I have yet to meet a holiday with half the visual appeal of Día de los Muertos. Even Halloween must bow down in comparison, and Christmas is an all-out joke. Sugar skulls, marigolds, candle-lit shrines: it is a tour de force of aesthetic perfection.
In celebration of this auspicious and eye-pleasing occasion, every autumn the National Museum of Mexican Art (located in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood) creates a unique Day of the Dead exhibition. 2013 brings us 100 Años de Posada y su Catrina, honoring the 100th anniversary of the death of José Guadalupe Posada. Posada was a prolific printmaker and illustrator, perhaps best known for creating the “Fancy Lady” and “Dandy” skeleton characters still widely used today. The exhibition features stunning Posada woodblock prints alongside installations, altars, and contemporary artwork by more than 60 Mexican and Mexican-American artists. Amazing? Amazing! This is the art you will wish you had made.
The success of this exhibition is its scale. There is a wide variety of work through three main gallery spaces, much of it larger than you. This is your chance to see a human-sized skeleton couple woven entirely out of wicker! (Sure, you didn’t know you wanted to, but how will you resist it now?) Here the colors, the range of media, the different interpretations of death blend to create a show with cohesive wholeness. Altogether 100 Años de Posada y su Catrina is greater than the sum of its parts. My favorite piece was “Sun Raid Raisins”, a satirical serigraph by Ester Hernandez (playing off Sun Maid Raisins), but I think there is something for everyone. Well, maybe not everyone; let’s say everyone who is actually interesting.
I do not mean to imply that fall is the only time the National Museum of Mexican Art is worth visiting. 100 Años de Posada y su Catrina runs through December 15th time of year, I urge you to stop by. And I have yet to reveal an essential piece of information: the museum is free. All exhibits, every day, to everyone. This is an important attribute and should not be taken for granted. The museum’s permanent collection is displayed chronologically, highlighting and exploring Mexican art on a timeline of Mexican history. This includes artists working on both sides of the border, up to the present day. There is also a gallery devoted to displaying work by local artists, available for sale at reasonable prices. Here is a side of Chicago you will never see at the Art Institute.
But all you really want to know about is the gift shop, right? I’m no dummy; that’s everyone’s favorite part of any art museum! It is not lightly that I proclaim this one my all-time favorite. All I ever really want to buy is sugar skulls in various sizes, tin Christmas ornaments depicting the devil, and Frida Kahlo earrings, right? Ta-da! It’s like they stocked the store with me in mind. Why, you could finish all of your Christmas shopping in one trip, my fellow morbid weirdos. Be sure to send me a postcard. At this point, if I haven’t sold you on a visit to The National Museum of Mexican Art, I never will. Maybe that’s my failing, but it will be your loss.
The National Museum of Mexican Art is located at 1852 W. 19th Street in Chicago, IL. For more information, visit www.nationalmuseumofmexicanart.org.
– Liz Walker