Alejandro Cartagena, for example, has taken a series of photographs of workers in the back of pickup trucks traveling long distances in order to support their families, explains Mr. Roe. He is looking at the uncomfortable conditions of people packed in together in a very personal space within a public space.
Alejandro Cartagena (Mexican, born 1977), Carpoolers no. 12, 2016, Archival pigment print, JPMorgan Chase Art Collection. © Alejandro Cartagena, Courtesy of the artist and Patricia Conde Galeria, Mexico City
While his primary objective is to highlight social issues, Cartagena is also “very aware of the formal tradition he is working in, and his images are related to early 20th-century constructivist photography,” says Mr. Roe. “The history of modern art is part of the vocabulary that all contemporary artists are working in. That includes artists in Mexico, of course, but they are also addressing very specific social issues.”
A turning point
“The art scene in Mexico today is about artists dealing with a lot of contradictions and tensions,” says curator Patrick Charpenel, Executive Director of El Museo del Barrio in New York City. “The younger generation of Mexican artists is much more political and social than former generations. Their work deals much more with the social context. They’re dealing with different systems—systems related to money, to power, to institutional structures—all of which they are questioning through their work.”
Mr. Charpenel knows firsthand. An artist who became a leading curator in Mexico, he was part of the generation that began in the 1990s to explore new frameworks for making and exhibiting art. The center of that period of creative experimentation was a block-long street in Mexico City named Licenciado Verdad, where artists gathered not only from Mexico and Latin America, but from the United States and Europe as well.
“The 1990s marked a turning point in the evolution of art in Mexico,” says Mr. Charpenel. “We were introducing something fresh and very complex in the art world. It was an exciting moment, and for the first time, Latin American art and Mexican art specifically began circulating and being recognized internationally.”
For Mr. Charpenel, the past 15 years saw the consolidation of the art world. “What we are experiencing now is the consideration of new voices, with the cultural production of regions such as Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. These voices wouldn’t have been considered 25 years ago. I see the plural vision of contemporary art as a consequence of this change, and I think it is very exciting.”
The Licenciado Verdad movement, says Mr. Roe, “was a vibrant community of artists, curators, performers and gallerists that injected new ideas into the Mexico City art scene that still reverberate today.”
“We were young and were trying to change the world,” recalls Mr. Charpenel, who is also co-founder of Ediciones MP, which published a signature book on Licenciado Verdad in partnership with J.P. Morgan. “We were all very interested in what was happening in politics and the economy. We were also discovering the culture of one of the largest cities in the world, which was very cosmopolitan and where very old traditions were still active. It was connected to the rest of the world, but also it was a place where we could find our own identity.”
The experimentation of Licenciado Verdad artists opened the way for today’s artists to be independent of art centers like New York and London, says Mr. Roe. “Not that they aren’t aware of what is going on in those art centers, especially today with biennials, art fairs and the internet. But they have a new sense of freedom and independence from what may be happening elsewhere to create something that’s uniquely their own.”
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