Critics’ Picks

View of “Memories of Underdevelopment,” 2018.

View of “Memories of Underdevelopment,” 2018.

Mexico City

“Memories of Underdevelopment”

Museo Jumex
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra 303 Colonia Granada
March 22–September 9, 2018

In addition to crowding nearly four hundred objects by more than sixty artists and art collectives from eight Latin American countries into a labyrinthine gallery on this museum’s second floor, this exhibition also boasts a thick catalogue, lectures, workshops, screenings, courses, and panels. Calling it massive would be an understatement. Twenty-five years of art are on view, all of it meant to address the prevalent economic underdevelopment of the subcontinent, and the multitude of practices that rose up to reject Western-imposed aesthetics and looked instead at cultural expressions born out of material poverty. The curators have posited this “decolonial turn” as a reaction to the regional postwar love affair with the more bourgeois geometric abstraction.

This is a well-trod narrative, but among the many household names of the South American canon here, there are gems that have not toured the world as extensively. These include Peruvian art collective EPS Huayco and their “Encuesta de preferencias estéticas para un público urbano” (Survey of Aesthetic Preferences for an Urban Audience), 1981. The series of small prints juxtapose Western classics with their local counterparts: a Chavín deity, the bloody and baroque Andean Jesus, and sepia-toned Huarín compositions hang alongside reproduced Picassos, Giottos, and Mondrians to point to differences as well as affinities between so-called high and popular culture. Venezuelan artist Claudio Perna’s Super-8 films, La Cosa (Dunas), 1972, and Plantación adentro (Inside the Plantation), 1973–74, are another highlight. In the former, a pair of semi-nude brown men frolic on windy dunes, sail a piece of fabric, and roll around in the sand. In the latter, another fit brown body struts back and forth in the lush green of a jungle catwalk, the camera lingering nervously over his naked body while he waves a rainbow of cloths. While political, the videos are also sexy and joyful—adjectives that apply to few of the surrounding pieces.

This show is full of such treasures, and although congestion and thematic groupings tend to flatten heterogeneous discourses, it seems a predictable side effect of sweeping narratives and exhibitions. It definitely doesn’t make this one any less unmissable.