Temporary Splendors? : LACMA’s ‘Mexico’ Exhibit Has Struck a Chord but Art Leaders Wonder If Interest Will Remain


While a comprehensive exhibition of Mexican art is drawing capacity crowds at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, members of the Latino arts community are heralding the accompanying festivals as having brought unprecedented public awareness and appreciation of both traditional and contemporary Mexican and Chicano art forms.

“Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries,” on view at LACMA through Dec. 29, has “drawn a phenomenal response” and “vastly increased the (museum’s) Hispanic audience,” said museum director Earl A. (Rusty) Powell III. Two-thirds through its 12-week run, “Splendors” shows signs of being one of LACMA’s most popular shows ever, having drawn 234,755 visitors through Sunday.

“I think we’ll end up at 400,000, probably more,” said Powell, noting that “Splendors” could challenge the museum’s top blockbuster, “A Day in the Country: Impressionism and the French Landscape,” which drew 460,000 in 1984.

Powell estimated that the “Splendors” audience has been 30% to 40% Latino, and that a number of Latino families have taken out museum memberships.

“We certainly are talking about other projects (for these audiences) and are building ourpermanent collections in these areas,” said Powell, noting that a large exhibition of pre-Columbian art from South America and Central America is planned for 1994.


Meanwhile, in a recent briefing to the city’s Cultural Affairs Commission, Adolfo V. Nodal, Cultural Affairs Department general manager, lauded the local, grass-roots “Artes de Mexico” and Mexican government-sponsored “Mexico: A Work of Art” festivals, produced in conjunction with “Splendors.”

“This is as big as the L.A. Festival. . . . It’s keeping that tremendous artistic energy going and building bridges for future events,” Nodal told the commission.

But while arts leaders are crediting the festivals with creating a new sense of cooperation and teamwork within Los Angeles’ Latino communities, they are also questioning how much of the breakthrough success will remain when the scores of events end later this month.

“The question isn’t whether the work will stop, because we’re going to keep going,” said Sister Karen Boccalero, the founder of Self-Help Graphics in East Los Angeles and a leader in the Chicano art movement. “The real question is: Are they going to ignore what we’re doing? Are they smart enough to take advantage of the talents and hard work of these artists . . . and the growing audiences that are very interested in this work?”

Boccalero and several others interviewed were referring to mainstream institutions and arts centers which have previously shown little or no Latino work, but jumped in with events under the “Artes” and “Mexico” umbrellas.

The two festivals--which focus on the visual arts but also feature a number of music, theater, poetry, dance and film programs--will total about 300 events, with many in such mainstream venues as the Music Center, Santa Monica Museum of Art, Hollywood Bowl and numerous Westside art galleries.

Tom Rhoads, director of the Santa Monica Museum of Art, which just closed an exhibition of contemporary Mexican photography and will open a contemporary Mexican painting show Friday, plans to mount future Latino exhibitions.

“The photography show brought in a new audience for us and I hope those people will come back,” Rhoads said. “It would be a pity--and I think there is some sense (of this) out there--if people said, ‘OK, we’ve done Mexico, so now we’ll move on.’ The point of these festivals is to benefit not only the audiences, but the institutions--to make them familiar with the Mexican art forms and integrate some of that into their future programming.”

Armando Duron, president of the “Artes” planning committee, was optimistic that the festivals would prompt long-term results.

“I think we’ve gotten our message across, that our culture is part of all of L.A.,” Duron said. “I think some might use their one shot to say, ‘Well, we don’t have to do this now for the next five years,’ but our hope is that we’ve convinced venues that they can widen their offerings and attract a whole new audience. We certainly don’t expect a 100% success rate, but we think that we’ve shown the diversity of events that is Mexican culture.”

One of the concrete long-term results is the establishment of the Mexican Cultural Institute in the Olvera Street building that formerly housed the Mexican Consulate. Opened in late September, the nonprofit institute will house exhibitions, film series, performances and courses on Mexican culture. The inaugural exhibition features prints by Rufino Tamayo. Sponsored by the Mexican government, the institute is the third of its kind in the United States and is modeled after similar operations in San Antonio and Washington.

Another long-term result of the festivals is at least two new permanent fine art galleries.

“We are staying--I think that we are going to make it,” said Sofia Gonzalez Perez, co-owner of the Jansen-Perez Gallery in the Wilshire Courtyard near LACMA. For the past three years, Perez has co-owned a gallery focusing on Latin American and Chicano art in San Antonio, the previous tour stop for “Splendors.” “It’s been slow because of the recession, but we already have a little group of collectors,” she said.

Also planning to stay permanently is Washington’s Kimberly Gallery, a Latin American art gallery which also came to L.A. as part of the “Splendors” hoopla.

“We’ve had lots of visitors and lots of interest, and collectors who have said, ‘Thank God you’re here, L.A. really needs you,’ ” said Elyse Klaidman, director of the Melrose Avenue gallery. “I don’t think we knew what to expect when we came here, but I think we’re breaking even, and there seems to be a lot of interest in Latin American art and potential for us here.”

Parallel Project Gallery, however, a Santa Monica collective of three Mexican galleries, will not stay in Los Angeles, but will close as planned Dec. 17 with the end of its current Mexican sculpture exhibition, “A New Antiquity of Form.”

Top Shows at County Museum of Art

EXHIBIT YEAR RUN “A Day in the Country: Impressionism 1984 11 1/2 weeks and the French Landscape” “Mexico: Splendors of 30 Centuries” 1991 12 weeks “Impressionist to Early Modern 1986 8 weeks Paintings From the U.S.S.R.” “Impressionism, Post-Impressionism: 1990 12 1/2 weeks The Annenberg Collection” “Georgia O’Keeffe: 1887-1986" 1989 11 1/2 weeks “Great Bronze Age of China” 1981 10 weeks “David Hockney: A Retrospective” 1988 11 weeks “The Shogun Age” ’83-84 10 weeks

EXHIBIT ATTENDANCE “A Day in the Country: Impressionism 460,000 and the French Landscape” “Mexico: Splendors of 30 Centuries” *400,000 “Impressionist to Early Modern 360,000 Paintings From the U.S.S.R.” “Impressionism, Post-Impressionism: 300,000 The Annenberg Collection” “Georgia O’Keeffe: 1887-1986" 298,793 “Great Bronze Age of China” 255,827 “David Hockney: A Retrospective” 216,622 “The Shogun Age” 200,000

* Estimated. Attendance through the first 8 weeks of a 12-week run: 234,755.

Note: The “Treasures of Tutankhamun” exhibition in 1978 drew 1.25 million people, but is not figured in LACMA attendance records because of factors such as extended length of the show (18 weeks) and hours of operation, plus reduced ticket prices.

Source: Los Angeles County Museum of Art * PAPER WORK: Papier-mache sculpture by Mexico’s Linares family on display. F4