Founded in 1992, the FEMSA Biennial is a traveling platform that seeks to recognize, strengthen, foster, and circulate artistic activity in Mexico. Over the course of its 14 editions, it has established itself as a driving force for art and culture across the country, while also gaining international prominence.
WHAT IS THE FEMSA BIENNIAL?
Gestures for an Inventiveness Without Authority
Michoacán contains noteworthy examples of modern art, primarily of a public nature¹, produced after the Mexican Revolution of 1910. In the 1930s, national and international artists such as Ramón Alva de la Canal, Grace and Marion Greenwood, Philip Guston, Fermín Revueltas, Juan O’Gorman, and Alfredo Zalce, began to execute a series of murals—which remain little known today—in the cities of Morelia and Pátzcuaro, both locations of the XIV FEMSA Biennial. These works have inspired the three research topics that define our current edition: realisms, artistic integration, and traditional artistic processes.
To create the proposal, we have also reviewed numerous texts written in Mexico by some of the abovementioned artists, as well as by other national and international artists, that express progressive tendencies in the artistic practices of the time as accompaniment to their most evident “social ideas.”² Essential artistic attitudes of the era include the updating of tradition and history, the radical principle of artistic experimentation, fraternal internationalism, free association among friends and creative colleagues, and the concept of chance: the points of convergence among the subjective, the objective, individual ideals, and the events of social and material life. This final notion, combined with this overall set of positions, inspired the title for the latest edition of the biennial: Inestimable Chance³. The name implies openness to different conditions, encounters, and dialogues made possible by the host cities.
The three lines of research mentioned above also guide, in turn, the four programs of the XIV FEMSA Biennial: curatorial, educational, public, and publishing. In this way, the project continues the format presented at the XIII FEMSA Biennial in the cities of Zacatecas and Guadalupe, held in 2018 and 2019.
This term is often perceived simplistically. In Mexico, it tends to be confused with other concepts like figurative art and even muralism; a similar situation prevails across Latin America. However, when we observe the work of artists like Guston, O’Gorman, and Zalce in Michoacán, we can clearly grasp the impossibility of designating just one realism. It is far better to think of realisms, plural, and to appreciate the importance of discussing their history, their transnational nature, and their national and international development throughout the second half of the 20th century, as non-figurative art consumed the local (and, to a great extent, the international) art scene. It is also crucial to evaluate the different possible perceptions of this legacy today, both in terms of representation and through other considerations, including materialist and ecological ones.
Michoacán’s historic murals allow for other kinds of discussions. Muralism lends itself, for example, to contemplating the subject of ex-centric historical avant-gardes and to reconsidering their global impact throughout the 20th century. In the same way, it also warrants pondering muralism’s later development in relation to art institutions and the global art market, as well as viewing its evolution as a current that ran parallel to the predominant academic and commercial trends—and was generally excluded from them.
two. Artistic Integration
The concept of “artistic integration” in Mexico is linked to the history of muralism as a practice of public art. In this practice, works of art were integrated into spatial/ architectural situations, dialogues, and the interplay among disciplines. Thus, this second research topic proposed by the XIV FEMSA Biennial joins forces with the public vocation of modern art in Morelia and Pátzcuaro, though it doesn’t focus exclusively on the mural medium. In fact, both cities offer—synthetically—a summary of the best-known paradigms of Mexico’s 20th-century public art. Lázaro Cárdenas Park, for example, showcases important pieces in the form of urban sculptures, created during the second half of the 20th century by artists such as Arnold Belkin, Helen Escobedo, Manuel Felguérez, Ángela Gurría, Hersúa, and Marta Palau, among others. Studying this panorama, we will investigate the relevance of such projects today, in hopes of exploring their function and better understanding how they can address a space’s material or social needs.
three. Traditional Artistic Practices
During the second half of the 1930s, the first museum dedicated to folk art and industry was founded in Pátzcuaro. In institutional terms, this event was a milestone in the formation of a new artistic category that now merits revision. And so, this line of research does not only propose a material and technical approach to works of art; it also invites us to review the history of so-called folk art, its formulation, its practitioners, its specific institutional framework, and general perceptions of its representative pieces. In addition, we will emphasize the nature of its production, carried out with methods and principles far-removed from the conventionalisms of the global art institution.
Twenty-three artists and one collective—both national and international—have been invited to create projects that, without having to address any topic in particular, can be associated by chance with discussions of Michoacán’s modern artistic heritage; the social spaces in Pátzcuaro and Morelia that will host the XIV FEMSA Biennial; and collaborations with different local agents. In addition, five local artists, cultural managers, and curators were commissioned to develop group exhibitions convening the work of artists born or residing in Michoacán. Finally, in collaboration with the FEMSA Collection, Inestimable Chance has planned a historiographical exhibition, Realism Against the Current, which will be held in the Clavijero Cultural Center in Morelia.
In order to lend continuity to the proposals set forth at the XIII FEMSA Biennial We Were Never Contemporaries, Inestimable Chance strives both to produce museological interventions and to generate projects for some of the venues in dialogue with their respective legacies (architectural, artistic, or object-based), as well as with their vocations and mandates of knowledge.
Following the curatorial proposal of the XIV FEMSA Biennial—which seeks to reflect on contemporary artistic activity by reviewing modern Mexican art, with a focus on the specific contexts of Morelia and Pátzcuaro—the public program engages in historical research and the critical approaches at work in existing narratives of post-revolutionary avant-garde art. The program also studies the different legacies, interpretations, and ways in which such works can shed light on our present.
With these ideas in mind, the program offers a series of activities—a cross between lectures and round-table discussions—with renowned national and international specialists. The activities are designed to engage with this edition’s primary areas of work: realisms, the use of artistic integration, and traditional artistic practices.
There will also be a series of talks, concerts, workshops, and other activities held in different spaces and locations in Morelia and Pátzcuaro.
All activities are free of charge.
The copious cultural spaces and the growing number of agents, artists, and cultural managers affiliated with the XIV FEMSA Biennial venues are the starting point for our educational program. This program, designed as a means to reflect on how exhibitions are put together, will review different curatorial models, ways of shaping mediation exercises, and educational angles in art.
Specifically, we will study the connections among curation, management, and pedagogy from a perspective that combines both theoretical and practical approaches. Our goals are to strengthen and expand the critical vision of participants in the educational program, as well as to offer them tools for developing their skills within artistic, curatorial, critical, or managerial fields.
The program is divided into three units:
- Managing exhibitions and curation
- Art, mediation, and educational angles
- Writing and the publishing world
Although participation in each unit of the educational program will be determined by application, some of the guests will offer talks to the general public. This program in on-site and free of charge. Space is limited.
In order to compile and share the content and reflections that will occur via the different programs of the XIV FEMSA Biennial, the publishing program is divided into three projects: a critical compilation, historical in nature; a curatorial anti-manual; and a record of the commissioned work, the exhibition, and the different activities carried out by the programs of Inestimable Chance.
The historical compilation will collect some of the manifestos and historical documents that inspired the themes of the biennial (such as the 1938 Manifiesto por un arte revolucionario independiente [Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art], written by André Breton, Diego Rivera, and León Trotsky, to name just one example), research texts that have addressed this period in the past, and commissioned essays by experts and academics, including participants in the public program.
The creation of this “anti-manual” seeks to reflect on the encounters and intersections among art, curatorship, and pedagogy. The publication will be designed as a resource both for participants in the educational program and anyone else interested in the creation of exhibitions and in critical reflections on curation and mediation. Contributors will include guests in the educational program and professionals with significant experience in these topics.
The last volume will compile the results of all activities, commissions, and exhibitions carried out during the XIV FEMSA Biennial. More than serving as a photographic record, the publication is designed as a space that will provide continuity to exhibition projects. In this way, it will allow readers to explore the content, creative processes, and research conducted by all the commissions and exhibitions, as well as everything else that couldn’t be displayed in the public venues or museums due to space limitations. The publication strives to reconfigure and expand the exhibition context into the editorial space, which will live on even after this edition of the biennial has come to an end.
¹ This was largely due to the fact that, in 1938, Mexico’s then-president Lázaro Cárdenas—born in Michoacán—established a progressive national program that, among other things, instated a radical asylum policy and permitted freedom of intellectual and artistic expression and association.
² The term “social idea” comes from Samuel Ramos’s book Diego Rivera, published in 1958.
³ This review focuses on the tradition of artistic avant-garde texts throughout history and across national borders, written by both national and international authors associated with Mexico’s cultural context. Such heritage dates back prior to the 1930s, as we can see in the text Tres llamados a los artistas plásticos de América [Three Calls to the Visual Artists of the Americas] (1921), by David Alfaro Siqueiros. Other standout texts from the same decade include, among others, those by Luis Cardoza y Aragón, Arte y revolución: Una polémica en la LEAR [Art and Revolution: Controversy in the LEAR] (1935); Antonin Artaud, Carta abierta a los Gobernadores de los Estados de México [Open Letter to the Governors of the States of Mexico] (1936) and Lo que vine a hacer a México [What I Came to Mexico to Do] (1936); Juan O’Gorman, El Departamento Central, inquisidor de la nueva arquitectura [The Central Department: Inquisitor of the New Architecture] (1936); the Liga de Escritores y Artistas Revolucionarios [League of Revolutionary Writers and Artists], ¿Qué debemos al cubismo? [What Do We Owe to Cubism?] (1936) and Balance de la LEAR [Evaluating the LEAR] (1937); André Breton, Diego Rivera, and León Trotsky, Manifiesto por un arte revolucionario independiente [Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art] (1938); Wolfgang Paalen, The New Image (1941); and César Moro, Coriconcha (1943). The 1938 manifesto is relevant to the proposal of the XIV FEMSA Biennial, both in its conception of chance and in its defense of an unrestricted intellectual system; that is, inventiveness without authority.