he produced for different literary works, Rojo experimented with geometry applied to typography and proposed alternatives to traditional book formats. Noteworthy are fold-out objects or non-linear reading models like Marcel Duchamp o el castillo de la pureza (Marcel Duchamp, or the Castle of Purity, 1968), by Octavio Paz.

Via the different projects carried out by Prieto and Rojo — magazines, leaflets, artists’ books, photobooks and illustrations — Songs of Design looks to trace the evolution of Mexico’s editorial design industry in this period, exploring the analogies and divergencies — aesthetic and political — of graphic art languages employed by both generations of Republican exiles in Mexico.  

Exhibition´s details

Organized by: 

An exhibition carried out by the group of students from the Art Theory and Critique module on the MA in Contemporary Art History and Visual Culture, organised jointly by the Autonomous University of Madrid, the Complutense University of Madrid and the Museo Reina Sofía


Monday to Friday, from 9am to 9pm


Joan Arnau, Lucía Batalla Tuero, Emma Bloch-Mazier, Sarah Crozier, Paula Eslava Jaime, Anne González Aspiazu, Paula Lorenzo Chiva, Claudia Luque, Pedro Muñoz Fumero, Marta Padilla Rojas, Pablo Paillole, Lucía Pérez and Noelia Plata Barrueco


Documentary Shows, Library and Documentation Centre


Thank you to our MA colleagues for their warmth and support. To our tutor Diana Angoso for her affection and guidance. To the entire team from the Museo’s Library and Documentation Centre, particularly Almudena Gómez and Alberto Medina, for their patience and work. To Noemí de Haro, Alicia Fuentes Vega, Lidia Meras and Rocío Robles Tardío for their work as coordinators. To the Museo’s Editorial Activities and Public Activities Departments for their support. To Juan Albarrán, Pablo Allepuz, Miguel Cabañas, Mela Dávila, Germán Labrador, Jaime Narváez and Rosario Peiró for sharing their experiences and knowledge. And to the families of Miguel Prieto and Vicente Rojo for their collaboration on the project. Finally, to the Fundación Pablo Iglesias Foundation, RTVE, Archivo ABC, Filmoteca Nacional Española and the UNAM Filmoteca for their licensing, permission and support of the exhibited works

Additional material:

Exhibition information sheet: Songs of Design. Languages of Republican Exile in Mexico

Education programme developed with sponsorship of the Banco Santander Foundation

Free ticket