Creating a new art scene in Mexico

The 1990s were a tumultuous time in Mexico. Economic crisis, seismic shifts caused by rapid globalization — most notably the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) — political corruption and violence plagued the country. At the same time, Mexico’s artistic landscape was transformed, a change that Moore College curator Kaytie Johnson was able to witness firsthand.

“One of my areas of emphasis as a curator and art historian has always been contemporary art in Latin America, especially Mexico,” Johnson explains. “I went down to Mexico City around 1998 and got a little taste of the scene. That decade has always struck me as being formative and important, but there needed to be some historical distance before you could look back. It’s only been 20 years, but it seemed like the right time. I think our current historical moment in the global context really relates in many ways to the crisis in Mexico in the 1990s.”

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“Strange Currencies: Art & Action in Mexico City, 1990-2000” at The Galleries at Moore brings together iconic and lesser-known works by 28 artists active in the city at the time. The show’s nearly 80 pieces span a wide range of mediums including installation, performance art, sculpture, video, painting and sound art.

Moore is also hosting related events throughout the run of the exhibition, including discussions with the artists and a series of films from the period screening at International House.

According to Johnson, the eruption of the art scene in Mexico City in the ’90s was sudden and pivotal, an abrupt break with tradition. “It’s remarkable what artists made happen because there really was not an art scene,” she says. “For the most part, the galleries were very traditional and conservative, and most of the museums at that time were state-run and had no interest at all in contemporary art. Artists started to educate themselves and get connected to what was happening outside. It was a real DIY moment.”

New to Philly

Few of the artists in “Strange Currencies” have exhibited in Philadelphia before, making the show a revelation for local audiences unfamiliar with Mexico City’s creative evolution.

“This show is really close to my heart,” Johnson says. “I’m so excited to share this with a Philadelphia audience and would really like visitors to get a better sense of what was happening at that time, to gain a better understanding of our neighbors to the south, and to be surprised at what Mexican art can look like.”

“Strange Currencies: Art & Action in Mexico City, 1990-2000”

Through Dec. 12

The Galleries at Moore College of Art & Design

20th St. & Ben Franklin Parkway

Free, 215-965-4027

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