Los Angeles was a Mexican city long before the Gold Rush. It was founded by settlers from Mexico in 1781, and only became part of California in 1848.
Since then, the city has grown from a backwater village to one of the most important places in the world. But it has never stopped being Mexican in heritage, in history, in art.
“Mex/LA: `Mexican’ Modernism(s) in Los Angeles, 1930-1985,” the exhibit opening today at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, looks at the relationship between the city and Mexican art – through the work of fabled Mexican muralists such as Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siquieros to fashion designs, paintings, sculpture, photographs, films and even to what the exhibit’s curator, Ruben Ortiz-Torres, calls “the most beautiful car of all time.”
“Mex/LA” runs through Jan. 29.
“My artistic intention was to show this as an important part of Los Angeles’ cultural heritage,” Ortiz-Torres said. “This heritage belongs to the whole city, not just a part of it. Any artist producing art in the city has to deal with the Mexican nature of Los Angeles. You cannot work in Los Angeles without being part of the history of the city. Any artist producing art in Los Angeles has to deal with this heritage.”
For some, Mexican art has been outside the limits of Los Angeles as it has evolved into one of the art centers of the world. Mexican art was part of the “other” world of art, an alien presence as Los Angeles grew. Mexican culture, according to that viewpoint, comes from elsewhere, not from natives.
But “Mex/LA” sees things very differently. Los Angeles has always been a hotbed of Mexican art. At the same time that it was developing other forces, Mexican intellectuals such as Jose Vasconcelos, Ricardo Magon and Octavio Paz were developing the idea of modern Mexico in Los Angeles.
It was in Los Angeles that Orozco and Siquieros created some of their first murals.
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