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2016–2017 : Biennales du Sud

The 1950s in Mexico was a decade of transition marked by rapid industrialisation and modernisation projects that were changing the urban and social fabric of the nation. This eagerness to modernize, following the lead of the United States, however, was at odds with the principles of the Mexican revolution that had placed the current government in power, thus creating a challenge for the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional): how to become a modern democratic nation reliant on US investment, while safeguarding the heritage of a revolution internationally recognised as the first successful social revolution of the Twentieth Century?

It is against this backdrop that the government decided to embark on the organisation of high profile Inter-American biennials, with the intention of making Mexico one of the key players in the international art world. Although successful in convening a large representation of countries in the continent, only two biennials took place. Both events generated a great amount of controversy, underlined by the debates between figuration and abstraction and their political affiliations.

Among the questions considered in this seminar are: Why did these biennials begin? Why were they conceived as inter-American? And what role did they play in the cultural Cold War? While considering these issues, I will focus on the hemispheric politics behind these biennials, and the way in which these reflect Mexico’s ambivalent position in the continental battles for cultural hegemony during the Cold War.

Fabiola Martínez Rodríguez.

Received her PhD from Camberwell College of Arts, University of the Arts London, in 2005. Her current research centres on the legacy of surrealism and the debates between figuration and abstraction in Mexico, as well as the cultural politics of inter-American and Hemispheric projects during the Cold War. She’s a member of the research group Decentralized Modernities. Art, Politics and Counterculture in the Transatlantic Axis During the Cold War (2015-2017) (HAR2014-53834-P) where she is developing a project titled “No hay mas ruta que la nuestra: art, politics and identity in Mexico during the 1950s”. She has been awarded the Terra Foundation Senior Fellowship at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, where she worked on the project: The Mexican Connection: Shaping American Modernism in New York (1920-1945). Fabiola is the coordinator of the Art History program at Saint Louis Univesity in Madrid.


– 2016, Exhibition review “The Return of the Snake: Mathias Goeritz and the Invention of Emotional Architecture” at the Museum Reina Sofia in CAA Reviews, March 10, 2016 CrossRef DOI: 10.3202/

– 2015, Modernidad y vanguardia: rutas de intercambio y diálogo entre España y Latinoamérica, co-editor with Paula Barreiro López, and Jesús Carrillo, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía.

– 2015, “The Paradoxes of Modernism and the Divided Legacies of Surrealism and Abstraction in Mexico”, in Modernidad y vanguardia, pp 161-168

– 2013, “Representing the Nation: Art and Identity in Porfirian Mexico”, in National Identities, vol. 15, no. 4, pp 333-355

– 2008, “Legitimising Difference: Mestizaje and Criollismo in the Construction of National Narratives in Mexico”, in Orientes – Occidentes. El arte y la mirada del otro. XXVII Coloquio Internacional de Historia del Arte. Mexico City:IIE-UNAM.

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