Greater Mexico refers both to the geographic region encompassing modern Mexico and its former territories in the United States, and to the Mexican cultural diaspora. Exhibitions of visual and material culture from greater Mexico have played an important role in articulating identities and affiliations that transcend limited definitions of citizenship. Following an introductory text by Jennifer Josten, five scholars offer firsthand insights into the intellectual, diplomatic, and logistical concerns underpinning key border-crossing exhibitions of the “NAFTA era.” Rubén Ortiz-Torres writes from his unique perspective as a Mexico City–based artist who began exhibiting in the United States in the late 1980s, and as a curator of recent exhibitions that highlight the existence of multiple Mexicos and Americas. Clara Bargellini reflects on a paradigm-shifting cross-border exhibition of the viceregal arts of the missions of northern New Spain. Kim N. Richter considers how the arts of ancient Mesoamerica and the Americas writ large figured within the Getty Foundation’s 2017 Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative. Xóchitl M. Flores-Marcial offers insights into productive institutional collaborations with transnational Indigenous stakeholders, focusing on two recent Southern California exhibitions of the Oaxaca-based Tlacolulokos collective. Luis Vargas-Santiago discusses how Chicana/o/x art entered Mexico City’s Palacio de Bellas Artes in 2019 as a crucial component of an exhibition about how Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata’s image has migrated through visual culture. Together, these texts demonstrate how exhibitions can act in the service of advancing more nuanced understandings of cultural and political interactions across greater Mexico.
El Gran México se refiere tanto a la región geográfica que abarca el México moderno como a sus antiguos territorios que hoy forman parte de los Estados Unidos y la diáspora cultural mexicana. Las exposiciones de cultura visual y material del Gran México han jugado un papel importante en la articulación de identidades y pertenencias que abarcan más que nociones relativamente estrechas como la de ser ciudadano de un estado-nación. Tras un texto introductorio de Jennifer Josten, cinco académicos comparten sus experiencias personales acerca de las cuestiones intelectuales, diplomáticas y logísticas que había detrás de algunas importantes exposiciones transfronterizas de los llamados “años del TLC”. Rubén Ortiz-Torres escribe desde una perspectiva singular: como artista originario de la Ciudad de México que comenzó a exhibir en los Estados Unidos a finales de la década de 1980, y como curador de exposiciones recientes en las que se ha destacado la existencia de múltiples Méxicos y múltiples Estados Unidos. Clara Bargellini reflexiona sobre una exposición transfronteriza y rupturista de las artes virreinales de las misiones del norte de Nueva España. Kim N. Richter considera cómo las artes de la antigua Mesoamérica y de las Américas figuraron dentro de la iniciativa Pacific Standard Time: LA / LA de la Fundación Getty del año 2017. Xóchitl M. Flores-Marcial ofrece una perspectiva acerca de colaboraciones exitosas entre instituciones y interlocutores indígenas transnacionales; examina específicamente dos muestras del colectivo oaxaqueño Tlacolulokos, realizadas recientemente en el sur de California. Luis Vargas-Santiago analiza cómo el arte Chicana/o/x ingresó al Palacio de Bellas Artes de la Ciudad de México en 2019 como un componente crucial de una exposición sobre las migraciones de la imagen del revolucionario mexicano Emiliano Zapata en la cultura visual. Juntos, estos textos demuestran que las exposiciones pueden servir para promover una comprensión más compleja de las interacciones culturales y políticas en el Gran México.
Grande México se refere tanto à região geográfica que abrange o México moderno e seus antigos territórios nos Estados Unidos, quanto à diáspora cultural mexicana. Exposições de cultura visual e material do Grande México há muito desempenham um papel importante na articulação de identidades e afiliações que transcendem definições limitadas de cidadania. Seguindo um texto introdutório de Jennifer Josten, cinco estudiosos oferecem sua perspectiva sobre as preocupações intelectuais, diplomáticas e logísticas por trás das mais influentes exposições transfronteiriças da “era do NAFTA”. Rubén Ortiz-Torres escreve de seu ponto de vista singular como artista originário da Cidade do México que começou a expor nos Estados Unidos no fim dos anos 1980, e como curador de exposições recentes que destacaram a existência de múltiplos Méxicos e Américas. Clara Bargellini reflete sobre uma exposição transfronteiriça transformadora focada na arte vice-real das missões do norte da Nova Espanha. Kim N. Richter considera como as artes da Mesoamérica antiga e das Américas em geral figuraram em grande escala na iniciativa Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA de 2017 da Fundação Getty. Xóchitl M. Flores-Marcial oferece sua visão sobre colaborações institucionais produtivas entre interlocutores indígenas transnacionais, examinando específicamente duas exposições recentes do coletivo oaxaquenho Tlacolulokos no sul da Califórnia. Luis Vargas-Santiago discute como a arte chicana entrou no Palácio de Belas Artes da Cidade do México em 2019 como um componente crucial de uma exposição sobre as migrações da imagem do revolucionário mexicano Emiliano Zapata na cultura visual. Juntos, esses textos demonstram como exposições podem servir para avançar compreensões mais complexas de interações culturais e políticas através do Grande México.
Writing in 1976, esteemed Mexican American folklorist Américo Paredes defined “Greater Mexico” as “all the areas inhabited by people of Mexican culture—not only within the present limits of the Republic of Mexico but in the United States as well—in a cultural rather than a political sense.”1 More recently, Alan Eladio Gómez has expanded Paredes’s definition to encompass political action, emphasizing the anti-imperialist and antiracist political efforts that characterize the region’s “revolutionary imaginations.”2 In this Dialogues, greater Mexico refers to a broad geographic and cultural area that includes the modern Mexican republic, territories ceded to the United States, and the Mexican diaspora; Greater Mexico (with two capital letters) refers to those states that Mexico ceded in 1848.3 While “Gran México” is not a term frequently used or even familiar to scholars in Mexico, it carries meaning in its geographic, political, and cultural senses for the six participants in this section, all of whom (including myself) are based either in Mexico or its former territories in the United States. In their individual essays, Rubén Ortiz-Torres, Clara Bargellini, Kim N. Richter, Xóchitl M. Flores-Marcial, and Luis Vargas-Santiago reflect on the cultural and intellectual stakes of border-crossing art exhibitions they have curated or otherwise had a hand in organizing. “Border crossing” resonates here in several ways. Some of the exhibitions discussed were presented on both sides of the border. In other cases, works of art produced in Mexico were sent to Greater Mexico for exhibition, or vice versa. So, too, can the artists, curators, and scholars involved in these exhibitions be considered border crossers, both literally and from the standpoint of methodology and discipline. By nature, exhibitions are complex collaborative endeavors, demanding expertise in intellectual, design-related, diplomatic, and logistical arenas alike. Cross-border and multilingual exhibitions require considerable additional cooperation, within and across institutions and governments. Each of the contributing authors offers a unique, behind-the-scenes lens on these collaborative processes. Importantly, they do so from the perspective of having immigrated from one nation to another or having studied and lived on both sides of the border, thus “experiencing the differences and similarities in an embodied sense.”4
The Dialogues’ starting date of 1990 corresponds to an era of increased cooperation between cultural institutions in Mexico and the United States, which was launched with Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries. This major exhibition of ancient, viceregal, and modern art from—and sponsored by—Mexico opened at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1990 and traveled to San Antonio, Los Angeles, and Monterrey, Mexico, before concluding in Mexico City in 1992. Splendors can be understood as a response to broader political and economic factors, including a concern on the part of governments and institutions with marking the five hundredth anniversary of Columbus’s arrival to the Americas, and with offering a cultural complement to the negotiations for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). At each stop, Splendors was accompanied by cultural festivals and commercial opportunities. As such, it offered an imposing model (or countermodel) for subsequent border-crossing exhibition initiatives. These have ranged from inSITE, a series of international site-specific contemporary art interventions held within the San Diego–Tijuana cultural corridor from 1992 through 2005, to the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative (PST: LA/LA), which sponsored exhibitions on Latin American and Latinx art at more than seventy Southern Californian arts institutions in 2017.
These exhibition efforts developed within the broader framework of neoliberal economic and political policies during what Amy Sara Carroll has characterized as the NAFTA era.5 The agreement, which was signed in 1992, marked the embrace of more open trade and investment on the part of the leaders of Canada, Mexico, and the United States, even as anti-immigrant sentiments became increasingly virulent in some US sectors. In October 1994, months after NAFTA went into effect, the Clinton administration instituted Operation Gatekeeper, which allowed the US Border Patrol to militarize the southern border. That November, California voters passed Proposition 187, which called for undocumented immigrants to be denied access to state-funded services. The political landscape has only become more extreme, and more injurious to human lives, under the Trump administration.6 Far from deterring cultural organizations and their agents on both sides of the border from seeking to collaborate, however, this moment has fueled enthusiasm for realizing exhibitions that articulate nuanced narratives of cultural interactions within and across Greater Mexico, thus challenging conservative and reactionary political discourses.
The following five essays were written in the first person by scholars who discuss their involvement in the organizing of one or more such projects over the past three decades. Whereas Bargellini and Vargas-Santiago—both of whom are based in Mexico City—reflect on exhibitions that were organized there, the Los Angeles-based Flores-Marcial and Richter discuss projects that received PST: LA/LA funding; Ortiz-Torres considers efforts that were initiated in Mexico and greater Mexico alike. The texts are organized chronologically, according to when the exhibitions discussed were held. They could, however, also be ordered to emphasize the ways in which they respectively address the arts of Greater Mexico across a broad range of time: from the preconquest era, which is the focus of Richter’s essay on the 2017 exhibition Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas; to viceregal art and architecture, as discussed by Bargellini through the lens of the 2009 exhibition The Arts of the Missions of Northern New Spain. Vargas-Santiago considers more than a century of border-crossing modern and contemporary art and visual culture produced since Mexico’s 1910 Revolution in his analysis of the 2019 Emiliano: Zapata después de Zapata (Zapata after Zapata). Ortiz-Torres, meanwhile, writes from the unique perspective of his professional trajectory as an artist from Mexico City who began showing works in Greater Mexico in the late 1980s before relocating to Southern California, and whose curatorial projects of the last decade include the 2011 MEX/L.A.: “Mexican” Modernism(s) in Los Angeles, 1930–1985. Flores-Marcial focuses on site-specific works produced by the Tlacolulokos collective for the 2017 exhibition Visualizing Language: Oaxaca in LA. Beyond engaging with Greater Mexico as place and idea, exhibitions provide a means for each of the authors in this Dialogues to address the historical and enduring contributions of Indigenous peoples in the region, from the sculptors of ancient Mesoamerica to contemporary Zapotec artists. So, too, are they concerned with issues of racism, nationalism, and settler colonialism and its ongoing consequences.
This Dialogues was conceived in late February 2020, midway through a year I spent in residence at the University of California, Los Angeles’s Chicano Studies Research Center, and it has come together quickly during a period of considerable upheaval. The contributors and I began communicating via email, phone, and videoconference just as we were entering lockdown in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this difficult time, these discussions have been a crucial source of connection and possibility. On one hand, reflecting on one’s own past projects seemed more feasible to accomplish from home at a time when access to institutional offices and studios, not to mention libraries and archives, has been extremely limited. On the other hand, we have all been affected in these months—albeit in different ways and to different degrees—by the material, physical, and psychological challenges of this public health crisis as it has developed in Mexico and the United States. The resulting Dialogues both channels and reflects the spirit of long-distance collaboration and resourcefulness that likewise marked each of the border-crossing exhibitions discussed in its pages.
Foundational Exhibitions of Greater Mexico
My own approach to this topic is not that of a curator, but of a US-based art historian whose field of study—modern and contemporary art and architecture in Latin America—has been profoundly shaped by exhibitions and their history.7 As Mauricio Tenorio-Trillo and others have demonstrated, the modern Mexican state has effectively harnessed the power of international exhibitions of its ancient, viceregal, and modern art for diplomatic purposes ever since the format’s nineteenth-century emergence. I became more engaged with the historiographical phenomenon that Olivier Debroise described as “the art of exhibiting Mexican art” while serving as a curatorial consultant and catalog essay author for the 2017 exhibition Found in Translation: Design in California and Mexico, 1915–1985, curated by Wendy Kaplan and Staci Steinberger at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) as part of PST: LA/LA.8 Kaplan and Steinberger’s emphasis on mobility and exchange shed light on the preponderance of exhibitions of ancient, folk, and modern art and design from Mexico in California and other parts of Greater Mexico in the decades following Mexico’s 1910 Revolution—a period when hundreds of thousands of Mexicans immigrated north of the border in response to political upheaval and economic opportunity. Many of these exhibitions were organized by Mexico’s government, beginning with the 1921 Las artes populares en México (The Popular Arts of Mexico), the nation’s first dedicated to folk art, which went on tour to Los Angeles in January 1922. Subsequent state-sponsored initiatives ranged from the 1930 Mexican Arts Exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and several other venues, to the 1940 Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), to decades of Cold War–era exhibitions organized by Fernando Gamboa, a founding figure in Mexican museografía (the practice of mounting exhibitions), culminating with Splendors in 1990.9
These government-sponsored efforts stand out amid the many other exhibitions that circulated in the United States during and after Mexico’s postrevolutionary cultural efflorescence, whose fame helped generate US mural commissions for the so-called tres grandes, José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros, in the 1930s.10 So, too, did US-based artists and designers travel south to produce and exhibit their works in the interwar years. Within the relative abundance of exhibition-driven scholarship on cross-border realisms of the 1920s to 1940s, the question of how Mexican Americans participated in these developments remains a significant lacuna.11 In their introduction to the 1993 South of the Border: Mexico in the American Imagination, 1914–1947, James Oles and Mary Ellen Miller noted that “Ironically, the same rural populations that were idealized and praised [by US commentators and viewers] in Mexico often became the objects of scorn and prejudice after entering the United States. Perhaps as a result, little is known about the ways in which Mexican-Americans themselves were influenced by artistic and cultural events in Mexico or as interpreted by mainstream American critics. To what extent were Mexican artists familiar to the Mexican-American population? How were the exhibitions of Mexican art that traveled to San Antonio and Los Angeles in the 1920s and 1930s received by the Mexican-American residents of those cities? These and other questions await thoughtful consideration.”12 While inroads have been made in the subsequent years, significant research and dissemination remain to be done.
While Mexico’s modern art shifted out of the public eye in the United States during the Cold War, its ancient art became increasingly prominent in mainstream museums in (and beyond) Greater Mexico. This was the case at LACMA, which, as Karen Mary Davalos has discussed, had a key opportunity to more substantively engage Los Angeles’s vast Mexican American population in 1963 when one of Gamboa’s official traveling exhibitions, Master Works of Mexican Art, from Pre-Columbian Times to the Present, was mounted at the museum’s pre–Wilshire Boulevard venue in Exposition Park. In his foreword to the catalog, LACMA director Richard Brown notes several reasons for his conviction that the exhibition would have a powerful impact in Los Angeles, including “geographic proximity; a larger population with direct Mexican heritage than any place in the world outside Mexico itself; [and] centuries of common historical association between California and the nation just across our southern border,” in addition to the avid interests of local collectors and dealers.13 The exhibition drew enormous crowds and initiated the museum’s ongoing commitment to displaying and collecting pre-Columbian art and collaborating with Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH), as Richter discusses in her contribution to this Dialogues. Yet only in recent years have works by artists who identify as Chicana/o/x, Latina/o/x, and Latin American begun to be incorporated structurally into LACMA’s collecting and curatorial fabric.14
The later 1960s saw the emergence of parallel artistic developments tied to Mexico’s ’68 student and workers movement and the Chicano civil rights movement. While these were broadly excluded from mainstream museums across Greater Mexico, exhibitions in galleries and alternative spaces were essential to their dissemination in both countries. An important example of this politically motivated art crossing the border for display is the 1983 A través de la frontera (Across the Border): a major art exhibition, film series, and anthology dedicated to the Chicano movement that was held in Mexico City thanks in large part to a collaboration between two key advocates for contemporary art and artists of Greater Mexico: Los Angeles–based art historian Shifra Goldman and her Mexico City counterpart, Ida Rodríguez Prampolini. Rodríguez Prampolini spearheaded the exhibition (whose curatorial script was developed by Francisco Reyes Palma) as director of artistic research for Mexico City’s Centro de Estudios Económicos y Sociales del Tercer Mundo (Center for Economic and Social Studies of the Third World, CEESTEM), a non-governmental organization directed by former President Luis Echeverría. Works by more than ninety Chicano and Chicana artists were on view, including Rupert García, whose 1979 pastel Assassination of a Striking Mexican Worker (which invokes Mexican photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo’s 1934 Obrero en huelga, asesinado) was featured on the cover of the catalog, an anthology of key texts that remains an essential Spanish-language resource on the Chicano movement (fig. 1). In her introduction, Rodríguez Prampolini asserted the importance of Mexican audiences understanding Chicano history and culture and called upon her readers to show solidarity with Mexicans on the other side of the border, including those with long-established roots in the United States as well as more recent undocumented arrivals.15 This call resonates as profoundly as ever in the current era of mass detentions and deportations.
Meanwhile, the Chicano movement laid the groundwork for the establishment of permanent institutions dedicated to the arts of greater Mexico in the United States, including San Francisco’s Mexican Museum, founded by Peter Rodríguez in 1975, and Chicago’s Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, founded by Carlos Tortolero and Helen Valdez in 1982. Davalos (who has written extensively about both institutions) notes the transnational emphasis of the Mexican Museum’s early exhibition program, which brought together works by artists living and working on both sides of the border to signify “culture and history sin fronteras, a vision for continuity that defies geopolitical boundaries.”16
Exhibiting across Borders in the Age of NAFTA
As noted in the opening paragraphs, 1990 marked the onset of a new period of Mexico-US cultural relations, defined by the broader sociopolitical and economic realignments of the neoliberal era. While exhibitions were developed on many scales and for many venues in the subsequent decades (a diversity that is represented within the contributions to this Dialogues), the most visible was Splendors, a “blockbuster” that opened at the Met in 1990 before traveling to the San Antonio Museum of Art and LACMA in 1991, followed by the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey and Mexico City’s Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso in 1992. Another significant cultural initiative of the early 1990s was inSITE: a binational festival of site-specific contemporary projects across the Tijuana/San Diego border region that took place in 1992, 1994, 1997, 2000, and 2005.17
The distinctions between the two are worth noting. Splendors emerged from the highest levels of Mexico’s centralized economic, political, and cultural spheres as the crown jewel of an official tourism campaign that sought to frame Mexico as a developed nation among peers by showcasing its rich cultural heritage and contemporary art scene. Its chief power brokers were Emilio Azcárraga, president of Televisa, Mexico’s largest multimedia conglomerate; Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, a staunch promoter of NAFTA throughout his 1988–94 term; and Nobel laureate Octavio Paz. By emphasizing ancient and viceregal works (in alignment with contemporaneous exhibitions that marked the Columbus quincentennial) over works made in the modern era (and then only until 1940), Splendors stuck to the script that had been developed for Twenty Centuries of Mexican Art and reinforced by Gamboa during the Cold War, offering a nonthreatening vision of Mexico that was focused on continuity, assimilation, and the more distant past.18
In reviewing Splendors, Goldman argued that no exhibition had “been more important for large communities of Mexicans in the United States.” LACMA, she noted, reported
an estimated half million visitors during [the exhibition’s] three-month tenure, of which an unprecedented 30 to 40 percent were Latinos.…For Mexicans, Chicanos, and Latinos, the great spread of artistic production that could be seen in Splendors offered an opportunity to gain an aesthetic and historical overview of artwork never before gathered together at one place and time. For the marginalized Mexican/Chicano communities of the Southwest, hungry for the rare opportunity of having their symbolic culture available to them and even validated by its presentation in prestigious institutions, this show was a source of considerable satisfaction and pride. Furthermore, it was anticipated that many false ideas and stereotypes about Mexicans could be curbed, or even reversed through its presence. Finally, local artists retained the hope that their almost complete invisibility or occasional token appearances within the mainstream art institutions (of Los Angeles and San Antonio) would now be remedied. This remains to be seen.19
In regard to LACMA, at least, Davalos’s scholarship indicates that a quarter century after Master Works of Mexican Art was on view, Splendors had a correspondingly limited structural impact on the museum itself.20 Yet the cultural festivals, exhibitions, and art fairs that accompanied the exhibition in each of its US venues, which were organized by official Mexican agencies, Mexican American organizations, and independent entities alike, did register a broader impact, particularly by presenting opportunities for contemporary artists of Greater Mexico—including Dialogues contributor Ortiz-Torres—to exhibit and publish their work (fig. 2).
inSITE, meanwhile, emerged as a grassroots initiative of San Diego/Tijuana museums, galleries, cultural organizations, and educational institutions, which coalesced in the early 1990s at the artist-run nonprofit Installation Gallery. Their hypothesis was that a coordinated effort on the part of the region’s arts institutions in fall 1992 could facilitate the consolidation of a contemporary art scene across the sprawling, fragmented binational metropolitan region. inSITE 1992 included forty-two site-specific installations in twenty-nine participating institutions; hosts funded the production of artworks, and Installation Gallery produced maps and other infrastructure for the initiative as a whole. Responses were resoundingly positive—particularly from Mexican officials—such that even before the first version closed, plans were afoot for a more ambitious biennial in 1994.21
inSITE94 united thirty-eight institutions, which together produced seventy-four site-specific contemporary projects by international artists at thirty-six sites across San Diego and Tijuana. This was a moment when Tijuana’s population was growing at a faster rate than any other city in Latin America, due to the rise of maquiladoras (foreign-owned factories focused on foreign exports)—a direct response to NAFTA. As its organizers would retrospectively note,
The two years (early 1992 through late 1994) that artists were developing their projects for inSITE94 saw the completion of twelve miles of metal border fence extending 300 meters into the Pacific Ocean, the adoption of NAFTA, the commencement of Operation Gatekeeper (effectively ending the flow of migrants from Tijuana to San Diego and pushing the point of “undocumented crossing” twenty miles to the east), and the passage of Proposition 187 by voters in California (effectively stripping undocumented migrants of all rights to state services). The artistic response to the contradictions and confluences of the border region became, for better or worse, the most significant force behind inSITE94.22
Splendors and inSITE thus stand at two ends of a spectrum of displaying the art of greater Mexico in Greater Mexico at the onset of the neoliberal era. One was a top-down effort to further canonize the art of Mexico’s past. At the other end was a ground-up initiative that sought to consolidate a cross-border art scene at a fraught political and economic moment by catalyzing new art by local, national, and international figures, at least some of whom were avidly seeking to participate in an increasingly global contemporary art circuit. As aspects of a broader phenomenon of exhibitions functioning as key components of both cultural diplomacy and cultural renovation efforts, Splendors and inSITE laid the groundwork for the exhibitions discussed by contributors to this Dialogues.
Exhibiting (in) Greater Mexico: The View from 2020
inSITE established a precedent of sorts for the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time (PST) initiatives, which have provided funding as well as centralized publicity and infrastructure for festivals of exhibitions at arts institutions across southern California. As Ortiz-Torres, Richter, and Flores-Marcial demonstrate in their contributions to this Dialogues, PST has been a crucial catalyst for exhibits in and of greater Mexico over the last decade. Of the more than fifty exhibitions included in the first PST, “Art in L.A. 1945–1980,” which spanned sixty arts institutions in 2011, only six addressed Mexican American and Chicano art. Yet these six—including Asco: Elite of the Obscure (an exhibition that later traveled to Mexico City) and MEX/L.A.: “Mexican” Modernism(s) in Los Angeles, 1930–1985—were a particular focus of the initiative’s promotion and coverage. Lucia Sanromán has argued that one reason for this is that they fulfilled “the implicit intentions of PST to give a more complex, perhaps even cosmopolitan interpretation of the essay visual arts in L.A. that places the city culturally on the global stage.”23 Indeed, in his contribution to this Dialogues, Ortiz-Torres proposes that MEX/L.A., which he curated with Jesse Lerner for the Museum of Latin American Art’s contribution to the first PST, planted the seed for the Getty’s second edition of the initiative in 2017, PST: LA/LA, which funded exhibitions of Latin American and Latinx art across more than seventy institutions between Santa Barbara and San Diego. PST: LA/LA had a decisive impact on scholarship in these fields by supporting the publication of major exhibition catalogs and stand-alone books. It also brought broader awareness of the art of the region, though whether it galvanized lasting structural change in terms of institutional hiring, collecting practices, and the academic job market remains to be seen.24
The exhibitions discussed in this Dialogues all confronted the physical and conceptual barriers that separate Greater Mexico into two nations. Fittingly, given his roles as both artist and curator in and of greater Mexico over the last three decades, the section opens with Ortiz-Torres’s “Mexicos and Americas,” which intertwines historical and first-person perspectives to present a sweeping vision of politics and cultural production in the region; one in which the borderlands are generative sites for forms that function at the nexus of popular culture, artistic traditions, tourist economies, and where questions of identity undergo continual revision and redefinition. Ortiz-Torres’s own trajectory as a contemporary artist who moved from Mexico City to Los Angeles in the early 1990s was impacted by the broader sociopolitical and economic realignments of the NAFTA era. Transnational exchanges are likewise inscribed within his artworks, several of which illustrate his essay (also see fig. 2). In the course of examining the intersection of modern and contemporary artistic and curatorial practice with the history of US and Latin American diplomatic relations, Ortiz-Torres grapples with the legacies of settler colonialism, nationalism, and imperialism.
Ortiz-Torres’s text is followed by Bargellini’s “Looking Back at The Arts of the Missions of Northern New Spain, 1600–1821,” which reflects on a groundbreaking exhibition she curated with Michael Komanecky in 2009. Arts of the Missions united scholarly research on viceregal-era art and architecture produced on both sides of the border, bringing together over 150 objects of material culture and visual art produced at Franciscan and Jesuit missions extending across central Mexico, northern Mexico, and the present-day southwestern and western United States. After opening at the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso (itself a former Jesuit structure that was converted into an exhibition space to receive Splendors), Arts of the Missions crossed the border three times in its travels to museums in San Antonio, Monterrey, Oakland, and Tijuana during 2009–11. In so doing, the exhibition brought a transnational lens to a field long divided by national and state borders, and provided a template for viewing missions as sites of dynamic exchange between Indigenous, European, Asian, and African cultures.25 Bargellini demonstrates how exhibitions offer significant opportunities for collaborations among institutions as well as between individual scholars and conservators. Highlighting the importance of coordination among entities including INAH, local communities, and mission museums, Bargellini offers Arts of the Missions as a testament to the impact of binational and interdisciplinary efforts.
In “Golden Kingdoms at Getty: Going beyond Greater Mexico,” Richter picks up where Bargellini leaves off, both in terms of the history of cross-border exhibitions in the 2010s and by analyzing a viceregal painting that addresses the role of art objects in communicating intersectional identities in the early modern period. As Richter explains, that work was the endpoint of the 2017 Getty Museum exhibition Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas, a lynchpin of PST: LA/LA that she curated with Joanne Pillsbury. She revisits that experience here to make a case for how museum exhibitions can produce complex readings of transcultural histories that include greater Mexico and the Americas writ large. In the course of providing an in-depth examination of the exhibition-making process that takes special note of curatorial challenges and compromises, Richter situates Global Kingdoms within a broader history of exhibitions, highlighting its departure from the prevalent monocultural focus of the fields of pre-Hispanic art and archaeology, and demonstrating how transcultural analysis can reveal the entwined nature of the legacies of imperialist conquest and the enduring influence of Indigenous forms and traditions on visual and material culture in the Americas.
Flores-Marcial offers another lens on the impact of PST: LA/LA in “Getting Community Engagement Right: Working with Transnational Indigenous Stakeholders in Oaxacalifornia,” in which she reflects on her experiences as a consultant to Visualizing Language: Oaxaca in LA, held at the Los Angeles Central Library in 2017, to argue that the possibility for institutional transformation rests on meaningful and dynamic community engagement. Visualizing Language centered on eight mural panels commissioned from the contemporary artist collective Tlacolulokos (Dario Canul and Cosijoesa Cernas, who are based in Tlacolula, Oaxaca), which were installed within the Central Library’s main atrium below Dean Cornwell’s 1934 murals that romanticize California’s settler-colonialist past. Flores-Marcial elucidates how the inclusive team building, transcultural collaboration, and multilingual pedagogical practices employed by the Visualizing Language team worked to counter the structural oppression and cultural invisibilization faced by members of the Indigenous Oaxacan diaspora across the United States and Mexico. In doing so, she highlights institutional best practices and strategies to demonstrate how art exhibitions can serve as platforms for advancing social justice and as venues where underrepresented voices can be amplified and celebrated.
In the concluding essay, “Emiliano: Framing Zapata’s Migrations through Greater Mexico in Mexico City’s Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes,” Vargas-Santiago draws on his experience as curator of the 2019–20 exhibition Emiliano: Zapata después de Zapata—Mexico’s last pre-pandemic blockbuster—to emphasize the value of exhibition practice as a form of historiographical intervention. He relates how Emiliano, which deployed the concept of visual diaspora to contend with the proliferation of images of Mexican revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata from the 1910s to the present, was the vehicle by which Chicana and Chicano art entered one of Mexico’s most hallowed exhibition venues. From his subject position as a Mexico City–based researcher and curator, Vargas-Santiago notes that historically, US-based publics and students have had more exposure to art from Mexico than Mexican publics and students have had to the art of Mexican Americans and Chicanos. Emiliano sought to address this imbalance by examining the multiple border crossings to which Zapata’s image has been subjected over time. In explaining how the exhibition tracked Zapata across time periods, geographies, and cultural imaginaries, Vargas-Santiago illuminates the roles of visual diaspora in the realms of nationalist propaganda and liberation movements, revealing the inherent instability of structures such as borders and nation-states. In an appeal that resonates with the one Rodríguez Prampolini issued in 1983 for Mexicans to express solidarity with their counterparts in Greater Mexico, Vargas-Santiago concludes by calling on curators and museums within Mexico to increase their commitment to exhibiting and collecting the art of Greater Mexico, thereby fulfilling their historical as well as contemporary responsibility to the visual and material forms in which the nation’s diaspora is represented.
Each of the exhibitions discussed in this Dialogues entailed sending artworks (and/or artists themselves) across the Mexico-US border. Like so many others of the same and preceding decades, they were the result of long-standing conversations and partnerships between individuals and institutions that transcend specific governmental regimes. Amid a pandemic that has kept museums in both countries closed to viewers for extended periods, and in the face of extreme budget cuts that place future initiatives in limbo, the task of reflecting critically on the organizing process and impact of past exhibitions has taken on greater urgency and poignance for the contributors to this section and our colleagues in the field, as we consider the forms that future collaborations across greater Mexico may take.
This Dialogues and its introduction were supported by UC Los Angeles’s Institute of American Cultures and Chicano Studies Research Center. I am grateful for discussions with and feedback from Latin American and Latinx Visual Culture’s editors and each of the contributing authors—Clara Bargellini, Xóchitl M. Flores-Marcial, Rubén Ortiz-Torres, Kim N. Richter, and Luis Vargas-Santiago—as well as C. Ondine Chavoya, Aaron Hyman, Meredith Malone, James Oles, Matthew Robb, Sandra Rozental, and Jenni Sorkin. At the University of Pittsburgh, Brooke Wyatt provided essential research and editing assistance, and the staff of the University Library System facilitated access to materials.
Américo Paredes, A Texas-Mexican Cancionero: Folksongs of the Lower Border (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995), xiv, quoted in Alan Eladio Gómez, The Revolutionary Imaginations of Greater Mexico: Chicana/o Radicalism, Solidarity Politics, and Latin American Social Movements (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2016), 3.
Gómez, Revolutionary Imaginations, 3.
Under the terms of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which marked the conclusion of the Mexican-American War, the United States annexed half of Mexico’s territory, which would become the states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah. The US-Mexico border thus effectively crossed an estimated 100,000 Mexican citizens, who were given the option of accepting US citizenship or moving to Mexico. David R. Maciel, “Mexico in Aztlán and Aztlán in Mexico: The Dialectics of Chicano-Mexicano Art,” in Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation, 1965–1985, ed. Richard Griswold del Castillo, Teresa McKenna, and Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano (Los Angeles: Wight Art Gallery, University of California, Los Angeles, 1991), 109; Edward J. McCaughan, “‘We Didn’t Cross the Border, the Border Crossed Us’: Artists’ Images of the US-Mexico Border and Immigration,” Latin American and Latinx Visual Culture 2, no. 1 (January 2020): 7. The use of the term Greater Mexico in this Dialogues to indicate both place and concept is consonant with that of the term Aztlán—a reference to the ancient Aztec ancestral homeland, thought to be located in the present-day US Southwest—by participants in the Chicano cultural and civil rights movement. The centuries-long history of artistic exchange across northern Mexico and the US Southwest was the subject of a traveling exhibition organized by LACMA; see Virginia M. Fields and Victor Zamudio-Taylor, The Road to Aztlan: Art from a Mythic Homeland (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2001).
“haber experimentado las diferencias y semejanzas en carne propia.” Luis Vargas-Santiago in correspondence with the author, August 2020. All translations by the author unless otherwise noted.
Carroll writes that “NAFTAfication, whose seeds were sowed in the long 1960s, encompassed the transnational economic crises of the 1980s; the duration of NAFTA’s negotiation beginning in the early 1990s; its protracted enactment from January 1, 1994, to January 1, 2008; and its post-2008 fallout effects, including extreme narco-violence and economic free fall worldwide.” Amy Sara Carroll, REMEX: Toward an Art History of the NAFTA Era (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017), 8.
Here I refer not only to federally mandated policies of mass deportation, incarceration, and family separation, but to incidents of racially motivated violence that have been aided and abetted by the rhetoric of Trump’s campaign and administration, including the 2019 massacre of twenty-three individuals at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, perpetrated by Patrick Crusius, who admitted to driving from Dallas with the explicit aim of killing Mexicans.
On the essential roles played by exhibitions and their catalogs in the foundational scholarship of the subfields of modern and contemporary Latin American and Latinx art, see Elena Shtromberg and C. Ondine Chavoya, “Lessons from Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA,” Latin American and Latinx Visual Culture 1, no. 2 (April 2019): 74–93.
Olivier Debroise, El arte de mostrar el arte mexicano: ensayos sobre los usos y desusos del exotismo en tiempos de globalización (1992–2007) (Mexico City: Cubo Blanco; RM, 2018); Wendy Kaplan, ed., Found in Translation: Design in California and Mexico, 1915–1985 (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2017).
Ana Elena Mallet, “Mexico City–L.A.: Diálogos de diseño/Design Dialogues,” in MEX/L.A.: “Mexican” Modernism(s) in Los Angeles, 1930–1985, ed. Rubén Ortiz-Torres and Jesse Lerner (Long Beach, CA: Museum of Latin American Art, 2011), 109, 111.
These commissions have themselves been the focus of US and binational solo exhibitions of each of the tres grandes in recent decades, as documented (in chronological order) in Linda Downs, ed., Diego Rivera, a Retrospective (Detroit: Detroit Institute of Arts, 1986); Olivier Debroise, Mari Carmen Ramírez, and James Oles, Retrato de una década/Portrait of a Decade: David Alfaro Siqueiros, 1930–1940 (Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, 1997); Renato González Mello and Diane Milliotes, eds., José Clemente Orozco in the United States, 1927–1934 (Hanover, NH: Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, 2002); Leah Dickerman and Anna Indych-López, Diego Rivera: Murals for the Museum of Modern Art (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2011); James Oles, ed., Diego Rivera’s America (Oakland: University of California Press, forthcoming), and others catalogs.
Exhibition catalogs addressing cross-border realisms in the interwar era include (in chronological order): James Oles, South of the Border: Mexico in the American Imagination, 1914–1947 (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993); Lizzetta LeFalle-Collins and Shifra M. Goldman, In the Spirit of Resistance: African-American Modernists and the Mexican Muralist School (New York: American Federation of Arts, 1996); Deborah Cullen, ed., Nexus New York: Latin American Artists in the Modern Metropolis (New York: El Museo del Barrio, 2009); Ortiz-Torres and Lerner, MEX/L.A.; Matthew Affron, Mark Castro, Renato González Mello, and Dafne Cruz Porchini, Paint the Revolution: Mexican Modernism, 1910–1950 (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2016); Kaplan, Found in Translation; Barbara Haskell et al., Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925–1945 (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2020). On the contributions of Mexican American artists in this period, see Terezita Romo, “Mexican Heritage, American Art: Six Angeleno Artists,” in L.A. Xicano, ed. Chon A. Noriega, Terezita Romo, and Pilar Tompkins Rivas (Los Angeles: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Press, 2011), 10–13; and E. Carmen Ramos, “What Is Latino about American Art?,” in Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art, ed. E. Carmen Ramos (Washington, DC: Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2014), 36.
Mary Ellen Miller and James Oles, introduction to Oles, South of the Border, 7.
Richard F. Brown, foreword to Master Works of Mexican Art, from Pre-Columbian Times to the Present (Los Angeles: LACMA, 1963), vii. Brown’s foreword is discussed in Karen Mary Davalos, Chicana/o Remix: Art and Errata since the Sixties (New York: New York University Press, 2017), 181; and in Megan E. O’Neil and Mary Ellen Miller, “‘An Artistic Discovery of America’: Mexican Antiquities in Los Angeles, 1940–1960s,” in Kaplan, Found in Translation, 162–67.
On this history, see Karen Mary Davalos, “Remixing: Tracing the Limitations of Art History in Los Angeles,” chap. 6 in Chicana/o Remix, 181–212.
Ida Rodríguez Prampolini, “Presentación,” in Haydée Fígoli and Ida Rodríguez Prampolini, eds., A través de la frontera (Mexico City: Centro de Estudios Económicos y Sociales del Tercer Mundo, A.C.; Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1983).
Karen Mary Davalos, The Mexican Museum of San Francisco Papers, 1971–2006, The Chicano Archives 3 (Los Angeles: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Press, 2010), 19. On the history of the Chicago museum, see Karen Mary Davalos, Exhibiting Mestizaje: Mexican (American) Museums in the Diaspora (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2001), 109–117.
For an overview of and archival materials related to the first five editions of inSITE, see “INSITE – Overview,” About INSITE, https://insiteart.org/about. For a historically and theoretically rich analysis of inSITE in the broader context of the NAFTA era, see Carroll, REMEX, 254–86.
Key economic and political analyses of Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries include Roger Bartra, “Mexican Oficio: The Miseries and Splendors of Culture,” trans. Coco Fusco, Third Text 5, no. 14 (1991): 7–16; Shifra M. Goldman, “Metropolitan Splendors: The Buying and Selling of Mexico,” Third Text 5, no. 14 (1991): 17–26; and Brian Wallis, “Selling Nations,” Art in America (September 1991): 84–91. Also see Goldman, “3,000 Years of Mexican Art [review of Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries],” Art Journal 51, no. 2 (Summer 1992): 91–93, 95. Goldman’s texts are reprinted in Shifra M. Goldman, Dimensions of the Americas: Art and Social Change in Latin America and the United States (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994).
Goldman, “3,000 Years,” 91.
Davalos, Chicana/o Remix, 185.
“INSITE – Overview.”
“Overview,” inSITE94, https://insiteart.org/insite-94.
Lucía Sanromán, “PST Mexican American and Chicano Exhibitions Legitimize the Periphery,” Art Journal 71, no. 1 (March 1, 2012): 76–87. Also see Roberta Smith, “A New Pin on the Art Map,” New York Times, November 13, 2011.
See Shtromberg and Chavoya, “Lessons.”
On the state of the field of Critical Mission Studies, see Jennifer Scheper Hughes and Cynthia Neri Lewis, eds., “Dialogues: The California Missions and the Arts of Conquest,” Latin American and Latinx Visual Culture 2, no. 3 (July 2020).