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.

El arte de las misiones del norte de la Nueva España/The Arts of the Missions of Northern New Spain, 1600–1821, an exhibition and corresponding catalog I curated along with Michael Komanecky, opened in 2009 in the exhibition galleries of the then newly restored Colegio de San Ildefonso, a former Jesuit institution located north of Mexico City's Zócalo (main plaza), now part of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).1 Between 2009 and 2011, the exhibition crossed the US-Mexico border three times, traveling to the San Antonio Museum of Art in Texas; the Museo de Historia Mexicana in Monterrey, Nuevo León; the Centro Cultural Tijuana in Baja California Norte; and finally to the Oakland Museum of California. It brought together objects from former Franciscan and Jesuit missions in present-day northern Mexico: the states of Nayarit, Querétaro, San Luis Potosí, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas, Durango, Coahuila, Sinaloa, Sonora, Chihuahua, and Baja California. Also included were objects from the southwestern and western United States: New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, and California, which had been part of New Spain and—in the first decades of the nineteenth century—of independent Mexico. The project involved photographing and studying objects from all these places. In Mexico, there was a major cataloging and conservation effort carried out by UNAM and the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH), a testament to the importance of institutional collaborations to the Missions project. The exhibition catalog includes texts by scholars at universities and research institutes in both Mexico and the United States (fig. 1). In it, much was revealed that had been unknown to audiences in both countries. It remains a basic resource for knowledge of the Spanish colonial mission system in the region on both sides of today's border.

Figure 1.

English-language cover of Clara Bargellini and Michael Komanecky, eds., The Arts of the Missions of Northern New Spain, 1600–1821, exh. cat. (Mexico City: Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso, 2009) (photograph in the public domain)

Figure 1.

English-language cover of Clara Bargellini and Michael Komanecky, eds., The Arts of the Missions of Northern New Spain, 1600–1821, exh. cat. (Mexico City: Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso, 2009) (photograph in the public domain)

In the context of current events in the United States—including calls for critical re-examination of the treatment of Indigenous peoples by Spanish colonial officials and missionaries, and the July 2020 fire at the San Gabriel Mission in California—the fates of the buildings and collections at the missions located there demand urgent attention. Their full histories still need to be better known and understood. The objects located or made at the US missions are of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous origins. They pertain to both Mexican and US histories.2 And they are, to a very great extent, poorly cataloged and little understood in their present contexts. It is important, at this moment, to look again at the 2009 project, its aims and accomplishments, in order to think about what needs to be considered today in order to care for and preserve objects that can speak to all of us in greater Mexico about our shared—as well as our particular—histories.

Learning about Northern Mexico’s Art and Architecture

Looking at and thinking about buildings and the objects we call “art”—more precisely, visual arts—has long fascinated me. During my childhood and early youth in Italy, I grew up with a deeply ingrained regard for artistic and cultural expressions in objects, buildings, and representations of all kinds. This included not only the famous paintings and sculptures in museums and churches that art history long foregrounded. I was also fascinated watching metalsmiths and stonecutters at work creating fine ornaments and jewelry. A relative worked at making objects in alabaster—alabaster lampshades dim the glare of light bulbs and provide cloudlike patterns to look at. Most of the women I knew did amazing embroidery, which I was expected to eventually master as well. It was difficult and painstaking, and I never got very far, but the effort made me appreciate what human hands and minds can do when they work on materials of all kinds with care, constancy, determination, attention and, of course, skill. Good cooking, too, requires the same type of effort. Food must taste good, of course, but it must also look good, I was always told.

Later studies and work in the United States, as well as professional life as an art historian in Mexico, have underlined for me the fact that attitudes toward cultural productions of the past, which are now defined as art, are not everywhere or always the same. The desires to invent, make, and preserve do seem to be constant concerns, though complex in character. Human traditions and behaviors, including the making of objects, need to be taught by those who know to others who are willing to learn. They also evolve with time and effort. All of us are affected by these traditions in many ways and at many levels, often little understood and sometimes not even immediately noticed. Their histories originated in distinct individuals of different origins and from different places. In short, I remain intrigued by the permanent place of the visual arts in human history and in individual human lives, as well as by their immense variety. Material expressions, especially of the type we now call the visual arts, are not only ingenious ways of manipulating materials but also ways of assimilating and re-creating experiences. The thought processes, forms, materials, and colors of visual expressions vary over time and differ among peoples and situations. They can provoke us as well as please us, and they deserve continued attention and discussion.

In the 1970s, when life—in the person of my Mexican husband—first took me to Chihuahua, the principal city in northern central Mexico, I discovered buildings and objects that, though clearly related to European traditions, had not been part of my art historical education, either in Europe or in the United States. There were also, of course, fascinating objects and buildings created by Native peoples before and after the arrival of the Europeans, including the grand, impressive site of Paquimé (near present-day Casas Grandes). As is the case with innumerable expressions of global artistic traditions, places like Casas Grandes, though they may be beyond one's professional and individual ken, are very much worth seeing, experiencing, and thinking about. The study of unfamiliar traditions and practices can challenge entrenched ways of understanding the world.

My very first project in Chihuahua (while completing the final version of my doctoral dissertation on medieval mosaics in southern Italy for Harvard University) was becoming fluent in Spanish. Near total immersion with friendly and very supportive new family and friends, as well as my knowledge of Italian and Latin, made learning Spanish relatively easy. Soon, I was able to give art history classes at the University of Chihuahua—a novelty there—which I thoroughly enjoyed. The students were patient with my Italianate vocabulary and fascinated with the collection of slides and books that I had brought with me. This material was new to them, and they learned about unfamiliar cultures and histories through studying buildings, paintings, and sculptures, mostly of medieval and Renaissance Europe. Meanwhile, I was continuing to learn Spanish with their support.

As for the city of Chihuahua, it was founded by Spanish settlers—many from New Spain itself—in the early eighteenth century. The fundamental reason for its establishment and growth was that silver had been discovered in the area, which gave rise to a settlement that quickly became a flourishing town, on a grid plan in the classical tradition much approved by Renaissance architects, with a large, vaulted parish church and a municipal government building, facing each other across the principal, central plaza. The intellectual and manual labor that resulted in these and other public works throughout the region had been the task of individuals of different origins that made up the society of New Spain in the eighteenth century. The doors, windows, dome, and vaults of the main church (now the cathedral) are adorned, both inside and out, with carved stone figures, recalling European medieval church decoration, while the paintings on canvas and the wooden, painted, and gilt altarpieces and sculptures within the building are akin to early modern Spanish practices. This outstanding structure, as well as others from the Spanish period in the present-day state of Chihuahua and elsewhere in northern Mexico, had very little presence in modern publications, even within Mexico.

In time, I became very familiar with the colonial city center of Chihuahua, and, in particular, with its monumental parish church. It was not difficult to notice and identify visual and cultural connections between seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Mexican Hispanic art and architecture and European works of the same period and earlier. As an art historian, I was given access to the extensive cathedral archives, and a few years later I was able to finish a monograph about that impressive parish, which had become a cathedral in 1891.3 During those first years in Chihuahua, I also learned that there was an art history research institute, the Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas (IIE), at UNAM in Mexico City. In 1961, one of its most prominent members, Francisco de la Maza, had published an article precisely about the cathedral of Chihuahua, of which a friend in Chihuahua lent me a Xerox copy.4 It was my good fortune to publish my book on the cathedral of Chihuahua at the same IIE after moving to Mexico City in 1980. Jorge Alberto Manrique was then the director, and I have been privileged to be a member of the Instituto ever since. La Catedral de Chihuahua was my first significant publication on the arts of New Spain. It was followed by other texts, including a book about seventeenth- and eighteenth-century monumental churches in the viceregal Spanish cities and towns of what is now northern Mexico, then called Nueva Vizcaya and north central Nueva Galicia.5 By then, of course, I had traveled extensively not only in the state of Chihuahua, but also throughout northern Mexico.

Planning the Missions Exhibition

Traveling in northern Mexico led very naturally to my taking a deep interest in the buildings and objects of the Jesuit and Franciscan missions that were established not only in the principal towns but also among the Indigenous populations in villages throughout the immense geographical area of greater Mexico. The mission buildings, many of which survive today as the parishes of small towns, still harbor significant paintings, sculptures, and furnishings from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. With my good friend, photographer Libertad Villarreal, I began traveling throughout much of northwest Mexico in the first decade of the 2000s. In large part, we were guided by the journals of the mid-eighteenth century bishop of Nueva Vizcaya, Pedro Tama-rón y Romeral, who inspected the churches and their furnishings, and who also recorded a great deal of information about what he saw in his vast bishopric.6 Almost everywhere, we were well received, and local people and clergy were interested in what we could tell them about their churches and holdings (fig. 2). Tamarón’s journals were also helpful for some of the former mission sites now in the United States, to which I later traveled with Komanecky, an expert in the field of early American art, including that of California in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Figure 2.

Libertad Villareal (left) and author Clara Bargellini (right) examine a processional figure from Coyachi, Chihuahua, in 2004 (photograph provided by Gerardo Villareal)

Figure 2.

Libertad Villareal (left) and author Clara Bargellini (right) examine a processional figure from Coyachi, Chihuahua, in 2004 (photograph provided by Gerardo Villareal)

The exhibition and catalog of El arte de las misiones del norte de la Nueva España was organized at UNAM between 2007 and 2009. From the beginning, the project had the support of Paloma Porras, the director of the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso. It also profited greatly from the collaboration with Komanecky, who was then a curator at the Phoenix Art Museum, and Villareal. San Ildefonso, a viceregal Jesuit college, has belonged to the UNAM since 1910 and has hosted major exhibitions since México: esplendores de treinta siglos in 1992. The Jesuits, many of whom had been students and teachers at San Ildefonso in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, were major players in the Spanish colonial mission enterprise, especially in Nueva Vizcaya. Exhibiting many paintings and objects that Jesuit missionaries had requested or commissioned made San Ildefonso itself a vehicle for the recuperation of memory.

Through the Missions exhibition, I had the good fortune to work and learn with colleagues who would also be collaborators on later projects. I had gotten to know Komanecky during the preparation of a pathbreaking exhibition he organized, and on which I collaborated: Copper as Canvas: Two Centuries of Masterpiece Paintings on Copper, 1575–1775, which opened at the Phoenix Art Museum in 1998.7 Villareal and I shared innumerable trips throughout northern Mexico over the years for the Missions and other projects. I took notes and she generally did the driving. Most importantly, she took excellent photographs of landscapes, buildings, and objects, often seeing details I had not noticed. Of course, every discovery led to more conversations. Other colleagues from both Mexico and the United States also collaborated, sharing ideas and essays that are acknowledged in the Missions catalog.

To grasp the significance of the objects presented in Missions and to appreciate the exhibition’s accompanying research and scholarship, it is essential to consider the history of Spanish missionary activity in the region. When focusing on the Spanish ecclesiastical organization of what is now northern Mexico and the southwestern United States in the viceregal period, we must remember that the only bishopric in the entire region at the time was that of Nueva Vizcaya, with its capital in Durango. The Spanish towns and settlements had their parish churches and diocesan clergy, who answered to the authority of the bishop of Durango. These priests are called “secular” clergy, because they reside not in monasteries or convents governed by set rules, but wherever they deem most convenient. The religious orders—principally the Franciscans, Jesuits, and Dominicans—were also subject to the bishops, and they, too, in varying ways, ministered in the Spanish towns and settlements. However, each order had its own internal organization and authorities, with superiors in Mexico City. The Franciscans and the Jesuits were the ones charged with ministering among the Indigenous peoples, whose settlements were widely scattered. The Dominicans came relatively late to the northern territories and had but a minor role in the missions of Baja California, after the Jesuits were expelled by the Spanish authorities in 1767.

Buildings, paintings, and objects, many of which recall precedents in central New Spain, are everywhere in greater Mexico, though they are most easily seen in the cities and towns with a strong Spanish and mestizo presence. By the middle of the eighteenth century, art and architecture in New Spain had its own character and established traditions. These varied somewhat, of course, from one area to another, depending on available materials and characteristics of history and geography. These histories included, obviously, the presence and movements of Native peoples within New Spain, but also the identities of people who came from different parts of the world: not only Europe but also Africa and Asia. The vast territories of the north were occupied to a very great extent by Indigenous groups and their settlements, which were more numerous than the Spanish towns. Missionaries from across Europe as well as from other parts of New Spain lived among them. The friars came with foreign ideas and technologies, as well as with artists and artisans from other parts of New Spain who worked with local artists and artisans.

Important contributions of Indigenous peoples are also part of the cultural patrimony of the Americas. This has long been recognized and studied, though by no means sufficiently. Cultural production in this part of the world encompasses a range of techniques and materials, including paintings on walls and other surfaces such as hides and cloth, and, after the arrival of the Europeans, in books and on canvas, wood, and metal. There is also metalwork, pottery, basketry, textiles and, of course, architecture. Some of the materials and the technologies used to transform raw materials into buildings and representations have varied European origins, while others are rooted in Native American as well as Asian traditions; many are hybrid. This is due in no small part to intercontinental exchanges of goods during the Spanish colonial period. It is important to remember that the Spanish fleet sailed every year out of the Pacific port of Acapulco to the Philippines and returned to New Spain by a northern route, following ocean currents, which brought the ships to the area near San Francisco in California. Other objects and arts, including basketry and wall paintings, are of Native American and hybrid origins.

The Missions exhibition included more than 150 objects in varied media, from the more familiar paintings on canvas and panel and sculptures in wood and corn paste, to works in silver and other metals, books, documents, embroidered objects, and basketry. These came from more than seventy churches, museums, and other lenders. By the time the exhibition was realized, I had seen and studied a good number of viceregal Mexican works and buildings in both countries. Initially, my purpose was to better understand the contexts and consequences of what I had first observed and learned in Chihuahua. Everywhere, however, I saw remarkable buildings and objects of the Spanish period that are only rarely mentioned in passing—if at all—in modern publications, and usually with scant art historical knowledge. Many had never been well photographed. They thus became the focus of further study and later publications.

Besides the excitement and satisfaction of locating many previously unpublished and important works of art, a truly rewarding aspect of the process of working on the Missions exhibition was coming into contact with the current custodians of the works we were able to study. Most were anxious to hear more about “their” objects, how and when they had been made and, very often, what they had meant over time. It was their care and interest that had usually preserved the works, and they were anxious to understand more about them. As fascinating as it was to find the many outstanding works that had made their way to the missions over the centuries, it was also deeply satisfying to return works to their custodians after the exhibition and explain once again why they were important, what the iconography meant, and what had been done to clean and, quite often, to restore them. Finally, we were able to explain not only processes of restoration, but also to educate very receptive audiences about how to conserve their works of art for the future. One such opportunity came in returning a conserved painting of the Jesuit Martyrs of Japan to the church at San José, Temeychi, a former Jesuit mission in the Tarahumara, in the state of Chihuahua, at the end of the Missions tour in 2011 (fig. 3).

Figure 3.

Author Clara Bargellini with members of the congregation of the church in San José, Temeychi, former Jesuit mission in the Tarahumara, Chihuahua, 2011 (photograph provided by Libertad Villarreal)

Figure 3.

Author Clara Bargellini with members of the congregation of the church in San José, Temeychi, former Jesuit mission in the Tarahumara, Chihuahua, 2011 (photograph provided by Libertad Villarreal)

Missions as a Model of Interdisciplinary Collaboration

The Missions exhibition was not only a collaborative project but also a significantly interdisciplinary one. During its preparation, I met historians and archaeologists from UNAM and other Mexican institutions, as well as colleagues from the United States, who were investigating different aspects of greater Mexican history and Indigenous cultures. Many were not art historians, but they were all very welcome traveling companions and often became good friends. During the long trips throughout the vast geography of northern New Spain, we learned from one another and exchanged ideas across the disciplines of archaeology, history, anthropology, and art history.

Over the years, we organized and participated in a number of academic projects and events, especially in Durango, where one of our collaborators, Miguel Vallebueno, is now professor at the university. One of his students, Adolfo Martínez Romero, has recently finished a doctoral dissertation at UNAM on the cathedral of Durango. An important result of his work is that we now have a much fuller understanding of the Durango archives, which is essential for future research on all of northern New Spain. A recent historiographic achievement is the collaborative, cross-border product, The Oxford Handbook of Borderlands of the Iberian World, organized and edited by Danna A. Levin Rojo and Cynthia Radding, which has recently been published by Oxford University Press (2019).

A significant institutional development around the time of the research for the Missions exhibition was the consolidation of a fuller presence of INAH in northern Mexico. This government agency is directly responsible for the care and conservation of national archaeological and historical patrimony of the pre-Columbian and colonial (or viceregal, as it is more correctly called) periods in Mexico. Art history, strictly speaking, is not a central concern at INAH, but the buildings and objects we now call “art” are certainly part of history and therefore fall within its purview. INAH’s work was central to Missions, since so many of the objects needed conservation in order to be exhibited. INAH has also produced important inventories of a good number of the former missions in present-day Mexico and their objects over the years.8 At present, Leonardo Varela, a doctoral candidate at UNAM, is completing a dissertation on the former Jesuit mission of San Javier in Baja California, where Junípero Serra stayed before going north. Since Serra took objects from the Baja missions to those in Alta California, Varela's work will help to more fully identify some of the holdings of the missions in the present-day state of California, an urgent task that has not yet received the attention it deserves.

From an art historical point of view, and drawing on observations during my travels, I believe that more extensive art and architectural history projects focused on the missions of northern New Spain, and particularly those in present-day California, continue to be necessary for better understanding the region’s past, including the New Spanish period as well as what became of the missions after the arrival of US soldiers and settlers in and after the nineteenth century.9 During the period under Spanish authority and the subsequent Mexican period, the mission sites and their churches were the major beneficiaries of the kind of patronage that results in buildings and property holdings, and also in the creation and importation of objects. To understand the many aspects of that history and the cultures that comprised it, including Native contributions, one must direct attention to what survives both of the original church buildings and their furnishings, and to the objects from the Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo periods in California’s small mission museums. Despite numerous admirable efforts, there is still much need not only for study but for basic, professional conservation and cataloging by art historians familiar with Mexican as well as Indigenous and European art history.10

Legacies of The Arts of the Missions of Northern New Spain

As this reflection on the 2009–11 Missions exhibition through the lens of greater Mexico makes clear, there is still much to be explored and studied in order to better understand the architectural and artistic productions in the mission contexts of the colonial Spanish period in the Americas. Much of the effort has to be at the very first level of what constitutes serious study of any visual material. We urgently need, first of all, to catalog and conserve as best we can what time has left to us. Objects that have been destroyed, lost, or badly restored constitute lost evidence not only about those who ordered their creation but also, more importantly, those who actually made them. Sadly, global art history is full of regrets about objects and buildings we now can only imagine and will never know, because even if they have been described eloquently in words, nothing can replace lost objects or buildings. What we have lost and could lose in the future are not only the memories of those who commissioned and used certain objects but also the irreplaceable and much more significant knowledge of those who labored in their making or contributed in some way to their material preservation over the years—in other words, a cultural history of objects and their makers.

Now, more than ever before, we have technologies that can help us understand with precision, and in much more depth, the materials, processes, and original appearances of past creations. In other words, we have moved beyond an art history that is focused on who paid for what and who ordered objects to be made and for whom. We can, by careful and scientific examination, know much more about how objects were made and even about their makers, or at least about what creative traditions they were made within. In other words, we can reach much deeper into the actual history of objects. However, to do all of this we need the physical remains of the buildings and of the objects themselves. Photographs and verbal descriptions are helpful, but they cannot match, nor even come close in value, to the actual physical object or building.

The presence of INAH in northern Mexico today has meant that art historical objects—not only buildings—have been cataloged and are subject to professional attention. Despite all the problems and the expense of carrying out these processes adequately, the framework exists for the care of public, cultural patrimony in the former mission areas of Mexico. The care of the mission buildings and objects now in the United States, however, differs from place to place. Concurrent with the Missions exhibition, the Getty Conservation Institute published a study on the architecture of the California missions and their conservation.11 There is also serious cataloging work being done at some of the missions in California, fueled by a growing interest in the State’s Indigenous and Hispanic histories. It is my hope that renewed interest in the California missions and other viceregal Spanish buildings and objects in the United States, as well as in northern Mexico, will spur new knowledge about the people who constructed the churches, participating with hard-won experience and expertise in the complex processes of their material creation and conservation, as well as about those artisans and custodians of different geographic and cultural origins who made and kept the many objects that furnished and decorated those buildings.

Notes

1.

Clara Bargellini and Michael Komanecky, The Arts of the Missions of Northern New Spain, 1600–1821, exh. cat. (Mexico City: Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso, 2009). Komanecky, currently chief curator at the Farnsworth Museum of Portland, Maine, continues to cultivate a deep interest in the arts and culture of California in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which is when the now-current mission narrative of the US period took shape, written by US authors.

2.

On the state of Critical Mission Studies in California, see Charlene Villaseñor Black, “Editorial Comment: Rethinking Mission Studies,” Latin American and Latinx Visual Culture 2, no. 3 (2020): 3–7; and 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 (2020), which includes my essay, “The California Missions in Art History” (60–66).

3.

Clara Bargellini, La Catedral de Chihuahua (Mexico City: UNAM, Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, 1984).

4.

Francisco de la Maza, “La catedral de Chihuahua,” Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, 30 (1961): 21–38. De la Maza, a pioneer in the study of Mexican colonial art and architecture, had traveled to Chihuahua because the city is famous in Mexican history for being the place where, in 1810, a group of militants for Mexican independence from Spain, including the priest Miguel Hidalgo, were jailed and executed. De la Maza had been charged by the Mexican government to write a book about Hidalgo's tragic journey to Chihuahua, and he took advantage of his trip to see whatever he could of colonial art, which was his particular area of professional interest. De la Maza was accompanied by Elisa Vargaslugo, who was responsible for the photographs of the publication, La ruta del Padre de la Patria (Mexico City: Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público, 1960).

5.

Clara Bargellini, La arquitectura de la plata. Iglesias monumentales del Centro-Norte de México, 1640–1750 (Mexico City: UNAM, IIE/Turner, 1991).

6.

Pedro Tamarón y Romeral, Demostración del vastísimo obispado de la Nueva Vizcaya (Mexico City: Antigua Librería Robredo de José Porrúa e hijos, 1937); Salvador Álvarez, Clara Bargellini, and Chantal Cramaussel, eds., Libro registro de la segunda visita de Pedro Tamarón y Romeral, Obispo de Durango (Mexico City: Siglo XXI/UNAM, 1997). Álvarez and Cramaussel, now historians at the Colegio de Michoacán in Zamora, are authors of major studies about northern New Spain and were also collaborators on the Missions exhibition.

7.

Clara Bargellini, Michael K. Komanecky, and Edgar Peters Bowron, Copper as Canvas: Two Centuries of Masterpiece Paintings on Copper, 1575–1775 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

8.

Sonia Lombardo, Director of Monumentos Históricos at Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, was responsible for initiating this project and overseeing much of the work, including the phase that focused on Baja California, cited here because it is historically the most directly related to the Alta (upper) California missions: Catálogo nacional, monumentos históricos inmuebles, Baja California (Mexico City: Secretaría de Educación Pública, 1986).

9.

Much has been lost at the California missions since they have been under US control, including, of course, the tragic loss of Native lives, lands, and livelihoods. This US part of the history, as it can be perceived in buildings and in many fascinating objects that exist in mission collections today, involved many individuals beyond the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century friars, Native peoples, and other local residents. It concerns the history of the expansion of the United States to the Pacific and the subsequent occupation of mission and indigenous lands, accompanied by the romanticizing of mission history. On these issues, see Bargellini, “California Missions,” 61, and other texts in Hughes and Lewis, “Dialogues”; Katherine Manthorne, ed., California Mexicana: Missions to Murals, 1820–1930, exh. cat. (Laguna Beach: Laguna Art Museum, 2017).

10.

I expand on this in Bargellini, “California Missions.”

11.

Edna E. Kimbro and Julia G. Costello with Tevvy Ball, The California Missions: History, Art, and Preservation (Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute, 2009).