FALL PREVIEW : Massive Mexican ‘Splendors’ to Take Over LACMA


“The entire museum is being installed with Mexico, it seems,” said Earl A. (Rusty) Powell III, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, referring to “Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries.” The long-awaited show, opening at the museum Oct. 6, will indeed take over nearly the whole museum--about 30 galleries and more than 25,000 square feet of exhibition space.

According to Powell, the mammoth exhibition is “by far the largest the museum has ever hosted” and “certainly should be one of our most popular exhibitions; conceivably it will go right up to the front ranks (in terms of drawing crowds).”

Included in the chronologically arranged show--which will fill the museum’s Anderson Building, Central Plaza and much of both floors of the Hammer Building--are nearly 400 artworks from 1000 BC through 1950, divided into Pre-Columbian, Viceregal, 19th-Century and 20th-Century sections.


The museum won’t be the only L.A. site taken over with Mexican art this fall, however. Two accompanying festivals--the grass roots Artes de Mexico and the Mexican-government sponsored Mexico: A Work of Art--featuring visual art, music, dance, theater, film and poetry have been built up around “Splendors” and will consist of nearly 400 events at various venues now through December.

But the focal point of it all is the “Splendors” exhibition, which features works from public and private collections in Mexico, the United States, Europe, Canada and the Soviet Union. It opened at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in October, 1990, then went to the San Antonio Museum of Art in April.

“Nobody has ever seen anything like this before,” said Powell, noting that LACMA will also mount three small accompanying exhibitions--”Diego Rivera and His Century: Mexican Prints and Drawings From the Collection,” “Manuel Alvarez Bravo: A Portfolio of Photographs” and a third, still-in-the-planning-stages presentation of contemporary works.

The Los Angeles installation of “Splendors” is a logistical feat that has taken a year to plan and has been under way in some museum quarters since late spring, according to Thomas Lentz, LACMA’s curator of ancient Islamic art and “Splendors” coordinator.

“We feel this will be the strongest installation of the show,” said Lentz, who had seen “Mexico” in both its previous venues. “We’ve taken much more care in terms of architectural treatments--our carpenters and painters have been working 16-hour shifts . . . to create special entrances that relate to each of the sections.”

Works included in the exhibition include a nearly six-foot tall, five-ton Olmec colossal head, dating from the 12th-10th Century BC; a stone relief portraying the god Tlaltecuhtli (one of the show’s most recent finds, the relief was unearthed in Mexico City in 1988 and is believed to date to about 1500); an 11-foot tall Atrial Cross sculpted of stone sometime before to 1556 (it normally stands at Tepeyac, the site of the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe); and an intricate, 6 1/2-foot tall crucified Christ from 1550-1600 sculpted of cornstalk paste.


Among highlights of the 19th- and 20th- Century works are a number of paintings by Francisco Goitia, a staff artist with Pancho Villa’s revolutionary army whose work is considered a precursor of modern Mexican art; Saturnino Herran’s 1914 painting “Woman From Tehuantepec” (Herran is considered one of the first urban academic artists to depict native dress in a portrait and elevate such works from provincial to “high art”); Diego Rivera’s large 1928 oil painting, “Dance in Tehuantepec,” which features the popular folk dance Zandunga, a subject that the famed muralist would return to repeatedly; David Alfaro Siqueiros’ haunting 1945 work, “Self-Portrait (El Coronelazo),” in which his face is based on a wooden Olmec mask found in the state of Guerrero during the 1930s; and works by current cult-status painter Frida Kahlo, such as “Self-Portrait With Monkeys” and “Self Portrait as a Tehuana (Diego on My Mind),” both from 1943.

But while “Splendors” is being billed as one of the largest and most comprehensive surveys of Mexican art ever seen in the United States, the exhibition ends in 1950 with artists like Kahlo and Rufino Tamayo. That is the point from which Artes de Mexico, the grass-roots festival nearly three years in the planning stages, takes off.

“It’s like the world just stops with Tamayo, but that’s not the case,” said Jesus Perez, executive director of Artes, which is coordinating more than 150 local organizations and individual artists producing their own events. “So we’ve got to let people know that the culture is still moving; we’ve got to (fill) that gap.”

Included in those more contemporary events grouped under the Artes umbrella: an important selection of folk art from the Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection at the Craft and Folk Art Museum Sept. 7-Dec. 29; new prints by 20 top Chicano artists at East Los Angeles’ Self-Help Graphics Oct. 12-24; independent films and videos made by contemporary Mexican and Chicano filmmakers at USC Nov. 1-10; and an Oct. 26 festival of contemporary Chicano and Mexican Poetry at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

“We (want) to remind all of Los Angeles that, whether you’re Latino or non-Latino, if you live in L.A., you’re living in a city that is rooted in Mexican culture,” Perez said. “With this exhibition (and the accompanying festivals) we have a chance to make a strong statement and make them aware of a culture that is quite valid.”

In that vein, Perez’s goals are similar to those of Mexico: A Work of Art, the government-sponsored festival that produced similar accompanying programs in New York and San Antonio. In an effort to promote strictly Mexican culture, most of the 160-or-so Mexico programs feature exhibitions or performers brought in directly from Mexico, rather than dealing also with Chicano works.


Among the scheduled Mexico events are “Mexican Painting: 1950-1980,” at the Armand Hammer Museum Oct. 2-Nov 11; several local gallery shows, including an homage to the late Tamayo Nov. 3-16 at Latin American Masters, and “Women in Mexican Art” at Iturralde Gallery Dec. 6-31; and Mexico City’s Ballet Folklorico, at the Shrine Auditorium Sept. 26-29.

“We want the United States to know more about Mexico, because we feel that they know only the very superficial things,” said Maria Teresa Marquez, director general of Mexico’s Exterior Department, and a main organizer of Mexico events. “With these events we will go deeper into who we are . . . with a focus on arts and culture.”

* “Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries” (L.A. County Museum of Art , 5905 Wilshire Blvd., (213) 857-6000), Oct. 6-Dec. 29. Tickets go on sale at all Ticketmaster outlets Monday, and at the museum Oct. 6. Tickets are $5; $3.50 for students and seniors and $1 for children 6-17.

* Opening ceremonies for Artes de Mexico will begin at 4 p.m. Sept. 14 at L.A. City Hall. Information about Artes or Mexico: A Work of Art : (213) 688-ART.