The exhibit, Made in Mexico, which was first exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, and later at UCLA's Hammer Museum, was something that did not impress due to its haphazard and hodge-podgey mix of artists and media. Firstly, the translations were incomplete and done very poorly here in Los Angeles and it seems that Gilbert Vicario, instead of proving wrong the stereotype of the bad quality of products made in Mexico, lived up to it with this exhibit.
He perpetuated the stereotype that Mexican art or that associated with the country is cheap, ugly and poorly made. The idea of the exhibit was marvelous and it was to demonstrate the power of Mexican history, culture, and tradition on those who live it on a daily basis as well as those who stay for a time and partake of it - unfortunately it did not do what it was meant to do.
Two videos by Teresa Margolles deal with death and the governmental business of death. Both dealt with the use of recycled water which had previously been used to wash corpses and then purified and used in a car wash and as the water to make bubbles En el aire (2004). The invisible dead we are confronted with are the dead that the SEMEFE (Medical Forensic Service) must pick up, clean and make ready for burials.
The art of Margolles was the most profound in that it demonstrates that life is disposable in a city as large as Mexico City. Death obsesses Margolles but it is not death alone but that which is wrapped in extreme poverty and violence which is usually the type experienced by prostitutes, the destitute, drug addicts, and criminals. The point of the Margollan discourse has to do with the low or no value assigned to the cadavers of the low class and she seeks to give significance to those who in life did not count by having them participate in the life that goes on without them.
It was interesting that the work of Mona Hatoum, a Palestinian artist based in England, was included and it was she who best captured the beauty and chaotic nature of Mexico, specifically the ephemeral nature of Mexico City. Her work, La jaula mexicana (2002), presents one with a physical metaphor of the condition of the working man who makes little money for intense physical labor. Also, it calls to mind the clowns and fire-eaters who work at roundabouts and large avenues and lead dangerous and tortuous lives in order to keep living.
The photo series by Daniela Rossell, Ricas y Famosas, deals with upper class women and instead of simply giving a glimpse of their glamorous lives and homes - it seems to parody them. The faux tableaux vivants of theirs lives are absurd and baroque, with the ostentatious interiors of their mansions are extremely d?®class?® and seemingly shout nouveaux riche. It is also evident that these women want to emulate what they believe is chic, specifically European style, through their gold home accents, their jewelry, and the sumptuous fabrics of their furniture, and their art works. The aesthetic at work in most of the photographs is more 16th century rather than the current European style which is a minimalist aesthetic.
Made in Mexico gives us the Mexico of mythology, a concept of the country and also a country which for better or for worse fuses the indigenous, the colonial, and the global cultural. The exhibit should serve as a point of departure for furthering one?s interest in Mexico as it solely offers a superficial notion of the profound reality of a country and her art and with better logistics and planning it could have offered an impactful gaze and analysis of Mexico and her art.
Teresa Camacho is an independent researcher, critic and writer based in Los Angeles.