Galleries Director Revisits Artist-Run Art Spaces of 1990s Mexico City for Exhibition

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As the Rochelle F. Levy Director and Chief Curator of The Galleries at Moore, Kaytie Johnson is usually focused on the “now.” But she wore her “art historian” hat recently while revisiting the unorthodox artistic practices of Mexico City in the 1990s.

Johnson traveled to Mexico City late last month to carry out research associated with the development of an exhibition at The Galleries at Moore that will focus on the pivotal role and indelible impact that the city’s alternative, artist-run art spaces played, and continue to play, in shaping the city’s contemporary art landscape and legacy.

“Most of the exhibitions that have focused upon this particular decade have not adequately contextualized the work that was being made during this critical time period.  And, for the most part, none have sufficiently emphasized the pivotal role that 'alternative' and artist-run spaces had in shaping the city's cultural fabric. These spaces, and the art created during this time, emerged from a very specific economic, political and social context, not from a vacuum," she said. "This will be the first exhibition to present a comprehensive account of what artists were making, and making happen, during the 1990s."

The Galleries were awarded a $20,000 planning grant from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage (PCAH) to support travel and research associated with the development of the exhibition. Johnson plans to apply for a project grant to make the show a reality in fall 2015.

“This trip was part of the 'discovery phase' of the exhibition planning process,” Johnson said.  “While in Mexico City I dug through museum archives and personal collections, and also met with some of the artists and individuals who were an integral part of the 1990s scene in order to hear their perspective and memories of that time.  These are the first steps toward constructing a more accurate cultural narrative of the decade, one that's based upon first-person accounts. My goal as the curator of the exhibition is to express the complexity and origins of contemporary Mexican art on its own terms."

The 1990s was the most tumultuous decade in Mexican history since the Mexican Revolution ended in 1920. Marked by the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), political assassinations, a chronic rise in violence and an economic crisis, the stage was set for unorthodox, “do-it-yourself” art practices that profoundly altered the dynamics of the local art scene, Johnson said.

“Many of the 'alternative,' artist-run spaces that were formed during this time were created as a way to survive the climate of intolerance, repression and indifference that defined the decade.  It was virtually impossible for emerging artists, to find a place in the dynamic of established art institutions, so they created and ran their own spaces.  This generation of artists weren't excluded, necessarily.  I think it's more accurate to say they were ignored."

Johnson had wanted to do an exhibition about this time period in Mexico for a long time.  She formed an advisory team of artists and curators from Mexico and the U.S. that will meet in Philadelphia in November to discuss the scope of the exhibit and interact with members of Philadelphia’s artist-run spaces in search of ideas for synergy and collaboration. Johnson also plans to work with International House Philadelphia on a film and video series that will run concurrently with the exhibition.

“2014 marks the 30th anniversary of NAFTA.  The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is back in power in Mexico.  We're just emerging from a global economic crisis. And, in light of the current emphasis on socially engaged art practices, the work and activities of the artists and artist–run spaces in Mexico City during this decade are especially relevant now.  The time is right for a show with this scope and focus."


Published on September 3rd, 2013