Museums like to use the word "comprehensive" to describe their exhibits. Too often it means simply that they don't have the funds to purchase several well-known and important works by a famous artist, so they've bought one showpiece and a few older, less significant pieces at bargain prices. And when a museum announces an exhibit that claims to cover all the cultural traditions of an entire country, especially one with a population as disconnected and diverse as Mexico, well, approach with caution.
Luckily, it doesn't seem as though any village was left unturned or corners cut for the mounting of the Dallas Museum of Art's latest exhibition, Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art. Organized in Mexico by a banking company called Banamex Corp., the exhibit features more than 500 objects created by 175 Mexican artists representing the cultures and styles of most of the Mexican states. Dallas is the first North American stop of the touring exhibit, which will also visit a Mexican art museum in Chicago and the Smithsonian Institution location in New York.
Using techniques as old as the Spanish conquest of Mexico to more modern ones, the artists have crafted art that reflects their homes, their religions and their region's unique culture. The works in Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art range from pottery, masks used by dancers, fabric dyed and embroidered, tooled saddles, ceramics, religious icons to silver, copper and gold pieces. And they stem from the influences of generations of expressive work that includes Mayan-inspired stonework and furniture with Asian influences. There are also works representing the religious traditions of various regions such as the popular Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) papier-mâché figures and the more familiar nativity scenes.
Instead of placing the focus of the exhibition solely on the displayed objects, the curators also sought to draw attention to the artists themselves by showing their influences and creative processes. Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art also features video and photographs of the artists at work, and the DMA will offer artist demonstrations and art programs throughout the duration of the exhibit, which will allow visitors to see the origins of the artwork through live experiences. A weaving demonstration will be given Sunday, the opening day. Other programs designed to add perspective and depth to the exhibit include a Day of the Dead celebration and a Tree of Life workshop in which visitors can create their own ceramic sculptures to represent the biblical fruit tree from the Garden of Eden decorated with personal images and symbols. There will even be a cooking lesson tied in with folk tales, geography and history to illustrate culture and heritage. And every Thursday evening Latin music performers will create their own art in the museum's atrium.