On the bright, coral-colored walls of the List Art Center lobby, “Llevando la Cultura: Conflicting Narratives in Mexican Art” exhibits a collection of artworks by 20th century Mexican artists, pulled from the Bell Gallery’s permanent collection.
Curated by Rica Maestas GS, a public humanities master’s student, the exhibition focuses on three major themes that are “central in the conversations around what the 'new', post-revolutionary Mexico looks like,” Maestas said. These themes include industrialization and globalization, religion and education reform and women and culture. The “theme of the role of indigenous people in Mexico” is present throughout different portions of lobby space, Maestas added.
The exhibition displays a breadth of media and styles — from Diego Rivera’s 1932 pencil sketch made in preparation for a mural to the 1939 wood engravings by Leopoldo Méndez.
It additionally spotlights artists who utilized publicly accessible media to communicate “very political and ideological messages,” Maestas said. Additionally, the exhibition’s breadth in medium and in topic serve to “exhibit a diversity of perspectives,” Maestas said.
Maestas’ ideas for the show first came from the director of the Bell Gallery, Jo-Ann Conklin, who hoped to feature works highlighting the Bell Gallery’s extensive collection, including a “sizable and robust collection of artworks by Mexican artists,” Maestas said. Inspiration also flowed from the results of the November 2016 presidential election. “Revolution was on my mind,” Maestas said. Through research, she found that the theme of revolution was “important to the art that was being made at that time as well,” creating “a nice resonance between the moment we find ourselves in politically” and the art on display.
The Bell Gallery’s recent acquisition of three photographs by Mexico City-based photographer Graciela Iturbide adds nuance to elevate the exhibition.
These photographs offer “a more contemporary lens,” Maestas said. One of the photographs, “Prótesis—El Baño de Frida (Prosthesis—Frida’s Bathroom),” was taken in 2005, when Iturbide photographed a bathroom in Frida Kahlo’s Mexico City house, which had been closed to the public by Frida Kahlo’s husband and fellow artist, Rivera, for 50 years. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Iturbide described the experience as “very intense. … There I learned that she was a marvelous woman who contended with a lot of pain.” In the photograph, a brown and red prosthetic leg stands alone in contrast to the wet, bright blue concrete that surrounds it.
The exhibition fits with a recent trend of Bell Gallery shows. Despite the current collection of works by American artist Melvin Edwards in the main gallery space, “traditionally speaking, (the Bell Gallery has) done a lot of work with artists from different parts of the world,” Maestas said. “Those cross-cultural perspectives are important to myself — and the gallery as well,” she added.
“Llevando la Cultura” is set to close Feb. 11, with a reception to be held at the List Art Lobby Feb. 9.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the exhibition featured wood engravings by Leopoldine Mendez. In fact, the exhibition featured wood engravings by Leopoldo Méndez. The article has also updated to include quotes around "new" post-revolutionary Mexico. The Herald regrets the errors.