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Tracking COVID-19 at UCLA2020 Racial Justice Movement

Mexican art goes global, departs from usual themes

By David Chang

Jun. 2, 2004 9:00 pm

With “Made in Mexico,” UCLA Hammer Museum’s
latest art exhibition, curator Gilbert Vicario poses the question
“What Makes Art Mexican?” with no clear-cut answer in

The exhibition, which was on display at the Institute of
Contemporary Art in Boston, defies audiences’ conceptions and
expectations of Mexican art by downplaying issues of death and
sacrifice and abandoning symbols such as the Catholic and
pre-Columbian image of the bleeding heart. Instead, it features a
diverse collection of works by 20 contemporary artists, only eight
of whom are Mexican.

“(The exhibition) is an attempt at putting together a
survey of art that was being created in Mexico City, mostly within
the last five or six years “¦ (to) give people an idea of the
range of artists and the range of work that was being made down
there, and to let people know it’s not just about Mexican
artists creating contemporary art, but about a sort of creative
exchange that happens in a particular geographic and cultural
location,” said Vicario.

Vicario is in part suggesting that what makes art Mexican has
little to do with the artist being Mexican. Erik Göngrich of
Germany represents a handful of artists in the exhibition who have
been inspired by Mexico.

“I’m personally happy that I’m in a show where
finally Mexican artists are combined with international
artists,” said Göngrich. “You have to rethink the
(traditional Mexican) themes of exhibitions.”

The exhibition even includes an artist who has never been to
Mexico ““ Japan’s Yasumasa Morimura. His intense
fascination with and respect for Frida Kahlo has resulted in a
series of identity-blending, gender-bending photos of himself as

“The reason to arrange any given group of artists
together, hang their work together, and show them together is
because theoretically, their work is in some kind of conversation
or dialogue with each other, and sometimes that can be a positive
thing,” said Saloni Mathur, an assistant professor of art
history at UCLA.

Vicario believes this exchange of ideas is made possible by the
growing globalization of the past 10 years, and identifies
“globalism,” with a slight conceptual twist, as one of
the show’s themes.

“In the art world, the issue of globalization has been
used kind of as a framework for certain group exhibitions that look
at a particular x, y and z in art and give examples from maybe 20
different countries,” explained Vicario. “I was
thinking it would be interesting to do that, but invert that
exhibition paradigm by showing how artists from many different
countries work in a very specific country, showing how there has
been a leap in accessibility of information around the world,
enabling more people to be more interested and want to go to

“Made in Mexico,” according to Vicario, was a
response to exhibitions that concentrate on a single nation, all
the while making assumptions about an entire country.

“That was one notion that I was trying to take apart.
“¦ Here in Boston, I got a lot of resistance,” said
Vicario. “People who spoke to me about it, who happen to be
Mexican, were very kind of “˜Oh my god, I can’t believe
they’re doing this exhibition.’ They came with a
certain prejudice about what their expectations were. When they
went through the exhibition, it completely changed their minds.
It’s not another Mexico show.”

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David Chang
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