Exhibition-making as storytelling: the 14th FEMSA Biennial in Michoacán, Mexico

Ana Gonzalez Rueda , David Murrieta Flores

Keywords: storytelling; modern art; contemporary art; craft; counter-narratives

Participation: on-line

This paper investigates Mexican modern and contemporary art’s implication both in national history and in the stories that challenge and unsettle established narratives. It focuses on the decentralising curatorial proposition of "Inestimable azar"(‘Inestimable chance’), the 14th FEMSA biennial (2020 – 2021), based in the Mexican state of Michoacán. Mexican modern art, especially muralism, was tied to nation-building and played a crucial pedagogical role in the formation of the national identity after the Revolution of 1910-1917. Through the articulation of historical narratives, muralism became a privileged state mechanism for the homogenisation of complex cultural relationships in the country. As an event, the Revolution became a central nation-wide story of emancipation from imperial and colonial oppression, represented by all of the arts at the time. However, this narrative and its representations masked the coloniality of modern nation-state building, particularly regarding the native societies within the confines of a supposedly uniform national territory. Our analysis considers the biennial’s call to question official historical discourse as culturally articulated by muralism during the twentieth century. It takes into account the present context, in which the process of nation-building is seen as complete, and where neoliberalism serves as the framework for the intervention of non-state actors – such as FEMSA– in more heterogeneous culture-making. We discuss, in particular, the biennial’s reinterpretation of Juan O’Gorman’s mural "Historia de Michoacán" (1942) and the artist’s realist, surrealist, and didactic storytelling strategies (Speranza, 2020). We also examine two artistic commissions: Marco Rountree’s untitled installation, which troubled the notion of a national modernist aesthetic, and Adela Goldbard’s collaboration with the Purépecha community of Arantepacua on a craftivist project, a multimedia piece that blurs the demarcation between art and craft. By approaching the biennial through storytelling, this paper puts forward the conception of large-scale exhibitions as knowledge and world-making practices.


DAVID AJ MURRIETA FLORES is an Associate Professor of Contemporary Art History at the Faculty of Philosophy & Literature, National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM, Mexico). He holds a PhD in Art History & Theory from the University of Essex, an MA in Art History & Theory from the same institution, and a BA in History from the UNAM. His research interests include the intersection of art and politics, the aesthetics of artistic collectives, and the radical avant-gardes of the 20th century. He has published articles about collectives such as King Mob, The Situationist Times, S.NOB, and Up Against the Wall Motherfucker, as well as avant-garde movements such as Estridentismo, in journals such as Venezia Arti, Konsthistorisk tidskfrift / Journal of Art History, Journal of Surrealism and the Americas, MODOS. Revista de História da Arte, caiana, and ARTis ON.
ANA S. GONZÁLEZ RUEDA is an Associate Lecturer at the School of Art History, University of St Andrews (Scotland). She obtained her PhD in Museum and Gallery Studies with a thesis entitled “Inherent Pedagogies: Critical Approaches to Exhibition Making in the 2000s” (University of St Andrews, 2019). She also holds an MA in Curating Contemporary Art from the University of Essex (2012) and a BA in Art History from Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City (2008). In 2020, she completed a postdoctoral research residency at the Decolonising Arts Institute, UAL. Other projects include “Meaningful Matter: Testing Feminist Pedagogies in the Exhibition space” for the Van Abbemuseum’s Deviant Practice platform (2018-2019) and coordinating Possessing Nature, the Mexican Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2015). Ana recently co-edited Decolonising the Curriculum, the third volume of the Decolonising Museology series published by ICOFOM (2022).