Betsabeé Romero
Espiral sin Fin por Betsabeé Romero

This past weekend, I finally used my San José Museum of Art membership card in San José* and took in their Mexicanismo show. It’s almost always a joy to visit this museum since they seem to both have my number and to really really get it when it comes to picking and exhibiting art which is relevant locally.

*I usually use the reciprocal benefits for admission to SFMoMA. I figure that San José needs the money more and that I usually end up buying a catalog from SFMoMA anyway.

While this exhibition in particular is very interesting to see and compare to SFMoMA’s Photography in Mexico, it really deserves to be evaluated on its own. Throwing the comparison in this post risks making it a rehash of my review of the SFMoMA show. And that’s not fair to a show this good.

To attend this show is to get a sense of how Mexico sees itself. There is respect for the past and its traditions and crafts. But not so much respect that you can’t make fun of it at the same time. There is tremendous creativity in the use and appropriation of anything and everything. The results are a tremendous mashup of traditions, cultures, crafts, and materials. Often funny. Often serious. Often both at the same time.

Installation by Natalia Anciso
Installation by Natalia Anciso

Most of these pieces also invite and reward extra inspection. They have that immediate impact—either graphically or emotionally—but they pull you in and make you look more closely. God is in the detail.

Jamex and Einar de la Torre’s glass work. It’s not just what these pieces look like, it’s what they’re made of. The more you look, the more you recognize the components—crystal virgens, bottle caps, lotería, pinto beans, etc. The more components you discover, the more the humor and intelligence of the pieces come through. Mexican pop iconography made of mexican material goods.

Máximo González’s woven currency. Or, in this case, the trimmed edges of banknotes woven together. This appeals to me as a printing nerd. But it also takes trash and turns it into something beautiful. That it does so by referencing one of the most-traditional of mexican crafts is the icing on the cake.

The same goes with Gabriel Kuri’s woven receipt rugs. Traditional weavings of untraditional subjects—in this case supermarket receipts—result in giant enlargements of objects which most of us take for granted and throw away. Oldenburg crossed with Droog, then gentefied. Very cool.

Betsabeé Romero’s Espiral sin Fin takes a similar approach. The idigenismo is clear in the imagery. But by making the carvings out of automobile tires, we have a fantastic mashup which also references the car culture of modern Mexico. Old and new together. Highbrow and lowbrow together.

Seeing Natalia Anciso’s installation immediately felt familiar and comfortable. It’s Lita’s casa, time for pancakes, but in a museum. And then you look closer and see that the huipil embroidery has paño figures mixed in among the flowers. Not as comforting any more. But definitely a reminder how those two very different traditions are both very familiar to the culture.

I could go on since the whole exhibition is like this. Look, see. Look closer, see differently. That there’s no catalog available is deeply frustrating. There’s no way to spend as much time looking at these as I’d like to and much of the art isn’t even visible online. I’m just going to have to drag as many people as I can to the museum.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at, and the web at

12 thoughts on “Mexicanismo”

  1. Outstanding reflection on the exhibition! You have some awesome photographs, and an exemplary hand in writing! Oh, and heads-up, you got Natalia Anciso’s name correctly spelled on the picture of her piece but misspelled on your nicely written paragraph about her work (“Natalia AnciSco” with the extra “S” like in San FranciSco…it happens)…beautiful blog post and awesome posts nonetheless! I will definitely be following your blog!

    ~John N., Oakland, CA

      1. It’s okay. Natalia’s my fiancee so it happens often (it definitely doesn’t help that she works in The City, so the San FrANCISCO comes out more often when she’s being referred to). I stumbled on your website when I was searching about the Mexicanisimo show…I’m glad I found it too. We’re definitely going to check out the Photography of Mexico exhibit at SFMOMA real soon, especially after reading your review. Anyways, really good stuff! As far as pictures go, Natalia and I will probably be putting detailed shots of her SJMA installation on her website (, in the coming days so stay tuned!


        1. Good to hear. With most of the pieces on display, good detailed shots are both needed and unavailable.

          Enjoy SFMoMA. Photography in Mexico is good (despite my tendency to criticize it). And from a borderlands point of view, Mark Bradford is also worth seeing. He’s presented as a “black artist” but I got more of a SoCal/LA feeling.

          Thanks for the compliments/encouragment. And congrats on the engagement!

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