The Marvellous Real: Art from Mexico, 1926–2011

The Marvellous Real: Art from Mexico, 1926–2011

Museum of Anthropology at The University of British Columbia

The Marvellous Real, 2013. Exhibition view. Courtesy of the Museum of Anthropology, the University of British Columbia.
February 21, 2014
The Marvellous Real: Art from Mexico, 1926–2011

October 26, 2013–March 30, 2014

Museum of Anthropology
The University of British Columbia
6393 NW Marine Drive

Etched with matte black translucent text and scarlet quotations, the glazed doors slide open and invite you into the baroque realm of the “marvellous real.” The Museum’s Audain Gallery has been transformed into a palace. There are black and white fabric walls, baroque architectural mouldings, and scrolled portals. Antiquated Marconi-style lights create marvellous illusions, while luminous texts move on the floor and the sounds of Ozomatli by Mexican composer Federico Álvarez del Toro are transmitted from an iPad attached to a large antiquated gramophone horn.

In this space, you will discover the “marvellous real” expressed in 53 modern and contemporary artworks from Mexico—paintings, photography, installations, mixed media compositions, film, folk art, sculptures and more. Spanning an eighty-five year period, these superb works were created by artists living in Mexico, including Dr. Atl, Leonora Carrington, Jean Charlot, Frida Kahlo, Juan O’Gorman, Alice Rahon, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Juan Soriano, and Rufino Tamayo, as well as a younger generation of artists like Carlos Amorales, Iñaki Bonillas, Sandra Cabriada, Marianna Dellekamp, Leonardo and Felipe Linares, Betsabeé Romero, Paula Santiago, Eloy Tarcisio, Francisco Toledo, among others.

The graphic texts tell of the “marvellous real”—a term introduced in 1949 by Alejo Carpentier, the great Cuban novelist. Reality in Latin America, Carpentier explained, is invariably suffused with extraordinary, unexpected and bizarre elements; but the “marvellous real” is not the same as Surrealism or for that matter Magical Realism. For Carpentier, Surrealism was a Western imposition, a foreign construct or way of thinking, defined by manifestos. The “marvellous real” is not restricted to literature or other artistic forms; it is an inescapable condition of everyday life in Latin America.

Consider Frida Kahlo’s declaration: “They thought I was a Surrealist…but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams…I painted my own reality.” In The Marvellous Real, you can see Kahlo’s rendering of her own reality—her sense of alienation while living in New York, her fervent anti-capitalistic stance and her documented desire to return to Mexico—forever captured in the fascinating collage, Mi vestido cuelga aqui (My Dress Hangs Here) (1933). In the centre of the canvas, her Tehuana dress is pictured without a bodily presence, conveying her wish to be elsewhere. In contrast, the body is present in Eloy Tarcisio’s Torzos, cabeza y corazón (Torsos, Head and Heart) (1992), yet it is a broken body materialized in acrylic, oil, blood and tar on felt. It is an emotive work that may speak to the images, rituals and tragedies of contemporary Mexico and their connections to pre-Columbian pasts.

In the “marvellous real,” there is an intermingling of myth and fact, magic and technology, reason and reverie. This is not a romantic vision of the real that panders to an exotic imaginary. Rather the “marvelous real” encompasses and amalgamates the conflicts and enchantments; the violence and seductions; the monotony and the magic of existence in and between human, spiritual and ecological worlds.

The majority of the works are drawn from the prestigious FEMSA Collection, based in Monterrey, Mexico. The collection, which is comprised of more than 1,000 works, covers a range of media including painting, sculpture, photography, installation and video that showcase the evolution, diversity and richness of Latin American art from the 20th century to the present.

The exhibition is curated by Dr. Nicola Levell, Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia. It is accompanied by a major catalogue.

The exhibition is made possible through the generous support of the FEMSA Collection; the Agencia Mexicana de Cooperación International Para el Desarrollo; the Consulado General de México en Vancouver; the Ollin Mexican Canadian Association for Arts, Culture and Education; and the Fundación Alejo Carpentier.

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Museum of Anthropology at The University of British Columbia
February 21, 2014

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