The Mexico City Olympic Games in 1968 have been a scholarly subject for a range of reasons. American historians have focused on the black-power protest by US sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, while global historians have focused on the banning of South Africa from competition. For Latin Americanists, the government massacre of [End Page 665] protesting students in the days leading up to the opening ceremony has been a difficult but important subject, while sportswriters have long heralded the event’s spectacular athletic achievements, from Bob Beamon’s historic leap of 29.2 feet in the long jump to Věra Čáslavská’s four gold medals in gymnastics (not to mention her controversial head bow during the playing of the Soviet anthem at the medal ceremony for the balance beam).
From a Mexican perspective, the impact of being the first Latin American nation to host the Olympics meant vast improvements in the city’s infrastructure, from telecommunications to roads, albeit at great cost. But as Luis M. Castañeda demonstrates in his vibrant book Spectacular Mexico: Design, Propaganda, and the 1968 Olympics, the vision the country had for itself, indeed, manufactured for itself, in hosting the Olympic Games is a critical part of the story. For the earlier part of the twentieth century, images of civil war had permeated Mexico’s reputation; now the country saw its role as Olympic host as a chance to use sport in order to reintroduce itself to the international community as a nation that had embraced modernity and all its wonders. In his role as head of the organizing committee, architect Pedro Ramírez Vázquez centered the Olympic campaign on the slogan “Todo Es Posible en la Paz” (Everything is Possible in Peace), a vision that would crumble after the student massacre at the Plaza of Three Cultures days before the Games began.
To create this image of a thriving and unified nation, no detail could be overlooked. From the exteriors of the sports venues to the emphasis on ‘Mexico ‘68’ at the Milan Triennial Exhibition of Decorative Arts and Modern Architecture, the attention that the Olympic organizing committee paid to the often overlooked Cultural Olympiad component of the games was unprecedented. Never before had the physical landscape of an Olympics, particularly from the scope of architecture, been used in an attempt to create such visual spectacles of social harmony and political interactions.
In great detail, Castañeda explores the centrality of design to the Mexico City games. The way that the Olympic organizing committee sold its version of Mexico not only to the world but to Mexicans themselves largely came from architects such as Ricardo Legorreta, Félix Candela, and, of course, Ramírez Vázquez himself. At the core of the look of these Games was a hybrid between the cosmopolitan center that Mexico City envisioned for itself and the country’s indigenous heritage. The ultimate example of this process was the famous logo created by US-born graphic designer Lance Wyman, who, according to Castañeda, merged “the number ‘68’, the word ‘Mexico,’ and the five Olympic rings to create a dynamic series of radiating patterns” (p. xv). The logo represented a range of textile patterns of the Huicholes, an indigenous group from the Pacific coast of the country, while embracing a number of different artistic perspectives from around the world and thereby creating what became a controversial relationship between Mexican and international identity.
Castañeda makes clear the importance of such images to the legacy of the Olympic Games, but even more importantly he explores them in relation to Mexican identity [End Page 666] writ large, emphasizing how the careful restructuring and redesign of the city ensured that long after the closing ceremony took place, Mexico City would remain not just the capital, but an unparalleled metropolitan center. This book, then, articulates the politics of art, not merely in terms of the political imagery created, but also in terms of the strategic planning...