Zimmerli showcases Latin American culture at 'Prints of Mexico' reception
Rutgers’ Zimmerli Art Museum is an institute that takes its art as seriously as art education — very fitting for a museum based at a university. One of the many ways that Zimmerli reaches out to the community is through their Art After Hours series, which takes place on the first Tuesday of every month.
For this month, the new exhibition "Impressions: Prints of Mexico, 1930s-40s" was the showcase collection. Diego Atehortúa, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, co-curated the exhibit with Dr. Nicole Simpson, the assistant curator of Prints and Drawings at Zimmerli.
The museum was packed, with a completely full lobby upon entering. Students, faculty and art lovers alike were all in attendance for the celebration of Mexican culture. Simpson noted how great the turnout was as well as the work on the exhibit she did with Atehortúa.
“One of the things we’re most excited about is that none of these works have been on view before, so in the 50-year history of the museum, this is the first time we’ve had an exhibition focusing on Mexican prints," Simpson said. "One of the things we really wanted to do was not just reach out to the academic community, but reach out to our local community. It means a lot to us tonight that many people from New Brunswick have come out to support.”
Overall, the program was rich in Latin American culture, showcasing art of different forms from all over the region. Rutgers’ Bachata Club performed and there were lessons for Cumbia dancing, a style originating in Atehortúa’s native Colombia. DJ RataPrincess, professor Carolina Alonso Bejarano of Latino and Caribbean Studies, was spinning selections from Mexico.
“It’s gonna be all Mexican music, and I found some contemporary music and some classics. I also have Chicano music and electronic music. I’ve discovered a lot of Mexican music just by doing the research for this event," Bejarano said.
On the tour, Atehortúa detailed the different sections of the exhibit. One of the more recognizable prints was a nude portrait of Frida Kahlo, by Diego Rivera. The couple, who were both artists, have one of the most famed relationships in art history.
Marketplaces and other depictions of everyday Mexico were also on display, with a few key points of importance. Portraits of common Mexican folk were one of the more unique aspects of the work. Atehortúa explained that portraits were reserved for the elite, but the prints of lower class people were a celebration of everyday life.
An entire wall dedicated to Mexican laborers detailed jobs that were the backbone of the Mexican economy. Atehortúa spoke about how many of the blue collar jobs fed into cycles of poverty that still persist today. He also mentioned how they crafted a narrative of Mexican workers only working arduous agricultural jobs, which Atehortúa says also remains in our culture.
The exhibit was as educational as it was aesthetically pleasing, and the range of different prints and topics covered were truly impressive. Atehortúa commented on the work he’s been able to compile, as well as his journey.
“I had prior experience as a research assistant for other exhibitions. But as the co-curator, this was my first time. I learned that there’s an art to curating that requires you to take all of this information, and in a way downsize it," Atehortúa said. "You have to find a balance between making an exhibit that’s legible, that other people are gonna understand, but also make sure you’re not leaving out important facts.”
Simpson deemed that those facts weren’t missed and that Atehortúa taught her quite a few new things.
“He’s a specialist in Latin American art, so he’s been able to just fill me in on current scholarship. One of the great things that we do when we’re organizing an exhibition is we just go into the storage area, take out the artwork, and we just talk about it. He’s been a wonderful partner to run ideas by,” Simpson said.
Atehortúa’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed, and his goal was clearly conveyed in a wonderful exhibition. As all good art does, the work made a statement, which Atehortúa says was one of the driving forces of the exhibit he helped to curate.
“The discourse around Mexico, Mexicans, and Mexican-Americans isn’t the very best right now. So I just wanted to allow for us to reflect on that through this exhibit, by thinking about the past.”