Who owns Mexico? Outlaws want control of its art | Thiago Velazco-González

In the 1950s, and for a few decades thereafter, Latin American art became popular with “progressive” connoisseurs because of its kooky geometric forms, surreal materials, and freedom from abstract expressionism and the geometric style of American artists such as Jackson Pollock. But the popularity also gave rise to copycat images and, more damagingly, to art history revisionism, which ensured that the styles and objects pictured stayed the same.

Now the self-reproach has turned to ambitiously ambitious action: cajoling the Mexican government to add artworks by Mexican and non-Mexican artists to its national art collection, and calling for an expansion of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Mexico City to include not just Mexican art, but all art from Latin America, with an eye to acquiring a significant portion of paintings, sculpture and prints made by indigenous populations living in the region. The latter claim is made even though all that seems to have been done with indigenous art was to add overlaid big bands to sculptures.

One might ask why the richness of Mexican art hasn’t been better promoted; better shown in museums and other public spaces; better protected from the monotonous stylistic repetition of so much western art. Some may be apt to reply that the Bolivian government bought Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, while the Bolivian state president went even further, visiting the Museo Roda Picasso and making notes on the 1970 painting.

The idea that curating or preserving art should be a specific responsibility of the government, and that the very act of ownership grants it ownership, strikes a chord with many people. Certainly, there has been a flip-flop on the issue recently – in the south-east, for example, artists of indigenous origin are attempting to expropriate land. For indigenous people, a large part of whose livelihoods depend on hunting and fishing, these matters are close to their hearts.

By banding together, indigenous and non-indigenous Mexicans will be able to convince a larger audience that Mexican art is not just the product of many privileged elite elites, but rather much more deeply rooted in its cultural history and of what living in Mexico is like for people who are not as fortunate as they are.

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