California and Mexico’s design connections in “Found in Translation”

LACMA’s “Found In Translation” explores decades of cross-pollination in art and design between California and Mexico.

Mexico, our neighbor to the south, has long influenced California’s design and architecture. Turns out, the inspiration flows both ways, a story that is told through art, artefacts and architecture in LACMA’s new PST LA/LA exhibition, “Found in Translation: Design in California and Mexico 1915-1985.”

The goal, co-curator Wendy Kaplan tells DnA, was to recontextualize the “usual suspects”, the “dreamy evocation of Spanish dons, the hacienda, the noble native, as opposed to the decimation and appropriation of indigenous Mexican culture. So we present the myths and we dispel the myths, but also discuss the persistence of myth and how that has affected perceptions up until today.”

The exhibition covers four main periods — Spanish Colonial Inspiration, Pre-Hispanic Revivals, Folk Art and Craft Traditions, and Modernism — from Bertram Goodhue’s Mexican-influenced designs for the Panama California fair; through posters, furniture and sculpture by Mexican artists inspired by indigenous art traditions; to Op-Arts’ influence on the look for the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and Mexican influence on Deborah Sussman’s color palette for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Along the way the show questions why for so long Mexican influence was credited to Spain; and why we put up walls between two countries that have been sampling each other’s cultures for so long.

The LA Times arts writer Carolina Miranda talks to DnA about a subset of this cross-pollination: the “colonial Californiano” buildings in 1930s Mexico City copied from Hollywood’s “Spanish-style” architecture.

Describing the exchange as a cultural “hall of mirrors,” she says, “it is not American culture. It is not Mexican culture. It goes back and forth. People are influenced by each other’s culture. People build on each other’s culture. People appropriate each other’s culture all the time. And that’s what you see going on here.”