The relationship between Mexico and the New York Met deepens


New York and Washington. Mexico and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) in New York have had a century-long relationship. Now, the presence of Mexican culture in one of the world’s leading venues is rising to a new prominence on and off the stage.

We are in a very important phase and moment in how the Met is developing, and with it our deeper presentation, relationship and recognition of the art and culture of Mexico through the centuries, says Max Hollein, director of the New York museum in an interview with La Jornada.

Hollein highlighted as examples a large special exhibition of Mexican engravings scheduled for September; the reopening of the renovated Michael Rockefeller Wing of Ancient Art, where the pre-Hispanic collection will be an important component; new acquisitions for the modern art collection, and that the design of the new wing of modern and contemporary art was in charge of a Mexican architect.

We have an involvement with that culture in multiple ways, we want to highlight that, but also demonstrate that this is a very long relationship. He emphasized that the Met, as a universal museum, must really be a deep reflection of Mexican culture for our global audience, but also for the Mexican community that is here, in New York, and in this region.

This shift was expressed with the grand exhibition in 2022 of The Lives of the Gods: Divinity in Mayan Art, whose main curator was the Mexican Laura Filloy, who is now part of the team dedicated to the reopening of the massive wing of ancient art in 2025.

The director has just returned from a trip to Mexico, which he does several times a year to meet with his counterparts, including our great friend Antonio Saborit, director of the National Museum of Anthropology; also with the Museum of Fine Arts, where he met with the Mexican architect Frida Escobedo, in charge of the new area of ​​modern and contemporary art, the most important infrastructure project of the museum in its public history.

He indicated that there will be several notable changes in the renovation of these famous rooms of ancient art from Mesoamerica, Africa and Oceania. He stressed: “Where possible, we want to highlight the authorship; there will be a perfect presentation of the object, but also of the creator… This is done on European paintings, even if you don’t have the name of the artist, you identify them as part of a group, and we call them ‘masters.’ We want to do this to ensure that we appreciate, investigate and contextualize these (pre-Hispanic) works in the same way.”

He reported that the appropriate presentation of these pieces was developed in association and friendship with our colleagues in Mexico. There were workshops at the National Museum of Anthropology, in which this was developed. And here Laura Filloy, a preeminent curator (who previously worked at the National Institute of Anthropology and History), is working on it.

The exhibition on Mexican prints –Mexican Prints at the Vanguard–, which will open in September, highlights part of a permanent collection that began in the 1920s and which today exceeds 2,000 very well-preserved prints, reported Hollein.

The purpose of this exhibition of more than 130 works is to mark the extraordinary achievement of Mexican printmaking, but also “if we talk about right now, not just the complexity of politics, but also activism and certain agendas that are being articulated, sometimes not from the top down, but by a broader democratic process, I think Mexican printmaking and its making can show some of the roots.

I also think that a lot of the activist printmaking here in the United States, thinking about what happened in the 1960s and 1970s, was clearly influenced by Mexican printmaking; that will be a revelation for some.”

Hollein added that she is fueled by creativity, but also by a firm belief that art can and should change the world. Graphic artists include José Guadalupe Posada, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and Leopoldo Méndez, among others.

Asked what will be different for the public when they enter the remodeled ancient art galleries, Hollein said that the visitor “will have the experience of a very different space. Before, the set was dimly lit, a bit like the heart of darkness; we’re going in exactly the opposite direction… it will be full of light. At the same time, all of these objects will be presented as works of art. Along with that, we’ll give these works a lot of context, a lot of understanding of the cultures, where they come from and how they’re different from each other.

“There has been a lot of research done over the past 50 years. We want that to be reflected in the collection’s displays. I would argue that there is no other museum of our scale that invests so much financially, but also creatively, in the display of our permanent collections.

“If we house these collections – and in some cases there are extraordinary holdings outside the countries of origin – we have a responsibility to do not only the dissemination of understanding of these countries, but also the most interesting and in-depth presentations of the cultures.”

Hollein was appointed director of the Met in 2018 with the task of renewing and transforming an institution that is more than 150 years old.

On how he has driven these changes, he said that, on the one hand, “we appreciate works of art for their aesthetic quality and artistic ingenuity, but on the other hand, we also want to ensure that the public sees, understands, appreciates and perhaps even is fascinated by them, and understands that art exists in a complex social, historical, economic and political context.

It often has an agenda; with that you can ensure that art not only looks more relevant, but suddenly has something to say about our contemporary moment.

He concluded, in his office inside one of the largest art museums on the planet: “If you understand that an object from the 15th century is fantastically crafted, but it is also a pure symbol of propaganda, you basically understand that some of the elements that we see in play today have also been played out over centuries.

I mean, art doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it doesn’t exist in its own sacred place. More often than not it didn’t have to exert an agenda; that’s a very important thing to see, and sometimes even the perception of a work changes over centuries. It’s fascinating.

Source: jornada