ed. by Donald Albrecht and Thomas Mellins. Hirmer, dist by University of Chicago Press, October 2017. 175 p. ill. ISBN 9783777428567 (h/c) $39.95.
Reviewed January 2018
Mexico Modern, Art, Commerce and Cultural Exchange is the catalog for the exhibition of the same title, which is a collaborative effort between the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas and the Museum of the City of New York. The exhibition opened in September 2017 at the University of Texas, and will travel to New York in June of 2018. Objects in the exhibition are drawn primarily from the collections of the Ransom Center, with collateral loans that reinforce and expand the context of both the exhibit and the catalog.
George F. Flaherty, an art historian at the University of Texas, establishes the foundation of Mexico Modern in a concise and well-written introductory essay. Flaherty maps the political and social movements that led to a vital period of cultural interplay between Mexico and the United States during the first half of the twentieth century, specifically the years following the Mexican Revolution through the end of World War II. The editors’ essay, which highlights the roles played by Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York in this international dialogue, illustrates the phenomenon from a more art historical point of view. This is followed by the bulk of the publication, which is comprised of brief biographies by major players from Mexico and the United States. Authorship of these biographies is not attributed. Unfortunately, neither a bibliography nor an index is included. The physical qualities of the hard cover book are good. It is of a size and design that allows for comfortable and easy reading, qualities often lost in exhibition catalogs.
Mexico Modern: Art, Commerce and Cultural Exchange is an accurate and well-illustrated snapshot of a period during which Mexico and the United States engaged in a vital and productive conversation—in each of those areas named in its title. Helen Delpar and James Oles have treated this subject in much greater depth in The Enormous Vogue of Things Mexican (1992) and South of the Border (1993). Much scholarship has been directed at this period in the years since the publication of these pivotal works.
This exhibition will be a welcome addition to the 2018 New York cultural calendar. It will shed needed light on this important international relationship, in which New York City was the major component. New Yorkers will also become more aware of the extraordinary holdings of the Ransom Center. The catalog will be most useful as a collection development tool, as, with some digging, the references are mostly here.