Amy Sara Carroll's ReMex: Toward an Art History of the NAFTA Era interprets Mexico City-based, feminist, and border, or Chicano, art in and around the 1990s. Its premise is that aesthetics and politics “form a loop” in order to express what the author calls “Greater Mexico.” With this term, Carroll proposes that “Mexico” is no longer a territory but rather an imaginary that transcends its geographic borders. In her view, the denationalization brought about by the liberalization of markets led to a multicultural utopia best expressed in border art and art concerned with race and gender issues. In her account, aesthetic practice must serve as a direct weapon against “NAFTAfication” and colonial heteropatriarchy. Carroll draws an analogy between the selling out of the nation through the NAFTA treaty and the selling out of “post-Mexican” art to the global culture industry through the ambition of curators, cultural managers and artists who placed Mexico and Mexican contemporary art as key global art destinations by taking advantage of generous State sponsorship brought about by market liberalization. Any hint of cosmopolitism is suspicious and thus Carroll insists on “ReMexing” Mexico.
Amy Sara Carroll. ReMex: Toward an Art History of the NAFTA Era.
Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017.
Amy Sara Carroll's ReMex: Toward an Art History of the NAFTA Era interprets Mexico City–based, feminist, and border, or Chicano, art in and around the 1990s. Its premise is that aesthetics and politics “form a loop” in order to express what the author calls “greater Mexico.” With the latter term, Carroll proposes that “Mexico” is no longer a territory but rather an imaginary that transcends its geographic borders. In her view, the denationalization brought about by the liberalization of markets led to a multicultural utopia best expressed in border art and art concerned with race and gender issues. In Carroll's account, moreover, the aesthetics and politics of Mexican cultural production express what she defines as a “social drama” propelled by the rhetoric of an “allegorical performative.”1 The allegorical performative, which she also describes as “post-Mexican,” “Mexicanidad,” “NAFTArt,” and “reMex,” encompasses performance, video, installation, cabaret theater, net-art, architecture, cinema, and multimedia art. Carroll takes inspiration for “the allegorical performative” from Craig Owen's allegorical impulse and Fredric Jameson's “national allegory,” a term with which Jameson attempted to map the cognitive aesthetics of the third world. In Carroll's book, “allegory” is built upon the dematerialization of art into ideas, where sometimes process is privileged over product, while at other times the artwork is a ready-made that reflects upon its status as a commodity. The kind of “conceptualism” that interests Carroll, moreover, is borne out of a matrix of theoretical perspectives that seeks to address the ways in which gender, race, and capitalism have converted human beings and entire regions into exchangeable objects.
To better appreciate Carroll's intervention, it is first necessary to understand the role that the concept of “national allegory” has played, historically, in Mexico and in Latin America more broadly speaking, in order to qualify its cultural production. Former colonies issued and fulfilled the political mandate to culturally express national identity through allegory. Mexico participated in the allegorical representation of the nation typical of Latin American narrative and, to a lesser extent, visual art, during the 19th and early 20th centuries. In works such as José Eustacio Rivera's La vorágine (1924), land and the female body often fulfilled this allegorical role. These tropes were so influential that contemporary works such as Gabriela Cabezón Cámara's The Adventures of China Iron (2018) aim to subvert them by introducing a queer female protagonist with a decolonial relation to the land and to originary peoples. In Mexico, in particular, the representation of the nation was closely intertwined with the racial and cultural ideal of mestizaje, or miscegenation, which is also the symbiosis of the remnants of the pre-Hispanic past with elements of European culture. The ideal of mestizaje and its allegorical representation have played an instrumental role in modern Mexican political history, which official narratives have conceived of in terms of lineal progress. According to such narratives, the Mexican Revolution was to play a central role in coming to terms with the collateral damage of colonization. The revolution was meant to bring justice to originary peoples by restituting stolen land and incorporating them into the Mexican national modern project as citizens. This is why, for State Secretary of Education and Culture José Vasconcelos in the 1920s, it was imperative “to Mexicanize the Indian” through Spanish culture and religion and by means of a Western education.
The colonial perspective inherent in Vasconcelos's project was the unconscious of the Mexican-nationalist cultural narrative that led Mexicans to see themselves as perpetually backward, hindered by the anchor of originary populations yet to be civilized. In his own account of the matter, Alfonso Reyes argued in the 1930s that indigenous communities were a historical obstacle to social progress. When comparing Mexico to the flowering industrial power and prosperity of the United States, these communities were seen as retrograde. According to this logic, “Mexican culture” was considered to be behind, and its ideal was to catch up with Europe and the United States' purported civilizational and economic development. This was because Mexican society was purportedly composed of a heterogeneous substance, which was thought to be the product of mestizaje, originating in “blood shocks” between Spanish conquistadors and Indian aristocracy. These “blood shocks” were the source of Mexico's supposedly fractured identity and cultural inferiority as well as the source of the foreign economic and cultural domination that the country had suffered. This complex nationalist rhetoric, which was built upon the denial of colonization and a lineal progressive notion of race and culture, legitimated state power throughout the 20th century. Artists, writers, and cultural producers dealt with the representation of national identity and the myth of peripheral backwardness in different ways. We see this phenomenon in mural painting in the first half of the 20th century, when painters embraced mestizaje as a nationalist ideal; in the rebellion against figuration as a tool of nationalism through abstraction among the artists associated with La Ruptura in the 1950s; in Los Grupos's evasion of the issue of nationalism in their attempt to critique authoritarianism through the use of public space in the 1970s and 1980s; and in Neomexicanismo's denaturalization of national symbols and heteronormativity in the 1980s. Despite these efforts, the blind spot of colonialism (as it keeps being denied) and the myth of “two Mexicos” (one developed, one indigenous) persist in the cultural imaginary.
Since the 1990s, artists and cultural producers have addressed the question of nationalism and national identity in the context of globalization—or savage modernization—by undermining explicit (national and international) demands to proffer unique and unquestionable identities defined by their origin in the “third” or underdeveloped world. A series of critical discussions among Mexican artists and curators accompanied the purported arrival of Mexican art on the global scene. One such discussion considered the problem of national representation and the difficulties of presenting “third world” artistic production on a globalized stage. How could art from the former third world gain universal recognition without making recourse to the rhetoric of peripheral otherness? In this regard, globalization meant that artists in Mexico (and from other former peripheral countries and cities) managed to become part of a broader global dialogue by renegotiating center-periphery operations beyond the issue of national representation. In spite of this, key exhibitions of “Mexican art” abroad—including 20 Million Mexicans Can't Be Wrong, curated by Cuauhtémoc Medina at the South London Gallery in London; Mexico City: An Exhibition about the Exchange Rates of Bodies and Values, curated by Klaus Biesenbach for PS1 and Kunstwerke; and Zebra Crossings, curated by Magali Arriola at Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, all in 2002—fit the parameters of the global mainstream without needing an aesthetic translation. These exhibitions called attention to the urban dynamics of Mexico City and the wave of violence and violent class confrontation among different sectors of Mexican society that was intensified by the liberalization of markets. Notably, despite the novelty and violence of their subject matter, the works in these exhibitions fit neatly into the parameters of the international mainstream and did not require any effort of aesthetic translation, in the sense that they used the lingua franca of the Conceptual and Minimalist art aesthetics.
One of the key questions that Mexican artists tried to ask fell beyond the pale of the agenda of Anglo-Saxon identity politics: what kind of culture corresponds to brutal neoliberalization? Take, for example, Flames maquiladora by Carlos Amorales (2001), which ironically invited viewers to become sweatshop workers in order to produce a desired image or Mexican product, or Gabriel Orozco's 2017 Oroxxo, which dressed the gallery as a standard convenience store in which artworks were displayed like ready-made junk food. In that sense, “post-Mexican” art, while trying to make explicit the discomfort contemporary Mexican artists had with representing the Mexican nation, evidenced the paradox that Mexican neoliberal policy was destroying the nation while pretending to make it function as a cultural commodity. Under Carlos Salinas de Gortari, a fracture had been enacted by the Mexican state: a divorce between discourse and practice, in which the government sustained referents and arguments—such as modernization—while implementing brutal social engineering, to cheapen labor and privatize state infrastructure in order to facilitate capital accumulation.
Carroll's ReMex is an attempt to write a history of Mexican art of this period and, in so doing, to propose an alternative lineage for Latin American Conceptualism. According to art critics and historians like Juan Acha or Mari Carmen Ramírez, in Latin America, Conceptual art invited the audience to become part of the conceptual program, and thus went beyond the tautological problems that concerned British and American Conceptual artists. For instance, Juan Acha's notion of “no-objetualismo” (non-objectualism), which he coined in 1976, aimed to describe experimental multimedia art forms that were born of artists' attempt to intervene into the fabric of real life by substituting for the discursive nature of art a perceptual-cognitive function oriented toward social transformation.2 Instead, Carroll uses a figure she terms the “allegorical performative” to qualify reMex art as a bricolage of practices and discourses. The allegorical performative includes art of diverse genres: “Formas PÍAS” (“pious forms”; a term that incorporates the acronym for Performance Installation Ambient pieces coined by Maris Bustamante) and “non-objectualist art,” or conceptually driven art that blurs the boundaries of high and low culture, the folkloric and the mass-mediated. According to Carroll, PIAS are based on pre-Hispanic art models rather than the European vanguard.3 The allegorical performative can also function as a “critical fetish,” a term coined by Cuauhtémoc Medina, Helena Chávez MacGregor, and Mariana Botey, members of the collective Red Specters. Critical fetish was the frame for a 2010 exhibition at CAM2 in Madrid curated by Red Specters that gathered artworks by very diverse artists, including Jake and Dinos Chapman, Andrea Fraser, Jota Izquierdo, Alfredo Jaar, Teresa Margolles, the Raqs Media Collective, Santiago Sierra, Karmelo Bermejo, Maria Theresa Alves, and Francis Alÿs, among others. In Medina, Chávez MacGregor, and Botey's view, these artists deactivate the myths of underdevelopment and set the work of art to operate as an object of desire, subversion, and alterity. In other words, a critical fetish is an “other” epistemological field that insists on a critique of colonialism by subverting the categories of “European” and “the Primitive.”4
In Carroll's account, an important precedent for the allegorical performative is the Neomexicanist current of painting from the 1980s, a form of reMex (or camp national-popular) that denationalized Mexican identity through an idiom of self-exoticism and homoeroticism. While in Neomexicanist painting the national abject and the denaturalization of folklore came to allegorize a crisis in both pictorial and national representation, the neoconceptualism of the 1990s, perhaps best represented by Gabriel Orozco, went too far—as she puts it, “eclipsing ‘Mexico’ altogether.”5 Carroll thus conceives of the allegorical performative in order to describe art produced in and around the binding together of the Mexican and US economies and their respective imaginaries. She uses the term to underscore how such works repeat and expose alterity. One of the effects of this interlinking of imaginaries is the “undocumented” quality of these works, which she describes as “Choppy. Citational. Incomplete. Forward- or backward-looking. Opaque. Procedural. Ironic. Layered. Baroque. Minimalist.”6 The allegorical performative, moreover, is not a master narrative according to Carroll's account, but a “rasquache” or “national camp” operation that can potentially resist imperial truth or aesthetic transparency. From this perspective, Carroll attempts to write a “lowercased art history of the NAFTA era,” an era in which the allegorical performative is articulated in response to anxieties about both cultural and economic penetration and in which arts, in her view, are held up as a sword and shield against NAFTAfication.
Encompassing artworks produced roughly between the 1990s and 2002,7 Carroll's archive of situated forms of knowledge seeks to cohere in permanent deconstruction by challenging binary and hierarchical oppositions, exploring tensions and contradictions, and embedding oppositions within her interpretations. The book is divided into three sections that represent key allegorical figurations of the NAFTA era: “CITY,” “WOMAN,” and “BORDER.” No metalanguage or main narrative encompasses her interpretation of reMex art, and neither are works of art treated as harmonious fusions of literal and figurative meanings. Rather, in her deconstructive readings, artworks are instances of conflicts between meanings of different types and a product of relations to other artworks, texts, and discourses. By privileging gesture and the performative, as opposed to speech, and embodiment in detriment to language, Carroll elucidates not what the artworks “say” but what they “do.” It is in this sense, Carroll suggests, that the meanings delivered to us in these works are never fully present but endlessly deferred in an infinitely long chain of signifiers. ReMex, the allegorical performative, NAFTArt, and “undocumentary” bear a relationship of slippage, which is central to perceiving or “seeing” the artworks. Rather than positing a stable relationship between signifier and signified, in Carroll's interpretations of reMex, a signifier never leads to a signified but only to another signifier that encompasses place, gender, cultural policy, or historical context. For example, her readings of Vicente Razo's Plegaria espiritual macroeconómica (1995) and Museo Salinas (1996) refuse to draw a relationship between Razo's “anthropological materialism” and the social sculpture and interobjectivity developed by Melquiades Herrera and No Grupo. Just to give an idea of the range of slippages that operate in Carroll's deconstructive interpretations, she uses the following terms to describe Razo's work: “proto-critical fetish,” “totemic,” “social sculptures,” “talismans,” “allegories,” “vernacular iterations of collectivity in excess of the State market,” “reminiscences of Melquiades Herrera's archeological excavations,” “ruin as a national fetish,” “a mise en scène of the allegory of a savage, primitive nationalism that meets ‘a savage primitive capitalism’,” “PIAS Forms as non-non-objectual art,” and Razo as a reMex performative artist as ethnographer with a “collector impulse.”
The “CITY” section of Carroll's book undocuments art (or creates slippages in the meanings of artworks) produced by Mexico City artists in the 1990s. Back then, artists consciously refused to create culture in the service of the state by reacting viscerally to their environment, which they perceived as the result of sociopolitical, economic, and historical relationships. Through independent exhibition and dialogue spaces, they took over the city as an allegorical figuration through hybrid practices. Following one of the arguments of La Era de la Discrepancia, an exhibition curated by Cuauhtémoc Medina and Olivier Debroise, shown at the MUCA in 2007, Carroll traces the genealogy of “DF art” to Los Grupos, or independent collectives active in the 1970s who sought new publics in alternative spaces for the circulation and production of artworks. Political and economic reality had a central place in artistic practices back then, as members of the collectives were active in unions, political parties, and social movements. Their works addressed the Tlatelolco massacre, economic policy, Central American conflicts, Southern Cone dictatorships, the US Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, and the Dirty War and state repression in Mexico. According to Carroll, No Grupo, whose core members were Maris Bustamante, Melquiades Herrera, Rubén Valencia, and Alfredo Núñez, exercised the most direct influence over DF art from the 1990s. This was especially true for Melquiades Herrera's attempt to register “the material and immaterial processes of the city's fragmentation after the 1982 economic crisis and the 1985 earthquake.”8
We must note, however, that not only is Carroll's genealogy of art from the 1990s borrowed from Medina and Debroise, but the artists discussed in “CITY” are staples of Cuauhtémoc Medina's exhibitions over the past 30 years: Vicente Razo, Minerva Cuevas, Yoshua Okón, Francis Alÿs, Santiago Sierra, SEMEFO, Teresa Margolles. This is perhaps why Carroll's interpretation of their works does not diverge very much from Medina and Debroise's, in spite of her efforts to un-canonize and “undocument” the art history of the era. Instead, Carroll reinforces the canon by calamitously omitting key works by Miguel Calderón, Rubén Ortiz Torres, Miguel Ventura, Daniela Rossell, Richard Moszka, Thomas Glassford, Carlos Amorales, Damián Ortega, Abram Cruzvillegas, Eduardo Abaroa, Ximena Cuevas, Melanie Smith, Sofía Taboas, Pablo Helguera, and Pablo Vargas Lugo, as well as leaving Silvia Gruner out—as does Medina—from her “DF artists” archive, which is unfortunate.
Carroll cites Melquiades Herrera's 1994 sensationalist (or maybe, in her view, rasquache) performance at La Panadería, in which he inserted a bottle of Presidente Brandy into his anus as a landmark and direct predecessor of the artists discussed in “CITY.” The performance coincided with the swearing in of Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo on December 1. In Carroll's account, the brandy was “reMexed,” allegorizing one of the most complex years for Mexican history, including: the taking effect of NAFTA on January 1, the same date as the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas; the murder of presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio in March, and of José Francisco Ruiz Massieu, the brother-in-law of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, in September; an economic crisis in which the peso lost a third of its value; and the Fobaproa, or bank rescue, which the government offered as a response to the financial crisis. Carroll locates Melquiades Herrera as a predecessor of reMex art for his “trenchant brand of conceptualism [that] combined awareness of the mechanisms of the art market and the selling (out) of the nation.“9 The ”selling out“ critique is repeated throughout the book and is the reason why she dismisses InSite, a binational initiative that took place in San Diego/Tijuana in five editions between 1992 and 2005, in her ”BORDER“ section. In her account, aesthetic practice must serve as a direct weapon against ”NAFTAfication“ and colonial heteropatriarchy. In this regard, Carroll draws an analogy between the selling out of the nation through the NAFTA treaty and the selling out of ”post-Mexican“ art to the global culture industry through the ambition of curators, cultural managers, and artists who made Mexico and Mexican contemporary art key global art destinations by taking advantage of platforms like InSite and generous state sponsorship brought about by market liberalization. Any hint of cosmopolitism is suspicious, and thus Carroll insists on ”reMexing“ Mexico. Sadly, the author thus ignores the relevance of InSite, SITAC (the yearly or biyearly Contemporary Art Theory Symposium that gathers local and international academics, theorists, artists, curators, and intellectuals under a relevant theme), and the key global art fair ZONAMACO. Carroll even dismisses the pioneering understanding of neoliberalism, globalization, and global contemporary art articulated in the complex artistic proposals of the 1990s that set the stakes of global contemporary art. In other words, the 1990s in Mexico anticipated ”the future history“ of the rest of the world, in the sense that Mexico suffered the effects of savage neoliberalization earlier than elsewhere, and that artists likewise began to account for the collateral damage of market liberalization and globalization earlier than happened elsewhere.
In Carroll's account, cosmopolitan perspectives as well as ambitious efforts to render visible “post-Mexican” art and to situate it globally are negative, impure, or betray artistic intentions. Carroll rejects InSite as “unMexican,” through a quirky reading of Yoshua Okón's Risas enlatadas (Canned Laughter, 2009), a multimedia installation produced within the context of Proyecto Juárez. Proyecto Juárez was curated in 2009 by Mariana David in Ciudad Juárez as an attempt to displace Tijuana as the principal or exclusive site for criticizing capitalism, gender violence, or border epistemology. According to Carroll, Tijuana had been taken over by ambitious DF artists and curators who used InSite as a platform to come into contact with international cultural producers and to promote themselves and mass-produce art for the global cultural industry. Okón's Risas enlatadas, in so far as it is a fictive sweatshop to produce canned laughter for export, functions in her reading as an institutional critique of InSite. While this is in part true, as Risas enlatadas is indeed a critique of a Mexican cultural industry for export, the artwork performs this critique by highlighting the “third world aspects” of the maquila production being sold to “first world” culture consumers keen on pornomiseria. Okón's cynical installation refers to Henri Bergson's theory of laughter as an act of freedom as much as it does to Susan Sontag's Regarding the Pain of Others. The piece is indeed an illustration of institutional critique in a global context: a first world spectator pays a person working in near-enslaving conditions to vicariously laugh for her as a form of entertainment ready to consume.
Unfortunately, at times Carroll's account is more narrow than it is situated, insisting on granting “pedigree” in order to legitimate the artists she discusses. Yautepec, Proyectos Monclova, Petra, Gaga, Curare, Salón des Aztecas, Quiñonera, Pinto Mi Raya, Temístocles 44, Torre de los Vientos, Art Deposit, Taller de los Viernes, and InSite are the names of independent galleries, workshops, informal gathering sites, and exhibition places that gave way to a plural and rich context for experimentation in which artists taught one another and dialogued in radically nonacademic, autonomous enterprises. One can observe the continuation of such efforts today through the work of collectives such as Obrera, Bikini Wax, and Cráter Invertido. Carroll, however, insists on letting her readers know which cultural Mexican figure attended the Whitney program or was a student of Chris Burden or was tutored by Suzanne Lacy. Paradoxically, while subordinating Mexican art and artists to the terms of US academic thinking and art legitimation, she decries efforts to situate Mexico beyond issues of national or “third world” identity, and to resist the imperialism of US-based multiculturalism, as “travesties of the Mexican contemporary in art and industry.”10 Furthermore, in her reading, reMex art is somewhat apolitical, unless filtered by her through the Anglo-Saxon terms of institutional critique—for example, as she does with Okón's Risas enlatadas or with Minerva Cuevas's culture jamming, which she situates along the lines of Critical Art Ensemble, the Yes Men, and other creators of dated globalophobic, anti-corporate artworks. Moreover, Carroll's categories “WOMAN” and “BORDER” operate within the politics of Anglo-Saxon multicultural self-representation to visibilize the ordeals of minorities; while DF art comes across as implicitly white or whitexican because it does not touch upon gender or race issues.
Like the “CITY” section, “WOMAN” and “BORDER” are composed of general discussions overburdened with slippery concepts and theoretical references that are held dear within Anglo-Saxon academia, including Bruno Latour, Peter Sloterdijk, Nicolas Bourriaud, Boltanski and Chiapello, and of course Judith Butler and Giorgio Agamben, among others. After an introduction, each section presents monographic accounts of specific artists. “WOMAN” follows the 19th-century Latin American trope that equated land and the female body, as the body of Mexico is allegorized through a “rape script” based on the creation of the Nation beginning with the Conquest and embodied in the atavistic figure of La Malinche. This section discusses works by Lorena Orozco, Lorena Wolffer, Katia Tirado, Nao Bustamante, and Polvo de Gallina, the collective formed by Maris Bustamante and Mónica Mayer. In Carroll's account, these artists “de- and re-allegorize the female form in the service of interrogating the NAFTA-era lay of the land,”11 at the same time that they interrogate binary constructions of difference: male/female, North/South, top/bottom, nonracialized/racialized, haves/have-nots. Emblematic pieces discussed in this chapter are If She Is Mexico, Who Beat Her Up? by Lorena Wolffer (1997) and Silvia Gruner's Don't Fuck with the Past, You Might Get Pregnant (1994). This collection of artworks and artists allegedly forms a “utopian performative” by means of allegorical effects of de- and neo-colonial subject-object slippages. A welcome addition here is the extent to which Carroll gives their due to Mónica Mayer and Maris Bustamante's Polvo de Gallina collective as the matrix of Mexican performance feminist art. Carroll's lengthy discussion of Lorena Wolffer is also long overdue, although in this section's “reorder of things,” key figures like Lourdes Grobet, Carla Rippey, Jesusa Rodríguez, and Magali Lara are missing. Moreover, Carroll's “ethnographization” and “femalization” of Silvia Gruner's 1990s work are syntomatically misguided.
The “BORDER” section encompasses works by Taller de Arte Fronterizo (BAF), Luis Hock, David Ávalos, Elizabeth Sisco, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Alex Rivera, Ursula Biemann, Lourdes Portillo, Sergio de la Torre and Vicky Funari, Yareli Arizmendi and Sergio Arau, Chantal Akerman, Natalia Almada, Las Comadres, La Pocha Nostra, ASCO, and the binational contemporary art exhibition InSite. In her reading, the works by these artists, collectives, and platform comprehend a unique site of enunciation at the juncture and division of the Global North and South. The lens through which she reads these works is “undocumentary,” which in the context of the border means that the artworks resist being coherent objects of identity and difference, acting instead as “refutations of discursive master/slave dialectics.”12 “Undocumentation” as method, moreover, substitutes for InSite's “border as method” and is a response to the “spectacle of borderization.” In border and Chicano reMex art, making art political means creating strategies to undo the racial scripts that gave way to Mexican stereotypes through institutional critique and identity politics, to denounce human rights violations by the border patrol, to deconstruct media depictions of Mexico and the Mexicans, to critique US policy toward the South, and to find common symbols to construct a diasporic identity. In this narrative, Guillermo Gómez-Peña becomes a key figure of the synthesis of Mexican and US aesthetic-political conundrums. Carroll argues that, through an inverse anthropology, Gómez-Peña “literalizes, appropriates, exaggerates and inverts naturalized or normalized constructions of individual and collective identity and difference.”13 In Carroll's view, Gómez-Peña's work becomes a mythical junction or utopian symbiosis of DF and border art capable of undoing the stereotypes of masculinity in greater Mexico. In her words, Gómez-Peña “collapses the pachuco into the Chicano,” transforming “the Chicano into the subject position from which to double down on the links between Mexican and US nationalisms.”14 As Carroll's approach to Gómez-Peña makes clear, the allegorical performative can be understood as a kind of self-representation that cannot be subordinated to any master narrative. Or perhaps it is a new form of essentialism produced by the hangover of identity politics in the Trump era.15 In this regard, reMex invisibilizes extractivism and the transformation of originary and working-class peoples into disposable flesh (as seen in works by Teresa Margolles, Santiago Sierra, and Miguel Ventura). Aside from ignoring the key issue of class and class conflict at stake, for Carroll, post-Mexican art and artists may only take part in art history as “imperial minorities,” insofar as they are placed within the categories of “women,” “immigrants,” “Chicanos,” or reMex, as opposed to cosmopolitan subjects grappling with complex questions in the global, neoliberalized world.
Since NAFTA, “Mexicanness” has become a diversified commodity, from Carla Fernández's prêt-à-porter, inspired by Mexican originary peoples' clothing and handicrafts, to Enrique Olvera's Mexican haute cuisine; the Distroller brand of toys for girls, inspired by a Catholic, neo-colonial sensibility featuring the Virgin of Guadalupe and anti-abortion messages; the 2011 animated film La leyenda de la Llorona; and the folklore-inspired labels and logos on canned La Costeña chiles and chipotles, sold globally. If the liberalization of the market meant that national identity was displaced onto consumer goods, did the globalization or internationalization of Mexican art in the 1990s really imply that it had overcome its former status as a “third world” producer of marginal cultural practices linked to a national consciousness and identity?16 Not in Amy Carroll's account.
Amy Sara Carroll, ReMex: Toward an Art History of the NAFTA Era (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017), 4.
See Mari Carmen Ramírez, “Tactics for Thriving on Adversity: Conceptualism in Latin America, 1960–1980,” in Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s–1980s (New York: Queens Museum of Art, 1999), exhibition catalog, 53–71.
See the review of the exhibition in Madrid (2010) by the Comité Invisible Jaltenco: http://comiteinvisiblejaltenco.blogspot.com/2010/07/el-arte-simulacral-del-fetiche-critico.html.
2002 marked the “globalization” of Mexican art, symbolized by the aforementioned exhibitions in Berlin, London, and New York.
The same could be said of gallerist David Zwirner's new enterprise of creating a New York gallery with all Black staff to exhibit all Black artists, and of the lame excuses to “postpone” Robert Guston's major retrospective because of the KKK imagery in his work.
Definitely not if we look at the Lille3000 festival in 2019, which featured Mexico as its main guest. Over 50 art exhibitions, events, and workshops, related to literature, music, film, theater, folk art, and cuisine, were financed by the city, including a parade in which 28 huge alebrijes pranced beside Guadalupe Posada's inspired skeletons through the streets of Lille and around a Frida Kahlo-themed float. Modern and contemporary art were also present, the latter represented by Francis Alÿs, Stephan Bruggeman, Teresa Margolles, Carlos Amorales, Dulce Pinzón, and others.