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Garrigan, Shelley E. Collecting Mexico. Museums, Monuments, and the Creation of National Identity. Minneapolis, London: U of Minnesota P, 2012. 234 pp.

Collecting Mexico is a welcome addition to an increasing number of studies within the field of Latin American material and visual culture. As Garrigan herself clearly states in her introduction, she is invested in the broadening critical perspectives that visual and material expressions of culture can provide for recasting the stories of Latin American modernities, following on topics and methodologies that refer to the scholarship work of diverse authors such as Néstor García Canclini, Jens Andermann, Beatriz González-Stephan, Esther Gabara, Robert Aguirre, and more specifically in the context of Mexican culture, Mauricio Tenorio Trillo, Stacie Widdifield, and Luis Gerardo Morales-Moreno. What singularizes this study is its dedication to trace and illuminate how the production of Mexican national patrimony—national art and archeological collections, national monuments in Mexico City, national exhibits, and pageants—has been driven not just by hegemonic institutional narratives but also by the fact that these material objects cannot completely mask their origins as commodities. Therefore, Garrigan revisits and re examines the construction of the nineteenth-century Mexican national representative canons arguing for the need “to deconstruct the privileged spaces of national hegemony by unveiling their hidden transactions and flirtations with commercial enterprise” (181). Collecting is then understood here as a specific cultural practice and as a strategic form of commodity consumption, which opens up new forms of interrogation on those “culturally sacred objects,” those very things that are detached from context, reframed, serialized, invested with mythological value, and accumulated as symbolic capital. Without condensing this process in simplistic readings of given assumptions, such as “patrimony is not sacred” or “patrimony is commerce,” this study examines how underlining commercial transactions and financial negotiations were the ones that patrimonial inheritances were meant to transcend and reconcile. The perceptual displacements that take place as certain material objects are invested with the belief to essentially or somehow symbolically represent fragments of national history is what the author seeks to depict and analyze through her close material readings. In a skilled introduction, the framework for this kind of material culture analysis is presented not only with a versed theoretical language but, more specifically, within its historical context. Garrigan draws new attention to theories and narratives of modernization in Mexico from a perspective that encompasses now cultural consolidation and political autonomy with the production of [End Page 580] national patrimony as a way to illuminate the political and social contexts in which new meanings are invested on objects: the creation of a national painterly canon, the consolidation of the Museo Nacional and the investment in autochthonous cultural heritage, the assembly of national representative displays for local and international exhibitions, and the production of the modern state in the form of abstract information and statistics are all considered as foundational acts in the creation of a national symbolic repertoire. As the author insightfully points out, this process is undertaken by a professionalized elite of liberales and so-called científicos who clearly embodied one of the central paradoxes of Mexican modernization, that while trying to radically depart from colonial history, cannot be excused from sometimes reinforcing the very colonialist discourses that bound them.

Chapter one, “Fine Art and Demand: Debating Mexican National Canon, 1876-1910,” provides an overview of the intellectual debate around the creation of a national painterly canon under the auspices of Academia San Carlos, Mexico’s foremost fine arts school, and its contrast with the emerging commercial demand for national painterly expressions by private collectors and private institutional commissions. Here, Garrigan combines sources in an interesting way; on one hand, she relies on the well known anthology of newspaper and magazine articles, La crítica de arte en México en el siglo XIX, which affords her a valuable insight into the ideas that the Academia promulgated as national aesthetics but also changing exhibitionary practices that sought to incorporate a middle-class viewing public; on the other hand, she delves into the extraordinary collection of nineteenth-century popular scenes and Costumbrist paintings amassed by the National Bank of Mexico (or...


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