He was not the first president to be vilified by the Mexican people, nor was he the first corrupt, ruthless and self-serving leader of a country that has been for more than 75 years under the rule of the “Party of the Institutionalized Revolution” (PRI). Nevertheless, Carlos Salinas de Gortari is arguably the most despised person in Mexico today. Like many other “neo-liberals,” Salinas was a fervent believer in democracy (in spite of the fact that he was victorious in one of the most tainted elections in history) and the free market (while oblivious of the fact that he and his partners were deeply involved in all sorts of monopolies). Salinas followed the post–Cold War trend that dictates the state must downsize; in exchange for our old, inefficient, polluting, heavily unionized government industries and businesses, Salinas offered a NAFTA gateway to the Primer Mundo.
The rest of the story is pretty familiar. The hand-picked successor to Salinas, Luis Donaldo Colosio, was killed during his campaign (in an assassination riddled with conspiratorial undertones). Salinas’ second choice was Ernesto Zedillo, a technocrat without any real political experience. A few weeks after Zedillo took office, the peso was devalued, investors fled, the economy collapsed, inflation soared, violence and crime grew out of proportion. Salinas is now living in a self-imposed exile in Ireland, but his legacy has been preserved in the Museo Salinas in Mexico City, an institution that, in the spirit of the “Salinas revolution,” is privately owned and sponsored.
In 1995, artist Vicente Razo began collecting the diverse Salinas-inspired trinkets — figures, puppets, T-shirts, masks, posters, books, piñatas, candy and paraphernalia — that were peddled in the streets of the capital. Essentially, in these popular representations, the former president appears as a convict (who gets a huge erection when you press down on his head), a vampire, a demon, a rat, an alien or a bald version of the internationally infamous chupacabras. (Never before had political satire, humiliation and hate for a president been so commercialized — so cynical have people become, some even believe that Salinas himself owns the factories that manufacture the trinkets.)
Razo had incorporated some of the plastic figures of the former president into his own work, but the size of his collection grew so quickly that he decided to create a museum — in the bathroom of his apartment. Beyond the obvious political joke, it is also a critique of the rigid, blind and lethargic official museum culture that so closely resembles the solemn reverence paid to the presidential figure.
“The Salinas Museum attempts to assemble a consumerist archaeology of political statements,” states the 27-year-old Razo in his Aims and Regulations. “It is an ethical installation of popular poetry negotiated through the conceptual avant-garde. The museum, as an institution, is dedicated to assembling and treasuring plastic trinkets turned into acts of sabotage against the state, to building a collection of street spells against the executive power, to investigating the point of contact between memorabilia and public intrigue.”
Recently, the police cracked down on the sale of President Zedillo paraphernalia at the Mercado de Sonora, seizing masks and jailing those who sold them. This action has effectively turned what were unwanted trinkets into collector’s items. Consequently, Razo may branch out into his kitchen and rename his museum La Museo de Salinas y Zedillo.
Museo Salinas, Veracruz 27-3 Condesa, 06140, Mexico D.F. Telephone (525) 286-8824; fax (525) 515-6974.