Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco’s 1930 fresco Prometheus, which places the titan in thick columns of fire, towers over a dining hall at Pomona College. Across campus, Mexican City visual artist Adela Goldbard and her team are busy creating papier-mâché sculptures — cacti, trees, even a minibus — and preparing them all for the fireworks that will burn, spin and destroy them in a public spectacle later this year.
“It feels great, actually!” Goldbard says cheerfully, when asked if it’s difficult to work so hard creating crafts that will be incinerated as part of their presentation. “We know from the beginning that this is going to be destroyed,” she says, noting that they strive for a crafty perfection. “We put a lot of attention in the details, but the whole meaning of the work kind of comes together when it’s destroyed.”
Goldbard joins Isa Carrillo, Rita Ponce de Léon and Naomi Rincón-Gallardo in a group show inspired by Prometheus, the first work by a Mexican muralist to be painted in the United States. “Prometheus 2017: Four Artists From Mexico Revisit Orozco” opens Aug. 29 at the Pomona College Museum of Art as part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, the Getty's massive, multi-institution exploration of Latin American art and Latino art.
Goldbard splits her time between Mexico City and Chicago, where she is finishing an MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, but she draws inspiration from the effigy-burning festivals popular in smaller Mexican towns as well. For the show in Pomona, she invited the artist collective Artsumex to join her and help construct the landscape and bus from reeds, using craft techniques native to Tultepec, a central Mexican town renowned for its effigies of bulls and Judas Iscariot and the national fireworks festival.
While Judas is burned in festivals to purge evil and punish a traitor, Goldbard and her team are preparing an idealized Mexican landscape to memorialize a space now marked by the violence of drug cartels, government troops, citizen responses and migrations.
In fact, the four Artsumex artisans — Amauri Sanabria, Jesús Sanabria, Eduardo Pérez and Víctor Rojas — had trouble getting visas to enter the United States, a critical delay in planning the project designed for Southern California. “My work could not be made without them,” Goldbard explains, describing the process of obtaining the visas as the first challenge of a work designed to be produced and executed in the United States.
“Of course this work is deeply based in Mexico and in the Mexican experience,” Goldbard says, “but it’s impossible to talk about the violence connected to the war on drugs without talking about this side of the border.”
While it's destined to meet a fiery end, the microbus currently provides a quiet place to absorb the power of Goldbard’s imagery and its explosive retelling of Mexican history.
The wood-framed, papier-mâché microbus she and her team built has a metal chassis, and visitors can climb inside to explore the bus and read the headlines in the newspapers that make up the bus’s walls. Through the windows, visitors can watch projected loops of Goldbard’s previous video projects exploring the settings and icons of recent Mexican history, rendered in insanely flammable paper, cardboard and reed.