When the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego received a donation from photography collectors Dan Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser about a month ago, it struck a chord with the museum's education curator, Cris Scorza. The gift—10 images by Mexico City photographer Graciela Iturbide—led Scorza to explore the museum's vault for more works depicting Mexican culture, and what she found has inspired the exhibit Photography in Mexico: Selections from the Collection, which will open Friday, Dec. 14, and remain on view through March 10.
"When integrating [Iturbide's] photographs in the collection," Scorza says, "I realized we had in our holdings a number of photographs by Mexican and international photographers that are from the Mexican perspective."
The images Scorza pulled show the influence of the late Manuel Alvarez Bravo. Born in 1902, Bravo's been referred to as the father of 20th-century Latin American photography. He was also Iturbide's teacher. Four of Bravo's works are among the 35 images in the exhibition.
"I started pairing photographs by iconography, or ideas," Scorza says of curating the exhibit. "An example would be that we have a photograph by Bravo of a woman drying clothes in the garden, nude. And in our collection, we also have a large print by Argentine photographer Gerardo Suter, who lived in Mexico the majority of his career as an artist. He represents a female nude on a morgue table."
Scorza says images in the show will be organized much in the same way—by an idea, or a particular object—hanging side-by-side to show the contrast.
"It will be an interesting way to read the show," Scorza says. "There's a photograph by Bravo of men riding on bikes in the middle of the desert. It seems like a strange dichotomy—an urban mode of transportation that you'd imagine from people in the city. Then we have an image by a contemporary Mexican artist who depicts bikes on a rack outside a cotton factory that was taken 40 years after Alvarez's photo."
Photos in the show span 1966 to the late 1980s and delve deeper into Mexican culture and topography than what we're used to seeing as neighbors to Baja.
Folks attending MCASD's screening of El Velador (The Night Watchman) from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13, can see a sneak preview of the exhibit. Scorza says the timing couldn't have been better to exhibit the photographs: El Velador is by Natalia Almanda, the 2012 MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant recipient, about a guard whose job is to watch over the mausoleums belonging to Mexican drug lords.
"It's important to present the work of artists who aren't known in the U.S. but are quite recognized in Latin America," Scorza says. "I thought, If I don't pull this image for this show, I don't know if there will be a context again. It's been quite rewarding to bring out work that hasn't been on view in a long time."