Tendencies: New Art from Mexico City
555 Hamilton St
"Art," writes Octavio Paz, "cannot be defined according to nationality, which is an imprecise, late, and rather modern concept." Paz's observation hints at the problems inherent in a category like "Mexican art," an umbrella term that refers to Mayan temples and contemporary photography, to Colonial baroque as well as to postmodern kitsch. In recent years, a number of young artists from Mexico City have been producing work that playfully questions the assumptions inherent in categories like "Mexico," "Mexican culture" and "Mexican identity."
Their project could be seen as a reaction to the ideology of artists like Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and Manuel Alvarez Bravo, who in the 1930s and 1940s sought to depict the essence of Mexican culture in their murals and photographs. Seeing art as the perfect vehicle for the expression of nationalistic ideals, these older artists had created murals, paintings and photographs that awakened patriotic feelings in every citizen.
Now, the artists in Tendencies have engaged in a critical investigation of how the notions of "Mexico" and "national identity" have been constructed and disseminated through visual art and other cultural productions in the past decades. They have discovered that the symbols and images used to inspire nationalistic feelings always conceal an ideological baggage that includes assumptions about history, politics, gender and even sexuality.
Rather than entering the debate about what constitutes the essence of Mexico or Mexicanness, the artworks grouped in Tendencies poke fun at any attempt to do so. With a sense of irony, these pieces point at the limitations of any positive construction of national identity in a culture so marked by heterogeneity. Some of these artworks appropriate the most "Mexican" of symbols — pre-Columbian objects or traditional food — and use them in ways that exceed their traditional meaning. Other pieces challenge the stereotypical images found in works by artists like Manuel Alvarez Bravo — rural landscapes, impoverished villagers, exotic rituals — by depicting the habitat and lifestyle of the other Mexico — the mansions of the fabulously wealthy, the eccentric habits of middle-class urban dwellers.
As opposed to the didacticism found in art from the 1930s and 1940s — murals that present the one and only way of looking at history, manichean portraits of the "good" and "bad" citizens — the artists in Tendencies have produced open works that suggest many possible readings. The ambiguities that structure these pieces reflect life in Mexico City — a bustling capital where incongruous historical periods and realities coexist in everyday life.
Guest curated by Ruben Gallo and Terence Gower
Supporters and Sponsors
This exhibition and public programs are financially assisted by the Mexican Consulate and Emily Carr Institute of Art & Design.
Tendencies: New Art from Mexico City is part of The Season of Mexico, a celebration of Mexican culture sponsored by the Mexican Consulate.