A Multicultural Exploration at the National Museum of Mexican Art

The new year welcomes us with a fresh series of art at the National Museum of Mexican Art. As Cosmopolitans & Strangers: Mexican Art of the Jewish Diaspora from the Permanent Collection, Galeria Sin Fronteras and Fragmentos: Pilar Acevedo, provide the audience with new artistic perspectives on themes ranging from the creation of new cultural traditions to the exploration of the evil in innocence. The NMMA, located at 1852 W. 19th Street, is open Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and all exhibits are free. The museum is closed on Mondays.


As Cosmopolitans & Strangers – Mexican art of the Jewish Diaspora is located in the Torres Gallery and is curated by Lesley Wolff. The exhibit spans the 20th and 21st century and the time when many Jewish families, escaping the Nazi regime, found themselves in Mexico making life-changing decisions –  whether to stay in Mexico as borders into the US began to tighten or try and find a way into even further unknown territory. It was a struggle either way. And that’s how it came to be that entire communities of Jewish families and artists stationed themselves across Mexico, specifically Mexico City, and in turn greatly affected the country’s artistic and cultural r/evolution.

Many of these newly arrived artists worked alongside or under the tutelage of emerging artists like Siqueiros and Kahlo. Some of the featured work comes from artists like Arnaldo Coen (Everyday Universe and Precarious Balance), Leonardo Nierman (Birth of a Lightning), Saul Borisov and Pedro Meyer whose images explore the problems of spectatorship and veracity in photographic media.

Pieces by Fanny Rabel, born in Poland and one of the first female muralists in Mexico, beautifully capture everyday aspects of indigenous life in Mexico. On the other hand, images by Lucienne Bloch and Bernard Silberstein, give us a glimpse into the lives of fellow artists like Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

Some of these artists went so far as to delve into the writing systems of pre-Cuauhtemoc cultures including Nahua codices as conduits for cross-cultural expression. “This was a new era of globalism…classifications no longer suffice and ambiguities abound,” explains the exhibit. You also learn that the mestizo aesthetic allowed Jews to explore their own diverse cultural identity as traditions coalesced to form new ones. This exhibit runs through Aug. 3.


Upon entering the Kraft Gallery for Fragmentos: Pilar Acevedo, I decided that I would write down fragments of my reaction(s) as I explored the space. There is audio in the background, a somewhat haunting and poetic version of a long-ago lullaby. It is eerily beautiful. As the paintings drew me in only to push me away again in delight and fright, I began to take my notes. Among some of the fragmented thoughts I had are: cute terror, happy nightmare, memories neatly stacked, peaceful lucidity, exquisite death explorer, toxic excess, childhood anguish, extra chromosome, kardashian hollywood, fragments of life, urban chaos and reality biting. Nosh on that for a minute.

The exhibit is curated by Dolores Mercado and features paintings, plus one-of-a-kind pieces and sculptures by artist Pilar Acevedo, a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Acevedo was born in Mexico City but grew up in Chicago and has been exhibiting her work across the country since 2000. About the type of art she presents, she writes, “I complement classical painting and drawing with sculpture and found objects, often employing vintage photographs, dolls, pieces of dolls and other toys, and assorted symbols of remembrance, religion, and a shadowed Mexican childhood.” The exhibition will run through July 13.


Galeria Sin Fronteras, a Chicano-based exhibit, was born from the actual art gallery, Galeria Sin Fronteras, created in Austin, TX, in 1986. The Texas gallery, which was open for 13 years, focused on Chicano, Latin American and Caribbean art forms and was the first of its kind in the city. The Chicago exhibit features art from the collection of the gallery’s founder, professor Gilberto Cardenas.

GSF is a massive presentation of all types of artforms by artists like Shizu Saldamando, Marcos Raya, Ana Teresa Fernandez, Juan De Dios Mora, Ana Fuentes, Jose Francisco Trevino and John Valadez, among many others. It is a bright, brilliant, excessive and necessary display of work. It is a manifestation of the extraordinary range of talent that exists not only within a specific type of culture, but on an even grander scale. Curated by Cesareo Moreno the exhibit runs through Aug. 17.


[Photos: National Museum of Mexican Art]