LAST SPRING, Mexican curator Santiago Espinosa de los Monteros brought the survey exhibition "Mexican Report: Contemporary Art From Mexico" to the Mexican Cultural Institute. Recently, he was back for the opening of his latest grab bag, which is, in a way, the flip side to his previous project.
Called "Mirrors: Contemporary Mexican Artists in the United States," the show is held together less by a fascination with duality than with residency. It is a thin glue. Few of the artists, in fact, make hay of their biculturalism, Felipe Galindo (aka Feggo) being a notable exception for his cartoony pictures, including one depicting the Statue of Liberty done up as a Day of the Dead skeleton. Dulce Pinzon is another. Her photographs of Mexican immigrants -- a deliveryman, a woman in a laundromat, a construction worker and a marathon runner -- dressed up in superhero get-up (including the farcical Mexican character known as el Chapulin Colorado, or the "Red Cricket") have an impact that is both wry and sobering.
Also worth noting is Irma Sofia Poeter's "Work Force," a quilt-like blanket stitched together from generic pale blue work shirts. It is meant, of course, not to comfort but to afflict.
It's not the only political work in the show. A large, hand-crafted bed frame by Marcos "Erre" Ramirez greets visitors to the exhibition. But instead of a mattress, the horizontal surface of Ramirez's "Presidential Bed" is a bed of nails -- in the shape of Mexico. The entire thing sits on a pile of corn, a staple of Mexican culture, in another provocative, and uncomfortable, evocation of classism.
Mauricio Alejo's photographs are among the most striking works in the show, but the one with the most easily decipherable content, which equates the Mexican-U.S. border with a crack in the pavement, is less powerful than his quietly poetic images shot in bathrooms, showing surreal, bridge-like constructions made of toilet paper and household clamps.
Other artists focus on vaginal imagery (Erika Harrsch and the aforementioned Poeter); the proliferation of graffiti (Ruben Ortiz Torrez); a headless Virgin Mary (Laura Anderson Barbata); cooking utensils (Tania Candiani and Graciela Fuentes); even contemporary art itself (Pablo Helguera). While a few of these images are interesting, and several pointless, it's hardly clear what they have to do with mirrors.
Which may just be Espinosa de los Monteros's point. In the end, what he seems to be saying is that there is no distinct difference between Mexican artists in Mexico and Mexican artists in the United States -- or American artists, or global artists, for that matter. In that sense, then, the choice of the show's title may have been an unintentionally perfect one. For the mirror that these artists hold up is one in which we do not look to see them, but us.
MIRRORS: CONTEMPORARY MEXICAN ARTISTS IN THE UNITED STATES -- Through Nov. 30 at the Cultural Institute of Mexico, 2829 16th St. NW (Metro: Columbia Heights). 202-728-1628. portal.sre.gob.mx/imw. Open Monday-Friday 9:30 to 5:30. Free.