Earlier today I saw the show ‘Mexico- A Revolution in Art 1910-1940’ at the Royal Academy or Art in London. I am going to expand on this in a few articles but the first one will have to do with the surprising parallelism that there seems to be between the representative confusion of both the times of the Mexican Revolution and the way Latinamerican (and Mexican art) is shown today.
I know a few of the patrons of this show. Two of them are Frank and Catherine Petitgas from Morgan Stanley. They are the self-appointed London ‘Latinamericanist’ collectors par excellence and, of course, ‘avant la lettre’. The problem that I have always had with Catherine’s view of ‘Latinamerican art’ is that what she seems to like is not Mexican art per se but an idealised and colourful version of that. Since that is what seems to provide her with a sense of ‘life’ as something that us, Latinamerican people, ‘genetically’ own (as in the extremely racist utterances: ‘fiesta’, ‘siesta’, ‘mañana, mañana’, ‘andale, andale’) as opposed to the austere and balanced work ethics of the European, this kind of representation has very cultural consequences. That is why according to her, being Latinoamerican means being colourful, funny and infantile. By contrast, aspects of our culture such as violence, conflict and division are completely overseen. Latinamerica ends up transformed into an imaginary Eden or ‘locus amoenus’. The pathetic work of Pablo Leon de la Barra and his Tropical Bienales are a low and sad consequence of this same idea. The fact that UBS and the Guggenheim canonise this view, enforces my argument.
The problem that I have been pointing out is that without having translated this views into a real market, these kind of patron has been shaping the way Latinamerican art is showcased in the main institutions. A year ago, I started pointing that out in the case of Lygia Pape’s show at the Serpentine where all elements of death and resistance to the Brazilian dictatorship had been erased by Hans Ulrich Obrist’s curatorship only to show a very conceptual, colourful and wall-paperish view of Brazil. This has been PINTA art fair big problem all the way since its inception because in its will to specificy ‘latinoamerican art’ ended up fusing into the mainstream of contemporary art and, consequently, it lost the plot.
I had been waiting for a show on Mexico to be honest because what people like Petitgas generated in London, also happened in Mexico by the time of the Revolution with ‘foreigners’ such as photographers Edward Weston, Tina Modotti, Henri Cartier Bresson who shape a fragmented and very biased idea of what Mexico was and they ended up being very functional to a world view of Latinamerica. This was the answer to a very specific need to react agains the US monster the other side of the Rio Grande and it is in that attempt to showcase a culture that Mexico looked backward in order to manufacture its own culture (as invention). That is why Mexican culture comes from the top downwards and it is purely idealised. In the process it shows all the signs of its own contradictions.
For example, Diego Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros were convincingly communist apparatchik but did not hesitate to work for the biggest industrialists in America that were the same perpetrators of the inequalities they were denouncing, in the first place. It is as if Mexican culture is not but a lie that needs to be told to its people and to the world in order to convince everybody that the US is safe. Just a thought and to be continued.
WATCH AND SUBSCRIBE TO THIS MONTH’S CAÑETE’S THE PILL