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Exhibition in Long Beach Showcases Key Figures of the Mexican Contemporary Art Scene
Susan Golden examines an exhibit by artist Eduardo Abaroa at the exhibition entitled "México: Expected/Unexpected", at the Museum of Latin American Art, in Long Beach, Calif. AP Photo/Nick Ut.

LONG BEACH, CA.- The Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) jointly present Mexico: Expected/Unexpected, an exhibition that introduces more than 100 artworks selected from the Isabel and Agustin Coppel Collection, one of Mexico’s most comprehensive contemporary art collections. The exhibition is being shown concurrently in both Southern California locations, MOLAA and MCASD.

Mexico: Expected/Unexpected destabilizes categories typically associated with Mexico and with Mexican art. The exhibition features artworks that overcome the concept of “Mexican-ness” as a fixed category. The Coppel collection surprises in unexpected ways, defying the cliché. Likewise, Mexico: Expected/Unexpected proposes that Mexican contemporary art, like the global culture to which it responds, is unstable, rich, complex, unpredictable and constantly shifting between tradition and innovation.

From the poetic to the political, Mexico: Expected/Unexpected showcases key figures of the Mexican contemporary art scene, including Francis Alÿs, Carlos Amorales, Iñaki Bonillas, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Jorge Méndez Blake, MORIS, Gabriel Orozco, Damián Ortega, Pedro Reyes and Melanie Smith, among others. The exhibition contextualizes these artists in relation to noted historical international practitioners, such as Carl Andre, John Baldessari, Lygia Clark, William Eggleston, Gordon Matta-Clark, Ana Mendieta, Helio Oiticica and Ed Ruscha. Mexico: Expected/Unexpected also incorporates the work of cutting-edge international artists of today who share artistic sensibilities and working methods such as Lothar Baumgarten, Maurizio Cattelan, Fischli and Weiss, Kendell Geers, Marepe, Rivane Neuenschwander and Tatiana Trouvé.

Mexico: Expected/Unexpected is organized in thematic sections that offer a constant interplay of artworks and artists whose exchanges underline the thoughtful development of the Coppel Collection. Instead of a narrative of evolution and progress reflective of a monolithic idea of peoples and places, the exhibition proposes short stories that echo each other along thematic lines. Painting, photography, installation, video art, sculpture and text pieces are gathered into sections. Poetics of craftsmanship, the relationship between the city and nature, the precariousness of everyday life, structural affinities and the iconography of nationalism are sections that will be presented at MCASD. MOLAA’s thematic sections are: Death and Mortality, Constructive Logic and Geometric Abstraction and Archival Accumulation and Grouping.

The section Death and Mortality displays the works of the Chinese–born artist Terence Koh and the Cuban artist Ana Mendieta. Koh and Mendieta take different approaches to the theme of death. In both cases the performance component of their work plays an important role. Skeleton Painting, by Koh, is the outcome of a 2006 performance, where the artist danced with a skeleton covered in white paint in front of several mirrors in a darkened space. The mirrors were splashed with white paint and left covered with white strokes. For Koh, the skeleton symbolizes his “Other,” and the painting—as the outcome of the dance—the splitting up of his being. The exhibition presents the mirrors and the skeleton used by the artist together with the video of the performance.

Mendieta, on the other hand, was concerned with notions of cultural displacement and the processes through which female identity is shaped. In the mid-1970s she became increasingly interested in nature, mythology and the relationship between the body and death. She considered all of those things necessary to bring forth new life. In the piece On Giving Life, for example, Mendieta draws upon the Christian iconography of the dance of death. The piece shows the artist in an apparent sexual interaction with a skeleton.

In the section Constructive Logic and Geometric Abstraction, the artistic language of various artists from diverse backgrounds and historical contexts are displayed together. Some of these artists include Lygia Clark, Gabriel Orozco, Helio Oiticica and Ricardo Rendón. In 1960 the Brazilian artist Lygia Clark started working on her series of metal structures called Bichos (Animals), sculptures made of hinged plates of metal that could be manipulated by the audience. In his installations, Ricardo Rendón takes over existing architectural spaces establishing a formal, symbolic and aesthetic relation with the sites he works in. Muro falso (Fake Wall) constitutes a segment of a “wall” which divides the space. It is made by perforating a sheet of chipboard with a buzz saw. The residues and dust generated by this operation remain on the floor as part of the piece to highlight the working process. Besides the geometric and appealing aesthetic present in both Clark and Réndon’s art, incorporation of outside components such as the viewer or the surrounding space becomes pivotal to their work.

Archival Accumulation and Grouping is a section that focuses on artists who, by documenting their surroundings and juxtaposing found or constructed images, form personal archives in their artworks. Mexican artist Jonathan Hernández uses images created by others such as photos from newspapers, snapshots and postcards in his collages. By putting together images that deal with happiness next to other photographs related to violence, Hernández creates what he calls a visual "ping-pong" interaction. In contrast the Gas Station series by American artist Ed Ruscha offers the viewer a journey from Los Angeles, where the artist lives, to Oklahoma City, where he grew up. To create a visual record of the trip the artist took documentary type photographs of the gas stations he found along the route.

Mexico: Expected/Unexpected is a wide-ranging exhibition shown in its entirety only by its simultaneous presentation in both Museums. This is the first time either Museum has concurrently presented a single exhibition. While each venue presents a cohesive exhibition with strong internal logic, extraordinary artworks and site-specific programming and interpretation, MCASD and MOLAA audiences are encouraged to travel between the two locations to understand the full associations offered by the exhibition.

The Museum of Latin American Art | Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego | Mexican Contemporary Art |

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