Californian college students perhaps best know Tijuana for its nightlife, as a place where people head for a day and enjoy the club scene on the other side of the border. Visitors are familiar with Avenida Revoluci?n, the cheap beer or the characteristic stripe-painted donkeys standing at every street corner. However, most people are not aware of the fact that Tijuana has a thriving visual arts scene.
The current exhibit at the Santa Monica Museum of Art’s Bergamot Station gallery entitled, “Strange New World: Art and Design from Tijuana/Extra?o Nuevo Mundo: Arte y dise?o desde Tijuana,” showcases the works of 20 artists from Tijuana who present a different side of the city.
The show, which originated at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, is the first major exhibit displaying Tijuana’s art to travel outside of the region.
Asuka Hisa, the education director at SMMOA, said having the show travel north to places like Los Angeles helps to promote public awareness of Tijuana’s culture.
“For us, it is very exciting to see that people want to know more (about Tijuana’s culture),” said Hisa.
The exhibit includes the use of different mediums such as film, painting, photography, architecture and mixed media. Whether Tijuana was used as the subject or served as inspiration for the contemporary artwork, each piece in the exhibit touches on cultural, societal and economic issues, including immigration along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In Julio Cesar Morales’s installation “Informal Economy Vendors,” the artist explores the process of creating pushcarts. These are everyday objects in Tijuana, which vendors use to sell all sorts of items such as tamales and fruit. In Tijuana, pushcarts are often assembled using car parts and any other available materials. Morales considers pushcarts as a kind of mobile collage.
Morales interprets the construction of these mobile collages using video projection and vinyl paint. He begins by documenting the assembly of pushcarts with photographs, which he then retouches, scans and blows up to a large-scale. The end results are abstract shapes that eventually become elements in the construction of what is a vital component of everyday life in Tijuana.
Artists Einard and Jamex de la Torre challenge society’s idea of high art and good taste. In the installation “Exporting Democracy,” the two brothers combine blown glass and odd materials to create a symbolic representation of what they consider to be the United States’ influence on other countries and how that influence is perceived in other places. The piece is a wall-sized map of the world centered on the U.S., with snakes made out of cheap objects like pinto beans and gold-coin gum stemming from the center, devouring anything in their way.
The exhibit does not only explore border issues, but is also inspired by the artists’ look at the city, according to Hisa.
“The Border: Tijuana Cityscapes 1-4,” a series of drawings by Hugo Crosthwaite, does not necessarily depict any actual parts of Tijuana. It is instead a representation of what the city feels like. The use of pencil and charcoal gives the composition a feeling of darkness and poverty, with houses that are cramped and thrown together without much thought.
It is unclear if Tijuana can be described as a new “cultural Mecca,” as some have referred to it. However, the city is located along one of the busiest borders in the world and has in recent history turned into a rapidly growing metropolis. The show offers a look at some of the most interesting aspects of this fast-growing city.
“Strange New World: Art and Design from Tijuana” is showing through April 7 at Bergamot Station Gallery 1 on 2525 Michigan Ave. in Santa Monica. Admission is free.